For instance, in one three-season span as defensive coordinator at Kansas State (1988) and SMU (1989-90), Tenuta's teams won a total of three games. The Mustangs played in 1989 after not fielding a team for two seasons because the NCAA imposed the death penalty for repeated rules violations. The experience, Tenuta said, taught him a lot about how to coach.
"My wife [Dori] likes to forget those days," Tenuta said. "We started 18 true freshmen at SMU. That's where my philosophies developed. You think, 'What can this young man do?' He had to come out of high school and start against the University of Texas. You try to put him in position to be successful. That's not easy. You try to take chances, but not leave gaps. You teach the young men how to fight and hang in there."
Take chances, attack and be aggressive. Yet don't leave gaps. Those sound like warring philosophies. To a degree, said senior linebacker KaMichael Hall, they are.
"When you are bringing somebody [in a blitz], regardless of where they are coming from, there's a hole in the defense," Hall said. "It's the fact of you covering it up and disguising where it is. Make the offense try and figure out where that hole is. Sometimes it bites you in the butt, but sometimes it pays off big. You can't be perfect, so that happens, but the point of it is to try and prevent that from happening as frequently as possible."
Tenuta confirmed that Hall, a two-year starter who led the team last season in tackles for loss with 14, has been paying attention in meetings.
"If you can confuse the front five, first and foremost, and never let the quarterback set his feet, you can hurt the offense's rhythm," Tenuta said. "You have got to penetrate. You can't let people go north and south. You make them go east and west. That's A-B-C football. In the passing game, you never want them to go vertical over your head. You want them to throw to the outside. It's a harder throw."
The problem Georgia Tech will encounter on Saturday night is this: Quinn looks as if he never encounters a difficult throw. Tenuta grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, just as Quinn did. Tenuta is friendly with Mark Crabtree, Quinn's coach at Coffman High. He knows Quinn's background. After watching all 12 of Quinn's games on video last season, seeing every last one of the 292 completions, 32 of them touchdowns, Tenuta understands the difficult task his defense will face in trying to make Quinn guess wrong.
"He is certainly different from what I understand he was his first two years," Tenuta said. "I didn't watch that video. Obviously, Charlie has done a tremendous job with his [Quinn's] decision-making. I can't talk about the 2004 season, but from what you hear, Quinn is 150 percent better."
Under Tenuta, Georgia Tech has been good at making quarterbacks 150 percent worse. The chess match begins Saturday night.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.