Sept. 7, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word –
There’s no doubt, football can be complicated. Listen to the names of some of the plays ushered in and check out diagrams of some of the designed plays.
But Paul Johnson, who has thrived as a head coach for almost 20 years running the Spread Option, one of the nation’s most complex offenses, will admit that it’s not rocket science.
While the two can — and did — co-exist at Georgia Tech a few years back when former Yellow Jackets center Sean Bedford earned his degree in Aerospace Engineering while earning Outland and Rimington Trophy nominations — it’s infrequent that Albert Einstein or someone of such scientific renown makes his way into football discussions.
Tuesday was an exception, as Johnson directly quoted Einstein in regard to who may and may not be a difference-maker in Saturday’s home opener against Mercer (kickoff is at 3 p.m.).
“What do they say is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,’” said Johnson, who will look to go nine-for-nine in home openers at Tech and 2-0 for the seventh time. “We get the same results we need to get them with somebody else.”
Johnson was referring to punter Ryan Rodwell — who has the chance to hold the job with a good week of practice — but could have been talking about several positions on both sides of the ball. Justin Thomas is safe at quarterback, as is Qua Searcy at one A-Back spot, but most other positions are up in the air according to Johnson.
Much of the euphoria from the late comeback last Saturday in beating Boston College, 17-14, in Dublin, Ireland, never made it back to the Flats. Johnson is back to business and his business is making sure that his team is ready for Mercer (0-1) on Saturday. That was evident in his grade for the team.
“C-minus, D-plus. It was good enough to win but it was dead average,” he said. “We didn’t lose but I’m not sure we won. We just maintained and didn’t lose. I guess you could make a case to say we did win at the end because we had to drive down and score, so it wasn’t all negative. I just want our guys to understand what the expectation level is and it’s not okay to go play like that. I don’t care if you win or lose, it’s not acceptable.”
Johnson hopes that receiving a grade that probably every one of the players has rarely seen, will shake them up, get them focused come 3:00 pm on Saturday, and get them to stop thinking so much.
“I think sometimes they’re too smart for their own good. They want to outsmart people,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to put your hand down and come off and hit people in the mouth. You can’t get the perfect angle every time. Sometimes you’ve got to exert your will on them a little bit.”
It’s been a while since Tech lost to Mercer (14 straight games, with the lone loss coming in the first meeting of the series in 1892 and the teams haven’t met since 1938), they haven’t lost a Johnson-coached home-opener, and haven’t lost a home-opener at all, since 2006, a 14-10 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame.
A captain on that ‘06 team was Joe Anoi’a, who, is better known as WWE’s Roman Reigns and who has no trouble hitting someone in the mouth — nor did he then. Who’ll step up and deliver that shot for this team is not known. Johnson is waiting to see who’ll step up in practice.
He expects there to be a big jump, as Johnson believes players make a big jump between Weeks 1 and 2. He also feels there are plenty of candidates in the Tech locker room who should be making that jump.
“Who do I look to make a jump? All of them,” said Johnson. “None of them were very good. Some areas were better than others but I mean you go right down just pick an area — physicality on offense, eyes on defense, leverage, missed tackles, missed assignments, misalignments. I mean all the stuff you have to do every week we can get better at all of it and we need to. (Place kicker) Harrison Butker was pretty good, so hopefully he can continue to build. Other than that, I think everyone out there can probably get better.”
Searcy should expect to start and freshman OL Parker Braun also should expect to see the field.
While Mercer dropped its opener, 24-23, Johnson expects the Bears will be hungry and looking to make a statement in their debut against FBS competition since 2013’s reboot of the program.
“I am sure Mercer is excited about having the chance to come here and play at Bobby Dodd,” he said. “They have a number of players from the metro Atlanta area and a lot of in-state players. I know what that would be like for them having coached at Georgia Southern at one time, so I am sure they are going to be fired up and excited to play and we need to be as well.”
They’ll also need to look back only two seasons, to the Week 3 game of 2014 against Georgia Southern, when the Jackets nearly squandered a 35-10 halftime lead, before pulling out a 42-38 win with 23 seconds left, on a late Thomas 13-yard TD pass to Deon Hill. Mercer trailed 21-3 in their opener then rallied for 20 unanswered points, before falling late.
“There are still a few of them who learned a valuable lesson. We came out with some intensity then we got up 35 to 7 and put it on cruise control and almost lost the game,” he said. “It will be a challenge to come out and play and play consistently.”
Tech can’t risk a repeat of that against a quality opponent like Mercer.
“Mercer has a lot of kids that have played football,” Johnson said. “Their quarterback (senior John Russ) has played every game since they started back (in 2013) and they have some experience on the offensive line. Defensively, they’re not as big as most teams we are going to play but they run around pretty good. They also have the advantage of coming off playing a team that is very similar to us in style last Thursday night (The Citadel), so they have had all (of) camp and two weeks to get ready to play.”
There probably isn’t a lot that you’re going to do that will surprise them. I am sure they are coming in with the attitude of ‘there is nothing to lose, caution to the wind and let’s go play and see what happens.’”
Saturday begins a stretch of three games in 12 days, as Vanderbilt of the SEC, then No. 2 Clemson, on a short week, follow. All three games are at home (Tech doesn’t hit the road until Oct. 8, when they go to Pittsburgh), so it’s an opportunity to get off to a fast start.
Opportunity certainly is the buzz word this week at practice.
“My challenge to our guys this week, it’s about US,” he said. “It’s about who you want to be and what you want to be. Do you want to be dead average? Because that’s how you played on Saturday — I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and call you average — or do you want to be good? If you want to be good, you better work and come out and play better and play harder, more physical, more accountability.
“Just do your job and do it to the best of your ability, as hard as you can do it,” he added. “Are you going to be perfect? No, nobody is ever perfect. But you’ve got a chance of being much better if you do what you’re supposed to instead of trying to freelance and do those kinds of things.”