Simple Goal For Thursday: Play Better

Nov. 1, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Paul Johnson paused more often than usual in his weekly uplink with the media, which was Monday rather than Tuesday this go `round because Georgia Tech plays Thursday night at Virginia Tech.

Big game. Lot on the line. For the Yellow Jackets, it’s win or cross a big goal off G-Tech’s list of possibilities.

The Jackets cannot lose to the Hokies and still win the Coastal Division without what would be a remarkable run of events thereafter (including V-Tech losing its final three ACC games, and even then it would not be a guarantee).

I have had difficulty recently connecting with suggestions on message boards that G-Tech’s coach is snarky toward media. That’s not only because he’s been fair in my dealings with him, but I haven’t seen Johnson routinely be disrespectful to anyone, and I’ve seen the type before. Believe me.

Johnson will give the occasional snarky answer, especially if he’s asked a silly question like one that came up Monday.

The query came with pretext: “You said before the season that you [might] play better this season, but have a worse record.”

Upon hearing that, it was easy to predict that something odd was coming. “Are you playing better . . .

Johnson did not pause a single nano-second, nor was he mean or unruly.

“No,” he said with authority. “I think there’s a myriad of reasons. But we haven’t played as well to this date.”

Then, there was a pause. Several pauses, in fact, came over the next couple of minutes as he gave some analysis of his team. At no point did Johnson serve up as a sacrifice any one of his players.

G-Tech has not been as effective this season as last on either line of scrimmage, the passing game has been poor and therein a failure to replace wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has loomed large and ominous.

The Jackets have a terrible habit of timing penalties and mistakes — gaffing at some of the least opportune moments to either wipe out positive plays, or even give an opponent possession.

From the outside looking in, even while acknowledging that G-Tech does not have near as much depth as I figured before the season, it looks as if the Jackets play tense too often.

They look like they’re trying too hard to play up to the level of ACC champions. Instead, perhaps the goal should be just play as well as you can and hope that’s enough.

Should the thought process of each player be to, “Play my best,” or to, “Play better than all the rest?”

That question may not be as easy to answer at first glance.

By default, I would say the best approach is to zero in on the here and now, the controllable; play as hard and as well as you can.

“You keep working . . . to get better,” Johnson said. “You still have that carrot to shoot for. We are still a game short of being bowl eligible. We still are in the conference race.

“I have learned in this profession that people jump on and off the bandwagon really fast. You put together a couple of wins and they will be right back on. There is a lot to play for.”

Virginia Tech is rolling, having won six straight, overcoming a 17-0 deficit at N.C. State to blow out the Wolfpack along the way.

If the Jackets can’t focus on this one, they can’t focus.

Some believe G-Tech’s annual series with the Hokies has become the Jackets’ top rivalry. The past two games have been taut with meaning, emotion and frisky coaches.

Georgia Tech needed last weekend’s bye physically and mentally.

The down time, during which Johnson attended a game at Georgia Southern and was inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame, may have re-juvenated his sense of humor. Barely.

Make no mistake, Johnson was not comedic Monday. But there were instances where he showed that he’s not despondent, either.

Asked if he’ll talk with his team about remaining in the ACC hunt (which would require not only G-Tech beating the Hokies, Miami and Duke, but also somebody else beating the Hokies), he said sure.

“We still talk about it, until we are mathematically eliminated,” Johnson said. “It is not the major focus. Our focus it going to try and play better this week. We know that if we don’t win this week there won’t be much to talk about.

“Who knows, maybe we can go over there and win this week, I have seen sicker children get well.”

PJ’s pressers have not been as warm, fuzzy or entertaining this fall as last, and it should be obvious why. They’re still interesting, though. You’ve seen and/or heard plenty of what he’s said this fall; what do you think? Let us know at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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