Yellow Jackets show ACC whose defense is the best

October 07, 1990|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- It does not have a nickname, nor much of a national reputation. But if the Georgia Tech defense keeps up the way it has played so far this season, the unit is bound to get both.

Though Maryland managed to do something against Georgia Tech that nobody had done in three previous games -- score against the defense -- the Yellow Jackets came out of Byrd Stadium yesterday relatively unscathed.

But the points proved pretty meaningless: a first-half field goal as Georgia Tech was building up a comfortable lead en route to a convincing, 31-3 victory. The points didn't tell as good a story as did the stats.

Consider the sacks. The Yellow Jackets had an unofficial school record 11, eight of them in the first half. It wouldn't be surprising if sophomore linebacker Marco Coleman was in Scott Zolak's dreams last night, since he was in the Maryland quarterback's face all day.

"I think we got him rattled," said Coleman, who matched his career total of five sacks in the course of a nine-tackle performance. "The secondary coverage was so good, it was hard for him to find anyone open and easy for us to get to him."

Consider the rushing defense. Ranked third nationally in pass defense efficiency, Georgia Tech shut down Maryland's rush as if it merely flicked a switch. After gaining 93 yards on the ground against Michigan, the Terrapins were kept way under that.

Minus-20 yards -- a Georgia Tech school record -- to be exact. Of Maryland's 13 first downs, only one came on the ground. "It's the whole defense wanting to prove it's for real," said sophomore nose guard Kevin Battle. "We just fly around out there and have a good time."

Georgia Tech rolled over Maryland. But the team really was no different, at least defensively, than it had been in previous victories over North Carolina State, Tennessee-Chattanooga and South Carolina.

The defense, ranked seventh nationally overall, has yet to give up a touchdown. The only touchdown Georgia Tech has surrendered came off a fumble in the season opener against the Wolfpack. The streak is 16 quarters, but the Yellow Jackets aren't counting.

"We want to win the game," said Coleman. "Part of winning the game is keeping the other team out of the end zone, but it doesn't matter if they scored two touchdowns or no touchdowns as long as we won."

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross said that he wasn't surprised by the effort, but the results were a little startling even to him. After all, this is the man who recruited Zolak five years ago.

"I was surprised by it," said Ross, whose team won its eighth straight game, and 11th in the last 12. "I told them that Maryland was going to be tough to stop. We just wanted to maximize our coverage and make sure that we came to the ball really hard and not allow too much yardage if they caught it."

That Georgia Tech also forced two turnovers -- an interception each against Zolak and backup quarterback Jim Sandwisch -- was lost in what was nearly a perfect defensive effort. "I think it's the best game we played defensively this year," said free safety Ken Swilling, who had one of the interceptions.

Going into the season, the strength of the Yellow Jackets was supposed to be their offense, with quarterback Shawn Jones, a veteran line and a good group of receivers. But Jones, a redshirt sophomore, had been erratic until yesterday, and the Tech offense had put nearly as much pressure on the defense as the Terps had on theirs this year.

Mostly, the defense was thought to be young, starting only two seniors. "We have a lot more speed that we did last year," said defensive coordinator George O'Leary. "And the kids are playing with a lot more confidence. We have a lot of big-play people."

Swilling is at the top of the heap. Though he was relatively quiet yesterday -- only one assisted tackle, three passes broken up, to go along with the interception -- it was mainly because Maryland showed him the utmost respect by staying away from him.

"Ken Swilling will make any receiver look bad," Battle said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior, who is built more like a linebacker.

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