Three weeks ago, Charles Kelly became Georgia Tech’s interim defensive coordinator after Al Groh was fired. Since then, the Yellow Jackets stifled Boston College in a 37-17 win, then got blown out by 24 points against BYU. Now Kelly’s unit faces a different challenge: a Maryland offense ranked 115th nationally, starting its fifth quarterback this season in Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker. I spoke with Kelly about facing a quarterback with no film, the Terps wide receivers and what Georgia Tech needs to improve upon.
Coach, thanks for taking the time. In your years of coaching, have you ever seen anything like this situation at Maryland?
No. At my position, coaching defensive backs over the last four or five years, I’ve lost a starting safety two years in a row, one to an Achilles’, one to a tendon injury in his foot, and it seems like every year I’ve lost a starter in the secondary, but not that many players at one position, no. We’ve had some injuries in the secondary the last few years, but nothing like that at one position.
So how do you prepare for a quarterback who has never taken a college snap, and didn’t even begin learning the Maryland scheme until two weeks ago?
It is different, but at the same time, with what they’ve gone through, it’s been impressive to see how much consistency they’ve kept. Even though they’ve changed things up, they’ve been pretty productive. They’ve got good players in their offense. It is a little bit different, and some of this stuff is a little bit unexpected. They do a great job coaching.
You try to prepare for the things they’ve done in the past that fit his skill set. Of course, what we’re familiar with him as a player and an athlete, what he did in high school, and then you have to be ready to make adjustments during the game. The one thing that hasn’t changed, is the players that are around him. He’s got a great supporting cast.
As a coach, do you ever have to address your defense about these types of situations, and try to impress upon them to not look overlook or underestimate players who haven’t received as much playing time?
Well, that’s the one thing we have to do is focus and make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. It doesn’t matter who you line up against. That’s number one. At the same time, he’s a very good athlete. He wouldn’t be at the University of Maryland if he was not, and he’s a good athlete, he’s had success in high school and he has a good supporting cast. When you put good people around good folks, they can do the job. There’s no overlooking.
You just want to see what kind of game they plan to play, and you have to adjust from there.
What have you seen from Maryland’s receiving corps on film?
The one thing you see, the thing that stands out to me is the run after the catch. What they do with the ball after they catch it is very impressive. I told the secondary the other day, they have as good a receivers as anybody in the league. Stefon [Diggs], I was familiar with him too coming out of high school, and I know what kind of player he is. They’re an impressive group, and they’re a young group.
They go out there and play. They just go out there and try to make plays and they do. It looks like they have fun doing it. They play hard, they play with enthusiasm, and I think that’s a credit to their coaches. They’re coached very well, so I definitely think it’s a group that is producing, but they’ll only keep getting better.
We’ve got to do a good job of tackling. That’s where big plays happen, when you miss tackles. That’s one thing we’ve gotten better a couple weeks ago, when we played BC, had a few more missed tackles against BYU last week, and it resulted in the big plays. The biggest thing, that’s one of our goals defensively.
How important will it be to get pressure on Petty and force him to make decisions?
The one thing in the last couple of weeks, we’ve really tried to improve on. It’s not measured necessarily in the number of sacks, but it’s how you affect the quarterback, where it feels like he’s pressured. It’s like blocking punts. If you cause a guy to shank it because you’re pressuring him, sometimes that’s almost as good as the block, when you can pressure and make guys feel pressure, they throw the ball a little higher and throw it off target, then you have a chance to make a play on the ball. Whereas if you let him throw in a rhythm, quarterbacks can give you problems. That’s something we tried to work on the past couple of weeks.
(Bonus!) How have the players adjusted since you took over?
We tweaked the scheme to put those guys in a better position to pass rush. I think that’s like anything else in football. It’s nothing dramatic. I tell people all the time, there’s no magical defense that you can run. We tried to simplify things, make sure people are where they’re supposed to be, and if they can do that, they can play.
As far as in practice and working, I think they’ve done a good job. The first week out, we played better against Boston College, this past week we at times played well, but then there were certain times when we had to get off the field on third down and we didn’t. That’s a big thing for us. We just go to be more consistent for a longer period of time. I think if we can do that, we’ll get better.