Oct. 12, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech seemed to get the knack of running down hill last week when they rambled for a 477 yards against conference-rival Virginia – – Tech’s most yards ever in an ACC game.
That should be good news heading into the teeth of its 2010 ACC schedule, which starts with back-to-back road tests at Clemson, then in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.
The problem is that Clemson is NEXT Saturday. That’s 10 days away. A lot further ahead than Head Coach Paul Johnson cares to look.
At his weekly Tuesday press conference, Johnson stated that he is not looking any farther ahead than this Saturday and the Yellow Jackets’ apparent tune-up against Middle Tennessee State, from the Sun Belt Conference. He warned against anyone else doing so, either.
“You don’t approach this game any differently than the last game; you have to approach them all the same,” said Johnson. “The next game is the biggest game of the year because it is the next one. You can’t worry about the end of the year. You have to worry about Middle Tennessee because if you lose this game, it takes the luster off the next one.
“All you can do is talk about it and hope we learned some lessons early in the year about that,” he added. “You never know when you’re dealing with 18 to 21 year olds. But I can tell you this. Middle Tennessee is talented enough to beat us if we don’t play. I can promise you that.”
Johnson’s wariness isn’t derived so much from Georgia Tech’s lack of familiarity with MTSU (Saturday’s game, which will be broadcast on ESPN3.com, is the first meeting between the schools and Tech’s first against any school from the Sun Belt) but from Johnson’s familiarity with how his team can play when there is a whiff of complacency – – i.e. the 28-25 loss at Kansas back in Week Two.
The Blue Raiders stand at 2-3, with a pair of 24-17 losses against Minnesota in their opener and at Memphis, but also were routed, 42-13, last weekend at home against Troy. They’re 2-13 all-time vs. the ACC, but those wins have come in the last two seasons, both against Maryland.
Johnson knows the Yellow Jackets better be ready for MTSU’s high-powered offense and that means being ready to chase after senior quarterback Dwight Dasher. Dasher, a Folkston, Ga., native, was only the fourth player in NCAA history to throw for 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 last year in leading MTSU to a 10-win season but this season made his debut last week after serving an NCAA-imposed four-game suspension.
Dasher may not have the weapons of N.C. State’s Russell Wilson — at least when it comes to targets — but he may be more versatile in making things happen on his own.
“He presents a lot of problems,” said Johnson. “He is definitely a very good player and has good speed.”
Containment and relegating Dasher to passer would go a long way in slowing down the Blue Raiders and is more of a concern to Johnson than the speed of Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin’s no-huddle spread offense.
“You can actually go faster in practice than they go,” he said. “That’s why I don’t put any credence in the no-huddle stuff gives us grief. Because when we practice, we run two huddles on offense and I guarantee you they’re faster than any no-huddle offense because when one guy’s down the next group is down on the ball ready to go and we don’t let the defense sub out for four or five reps. They learn to go boom, boom, boom, boom.”
While Johnson isn’t concerned about the defense getting to the ball, he would like to see improvement in them taking it away. The Yellow Jackets have forced only seven all season (five fumble recoveries, two interceptions) — only Duke has created fewer.
“It is a function of a lot of things,” said Johnson. “You have to get more guys around the ball and try to knock it loose. We work on it every day. Sometimes you have to be fortunate and just be at the right place at the right time. But it is something that we have addressed and talked about and we have to be better in that area. We have to do a better job of taking care of it, and a better job taking it away. It is going to be a big stat down the stretch. Maybe it is the law of averages maybe they’ll catch up with us and we’ll get some.”
MTSU might help the law of averages along, as the Blue Raiders have turned the ball over 13 times in four games, losing six of eight fumbles, while QB’s have thrown seven picks. Of course, back-ups Logan Kilgore (5) and Jeff Murphy (1) account for six of those. They have only created four turnovers (two INTs, two fumble recoveries).
Staying on the numbers, even the positive of the rushing yards was quashed by Johnson.
“I just think we can be a lot better,” he said. “I know we haven’t done it here, but other places we’ve rushed for 600 yards in a game.”
The other number Johnson feels could be a factor is 22. That’s the number of Georgia natives on the MTSU roster.
“I am sure they are going to come in and be highly motivated to play,” he said. “They’re going to come in here to show us that they should have gotten recruited here. So I’m sure they’ll come in with a chip on their shoulder.
“Hopefully, we will be ready to play and we will see some improvement and progress as we move forward and get ready to play our last half of the season,” he added. “We are just trying to get better and build momentum. We tell the team all the time: you never stay the same. You’re either getting better or worse. Hopefully you don’t take a step back, you just keep working and trying to progress and see what happens.”