Georgia Tech-NC State Preview
Georgia Tech's defense is earning compliments instead of criticism.
The next challenge is to show its recent strong play is no fluke.
Georgia Tech still ranks near the bottom of most Atlantic Coast Conference defensive statistics despite strong signs that a turnaround is underway.
Defense has played big roles in back-to-back wins, including six fumble recoveries at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and the Yellow Jackets will try to extend their run when they visit North Carolina State on Saturday.
Georgia Tech, ranked 24th in the latest College Football Playoff selection committee poll, allowed only 22 yards rushing and one touchdown in last week's 35-10 win over Virginia. Jamal Golden and Adam Gotsis had interceptions, while Paul Davis and KeShun Freeman each had one sack and one forced fumble.
Coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday he is looking for the defense to add more momentum to the turnaround against the Wolfpack on Saturday. Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2) will try to stay close to first-place Duke in the Coastal Division.
''I think anytime you do well your confidence is going to go up, and hopefully you can take the momentum and gain from it,'' Johnson said. ''You'd like for it to be a pattern and not an enigma, a one-game thing.''
The Yellow Jackets allowed only 15 first downs and 284 total yards against the Cavaliers. Virginia's Kevin Parks, who ranked third in the ACC with 105.2 yards rushing per game, was held to 13 yards on five carries.
The Cavaliers' previous season low for yards rushing was 114 against Louisville on Sept. 13.
''I thought defensively we played our best game of the year and hopefully we can take that momentum and build on it,'' Johnson said.
Golden, a junior free safety, said he wasn't satisfied with last week's strong showing.
''It's not where we want to be,'' Golden said. ''But it's the best we've done this season. We did a good job stopping the run, and that's really what helped (defend) the passing attack. We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback when they put the ball in the air. That turned into the two picks.''
Golden is tied for third in the league with three interceptions.
There were few defensive highlights before the last two weeks. Georgia Tech still ranks only 12th among the 14 ACC teams with its average of 413 yards allowed and 11th with 26.2 points allowed.
Before the win over Virginia, the Yellow Jackets' best defensive showing had been in a 28-17 win over Miami. That was overshadowed by a combined 79 points allowed in back-to-back losses to Duke and North Carolina.
It is easy to understand why Johnson wants to see another strong performance before giving the defense more praise.
Johnson said last week's key was stopping Virginia on third down. The Cavaliers converted only 3 of 12 third downs.
''It was by far the best we'd been on third downs,'' Johnson said. ''We had good pressure. I think the defensive coaches had a good plan. We had good pressure and challenged the receivers for the most part. We were able to get off the field on third down. That's kind of really what it's all about.''
North Carolina State (5-4, 1-4) hasn't been playing like a team poised to challenge Georgia Tech's resurgent defense. Since scoring 41 in a loss to then-No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 27, the Wolfpack have averaged 14.0 points in four games.
They did manage to end a four-game losing streak with a 24-17 victory at Syracuse last Saturday. Defensive end Pharoah McKever delivered an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave N.C. State a 15-14 lead late in the third quarter.
The Wolfpack wouldn't trail again in second-year coach Dave Doeren's first win in the conference after 12 losses, the longest streak in school history.
"I'm excited to get our first ACC win," Doeren said. " ... It's good to be back on the winning side of things. It was good to see the light in our players faces right now. I'm proud of them for fighting. It's not about me. It's all about them."
These teams haven't met since October 2011, a 45-35 road victory for then-No. 21 Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack have dropped four consecutive home matchups.