ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s defense knows the way to the end zone.
In fact, the defense alone outscored Clemson last week.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s unit has set a school record with five interception returns for touchdowns — the most of any FBS team in the nation. That includes picks turned into scores by Jamal Golden and Chris Milton in last week’s 28-6 win against then-No.
19 Clemson. Another interception by D.J. White set up a field goal.
“Anytime you get a takeaway you just want to score,” Golden said Wednesday. “A score on defense can change a game. If you get more than one on defense, that’s a real game-changer. We just focus on getting the ball and if we have an opportunity to score, we try to make the most of it. I feel we’ve done a pretty good job of it.”
It was No. 18 Georgia Tech’s second consecutive game with two defensive touchdowns.
Roof is giving the unit more aggressive game plans and the defense is converting takeaways into points.
“I think we’re just getting a better overall feeling of what we’re doing,” Roof said.
Georgia Tech is off this week and will look for more big plays on defense in next week’s game at No. 9 Georgia.
Including a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Quayshawn Nealy in a 56-23 win against NC State on Nov. 8, Georgia Tech has six defensive touchdowns. Only Washington (seven) has more defensive touchdowns.
Roof tracks all the big plays on a “Takeaway Titan Board” he established in spring training. Points are assigned for such plays as forced fumbles, recoveries, interceptions and returns for touchdowns.
Golden said the board documents a strong competition among players to be the unit’s top producer. He said Nealy and White are the leaders on the board.
Nealy has 75 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. He has two touchdowns, including one on an interception return. White has three interceptions and one forced fumble.
Golden, who has a team-best four interceptions and two forced fumbles, said, “I’m not too far behind those guys.”
“It’s a fun competition and it’s also healthy,” he said.
Golden said the most surprising total on the board is the five interception returns for touchdowns.
— D.J. White
“It’s great to get turnovers that way and we’re trying to continue that through the next couple games,” he said.
Before this season, coach Paul Johnson’s spread-option offense usually had to compensate for a leaky defense. There were a few games earlier this season where the defense struggled in shootouts, but the Yellow Jackets (9-2) have won four in a row. The winning streak includes strong defensive showings against Clemson and Virginia (35-10).
“I think it’s just a case of guys preparing well and being in the right place at the right time,” Johnson said. “And sometimes those things happen. … We’re just glad that we were able to get the defense going a little bit. We struggled early in the year defensively, and it’s great to have them playing well this time of the year.”
Georgia Tech leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with its 116 points off 24 turnovers.
The wave of takeaways began in a 56-28 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 25 when the Panthers lost five fumbles in the first quarter.
Georgia Tech has forced 14 turnovers in the past four games.
“It’s very contagious,” White said. “When you see guys make plays, you want to get in on the fun.”
White said Roof is putting the defensive backs in position to create big plays.
“Coach Roof has been calling a more aggressive plan the last few games which has allowed us to fly around and make plays,” White said. “Anytime you can be aggressive with receivers and fly to the ball and make things happen, you look forward to that.”
Added Golden: “When the ball is in the air we just treat it like it’s ours and we try to go get it.”