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Getting the Brains Right

Oct. 7, 2011

Gameday Central

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

As a skittish group, fans tend to look for reasons to worry before a game, and it’s a good bet that some Georgia Tech faithful are looking past Maryland’s 2-2 record, the Terrapins’ dismal home loss to Temple and then fretting.

It doesn’t appear that Paul Johnson frets, and the Tech head coach probably doesn’t want his players doing that, either.

He does, however, want the Yellow Jackets to respect the Turtle.

Maryland beat Miami to begin the season, and as Johnson pointed out, “they’ve got a lot of guys back that won nine games a year ago. Their quarterback [Danny O’Brien] was the rookie of the year in the ACC.”

The Jackets might be without injured starting linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu and Daniel Drummond. Add a hard-to-describe but uneven performance in last Saturday’s win at N.C. State, and, well, fans will be fans.

Of greater concern to Johnson is his players’ state of mind.

The coach saw cause for concern in practice last week, and his concerns manifested themselves in the game. “We need to have a better week of practice than we did a week ago,” the boss said. “I’m a firm believer that you play like you practice most of the time, and we were just kind of not sharp.

“That’s the way we played in the game, not sharp.”

Never mind the final score nor yardage totals in Tech’s win at N.C. State. A few things were off, and not generally attributable to the Wolfpack. Johnson wants his players to pay no mind to their No. 13 national ranking, their 5-0 record or all the wild yardage totals the offense has put up.

Gotta get the brains right.

Although the coach said he thinks his team has been plenty tested (debatable), the Jackets’ several lopsided wins (their average margin of victory has been 27.8 points per game, although a far more modest 8.5 in two ACC wins), their press clippings, the ranking … all of it may have added up to a comfort zone.

Coaches don’t like cozy. Contentment is an enemy. Creative tension is nectar.

“I don’t think they’re too comfortable with me after last week,” Johnson said. “Trust me, I tell them every day how good I think they are.

“Great teams don’t care who they play, you go out to play against themselves. They want to get better, and they want to execute at the highest level no matter who you play. Good teams are satisfied to sometimes just mill by. If you do that long enough, it’s going to catch up with you.”

Oddly, this will be Maryland’s first road game, but it will not be the Terps’ first test against a ranked team. They were plenty competitive in a 37-31 loss to No. 18 West Virginia.

It’s too early get a real read on how the Terrapins are fitting to new head coach Randy Edsall, the former Tech assistant, or how he’s fitting to them. There have been signs that cozy is not a word that fits in College Park, Md.

Johnson’s trying to eradicate that word. This is not as simple as players playing to their coach’s standard. It’s more a matter of them raising their own standards.

“They know what the expectations are, and I’ve told them I’m not lowering my expectations to them; they’re going to raise theirs to mine,” he said. “It’s focus … your mindset and your expectation needs to be right at the top. The really good [offenses], when they don’t score … they’re [ticked].”

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