Sept. 27, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Paul Johnson has a very good memory, even though he poked some fun at it during his Tuesday afternoon press conference.
His memory is certainly good enough to remember last Sept. 25th. It’s a day he’d rather forget, as Georgia Tech suffered a 45-38 loss to North Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium. He preferred not to go too in-depth about the game, which saw State gain 527 yards of total offense, including 159 rushing and 368 passing.
On Tuesday, he simply hit the low-lights, although that still took a good 20 to 25 seconds to get through.
“I just remember that we lost,” said Johnson. “We played very poorly. We had a punt blocked for a touchdown, we turned the ball over on offense a couple of times, we couldn’t get a stop when we needed to on defense. They beat us in pretty much every phase. It sticks under your craw a little bit. Competitors look forward to having another chance.
“I don’t know about other people’s competitiveness. I’ve always been competitive,” he added. “I can’t remember ever not being, even from the time I was growing up.”
As a competitor, Johnson relishes the opportunity for revenge this Saturday, when his 21st-ranked (both polls) Yellow Jackets visit Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. It will be Tech’s first game there since 2006 (a 31-23 victory), and the first ACC road test of the season.
That it’s the first ACC road test is big, and Raleigh certainly will provide some culture shock for some of the younger players. But it shouldn’t be as terrifying as the team has a road game under its belt — the week two visit to Murfreesboro, Tenn., for the Middle Tennessee State game.
“You’re glad it’s not the first one so they know what the routine is because we had a bunch of guys who had never been on the road,” he said. “This will probably be a way more hostile environment than we were in the first time. There will be more people, a bigger stadium. To this point our guys have been able to focus pretty good on the task at hand. Hopefully we can do that.”
Johnson said he expects as rude a greeting from the Wolfpack, who are 2-2, coming off a nationally televised 44-14 shellacking at Cincinnati, and are already 0-1 in the ACC, having dropped a 34-27 decision at Wake Forest on Sept. 10.
“Their backs are up against the wall a little bit, so I’m sure we’ll get their best shot,” he said. “Last year they beat us pretty good here. They scored more points than anybody since I’ve been here and I know in the league. So, we’ve got to play better, take better care of the ball and see if we can get them off the field, which we struggled with last year at times.”
Johnson doesn’t expect the ‘Pack to play it too much differently than last year, even though they won’t have playmaker Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin. Wilson threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score in last year’s game. But Johnson is not underselling quarterback Mike Glennon, who stands 6-6, 232 and possesses a cannon of an arm.
“They’re doing some of the same things,” said Johnson. “Clearly [Wilson] could keep a lot of things alive because he was a talented runner. Glennon probably has a stronger throwing arm than Russell Wilson. So they’re not going to change a lot of what they do I wouldn’t think. Where they’ve struggled a little bit to this point is running the football. Last year against us they didn’t struggle. They ran it when they wanted to. They have a lot of the same guys so that’s going to be a key point and a challenge.”
Thus far, his team has handled similar challenges well. They took the measure of revenge-minded MTSU, then, two weeks ago, humiliated Kansas, 66-24. NC State is next on a rather lengthy list that includes, in order, Miami (Oct. 22), Clemson (Oct. 29), Virginia Tech (Nov. 10), and Georgia (Nov. 26).
With a list that long, it’s easy to see why Johnson is not buying into the hype of the team’s 4-0 start and No. 21 ranking.
“We talked about on Monday that we’ve got to get ready, get dialed in on this game,” he said. “This team has done nothing. It has accomplished nothing. It’s still a process on-going.
“I’m telling you they haven’t [done anything] for all you guys that are telling them they have,” he added. “We’ve played a third of the season. You don’t hand out anything for a third of a season. You take it one game at a time. People can say its cliché. It’s whatever it is. You better have laser vision, tunnel vision. One game at a time, that’s the way you have to play the game. If you do that, and you get to November, then they might mean something.”