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Georgia Tech defense showing growth

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive tackle Euclid Cummings (left) tackles Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Tom Savage (7) during the fourth quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tech won 21-10. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Liles)

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive tackle Euclid Cummings (left) tackles Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Tom Savage (7) during the fourth quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tech won 21-10. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Liles)

Unlike last year when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets spent all season chasing their tail on defense, this year’s group has re-established stability on that side of the ball. It’s created a nice balance with the school’s high-powered rushing attack.

“It’s great when you have a great defense,” Tech quarterback Vad Lee said. ‘It’s less pressure, because the defense is playing great now. I give them all the credit. Coach (Ted) Roof and our defense has been great.”

The Tech defense has shown steady growth this year. Other than a disappointing performance against Miami, a team that had the best athletes that Tech has faced this year, and a poor first half against BYU, the Yellow Jackets have been solid. The Tech defense is on pace to have its best statistical season in the ACC since 2009, when it played in the Orange Bowl.

Tech currently ranks third in the ACC in scoring defense (18.8 points), third in total defense (329.6 yards), second in rushing defense (103.4) and ninth in passing defense.

Last week’s effort against Pitt was especially memorable against the run. Tech held Pitt to minus-5 yards rushing, the eighth-best effort since 1960 and the first time an opponent has finished with negative rushing yards since Notre Dame in 2007. Pitt’s longest run was for seven yards.

“Ted and those guys have done a good job trying to stop the run,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I’ve said all along, if you can run the ball and you can stop the run, you usually have a good chance of winning.”

Only one opponent has gained 100 yards against Tech. Miami’s Duke Johnson rushed for 184 in Tech’s 45-30 road loss. Pitt’s leading rusher last week was Isaac Bennett, who had 16 yards on six carries.

“We did a good job,” defensive tackle Euclid Cummings said. “We showed great tenacity and bowed our backs and came out on top. It was a great team effort.”

The Tech defense has become more comfortable with Roof’s system and has made a smart transition from the 3-4 to the more-traditional 4-3 scheme. Cummings is playing his best football of the season, tackle Adam Gostis has shown star-type ability and defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu has regained the aggressive style that he became known for as a sophomore.

“I just knew when coach Roof came in, he was a good guy and very easy to talk to and very down to earn from player to player,” Attaochu said. “I knew I was going to enjoy playing for him. I just knew my senior year I was going to be a leader. Coach Roof has made you want to get up and go to practice every day and I appreciate that.”

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Few programs can match Tech’s running game. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 1 in the ACC and fifth in the nation with 311.2 yards per game. David Sims (610, nine TDs), Robert Godhigh (473 yards, three TDs) and Zach Laskey (427 yards, six TDs) lead the attack.

Scouting the passing game: Tech has thrown fewer than 10 passes in each of its last three games, all wins. Tech is last in the league with 119.6 passing yards. QB Vad Lee has thrown for 1,005 yards and eight TDs and run for 394 yards and six TDs.

Scouting the run defense: The Yellow Jackets rank second in the conference and 11th in the nation in rushing defense (103.4 yards). Only one opponent has rushed for 100 yards against Georgia Tech. DB Jemea Thomas (58) and LB Brandon Watts (47) are the top tackles.

Scouting the pass defense: Tech allows 226.1 yards through the air, ranking ninth in the ACC. DB Jemea Thomas leads the team with eight pass breakups and DB Louis Young has five breakups and two interceptions.

Scouting the special teams: The Yellow Jackets are the only team in the country with three blocked punts, all by Chris Milton. Punter Sean Poole averages 44.1 yards and would rank 11th in the nation if he had enough punts to qualify. Punt returner DeAndre Smelter has averaged 15.4 yards since pressed into service.

SERIES HISTORY: Georgia Tech leads the series 50-26-2. Clemson won 47-31 in 2012. Georgia Tech has won seven of the last 10 games.