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Paul Johnson Weekly Press Conference

Sept. 13, 2016

Opening Statement:
“I thought Saturday that we made some improvements in some areas. We still have a ton of work to do. Certainly, we are not where we would like to be in any facet but there were some positives that came out of the game [Saturday’s 35-10 win against Mercer]. Look forward to continuing to grow and get ready to play a Vanderbilt team that has been really physical to this point. They had a big win last week against Middle Tennessee, who is kind of right next to them. I know that has turned into a big game for both teams. I am sure they are going to come in with some confidence and we have to match their physicality and be ready to improve and continue to get better.”

On Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham:
“He is a good football player. He has good size; he is probably bigger than any linebacker we have faced so far. He has good mobility, speed and experience. They cover him up and make him hard to block. “

On Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb:
“I would think if we don’t stop [Webb running the ball], we will see it until our nose bleeds. It is going to be downhill with him and the big tailback [Khari Blasingame]. I mean he is physical. If there is one thing that we have been halfway decent against the first two games, it is against the run. We have played the run a little better, but we have not seen a power team. They are somewhat like Boston College but they are going to pack it in there and come get you. They are not hard to find.”

On if the play of an A-back affects his rotation or play-calling:
“No, usually I know who I am subbing in and what the play is. We have about five to seven A-backs that I feel good about that can all play. There are some that are a little better than others because they are more experienced. [Qua Searcy] is one of the better route-runners and one of the better guys in the passing game. However, it just so happened like the other day that he caught the pitches; we weren’t trying to get him the pitch. He just happened to be the guy over there. What he has done is, when he has gotten the ball, he’s made the most out of it.”

On Georgia Tech’s first two games of the season: “The first two games we came out of the gate last year and killed everybody and everybody was talking about how great we were and we weren’t. Now, the first two games this year and people want to talk about how bad we are and we aren’t. It is kind of somewhere in between. You know the 2014 team started slow and got better. The 2015 team came out of the gate [playing well] and after the Notre Dame game, we just did not play particularly well. We did not play badly all the time; we just could not find a way to win. We kept losing one-score games and every game was tough. At least this team, in the first game, found a way to win without our A-game. Last week, if I gave it a grade, maybe a C, although if you look at it offensively, you take away the two fumbles, we would probably score eight touchdowns or seven touchdowns in eight possessions. That would not have been too bad. Defensively, we gave up ten points, although we were horrendous on third downs. What we have to do is create some third-and-longs. You cannot survive on third-and-two-to-five all the time or you are not going to get off the field. We are not creating enough negative plays on defense.”

On the team’s focus on Vanderbilt:
“We are not overlooking anybody the way we have played the last two weeks. I think our guys understand that if we don’t go out and play hard, anybody can beat us. I feel like this is the kind of football team, and when you’re at a school like Georgia Tech, you can beat anybody and anybody can beat you. We aren’t just going to roll out there with far-superior talent than everybody we play. I have been there where there were two or three games a year that you actually had the get up for – that you had to play – [because] you felt you could win the rest of them with maybe your B-game or C-game. That is not the case here. You have got to be ready to play.”

On Vanderbilt’s kick-return units:
“Hopefully [Harrison Butker] can kick it deep enough to where, if they decide to bring it out, it’s rolling the dice. Just because you kick it deep in the end zone does not mean that it is not coming out if you have really good returners. They are dynamic in that area. They have good returners, so we will have to do a good job working on it and covering it. We do that, we work on it every week. We don’t take for granted that he is going to kick it in there and they are not going to bring it out.”

On Georgia Tech’s two blocked kicks through two games:
“I think guys have done a good job getting penetration and getting their hands up. Our tall guys aren’t the ones that blocked them; it has been Rook [Rod Rook-Chungong] and Kyle [Cerge-Henderson]. I mean it has not been Pat [Patrick Gamble], Francis [Kallon] and the big guys. We just continue to work on it and I think our guys understand how important it is. We make a big deal out of a blocked kick, whether it be a field goal, punt, whatever. We make a big deal out of it in the team meeting on Monday for the guy that does it. I think they are willing to try and get in there and we got really good penetration on [Mercer] Saturday up the middle. The time practicing blocking kicks is the same as it’s always been.”

On the big deal Georgia Tech makes about blocking kicks:
“A big deal is a game ball and stuff like that. We make it a big deal in front of the whole team if they block the kick. We single them out, give notoriety, the whole nine yards. You get the same thing the Players of the Game get. It’s the same type of deal if you block a kick.”

On what a team learns by playing an FCS opponent:
“You learn a lot. Everybody has some good players. How many FCS teams have beaten [FBS] teams now? That doesn’t count the ones that came close. I am talking about beating them. I saw where another Power Five team lost on Saturday. Some of those teams have good players and I think you look and there are certain matchups where they get overmatched. If you watch our tape against Mercer, there are some guys that probably got overmatched while some were holding their own. You learn about your assignments, your execution, your eyes on defense and all of those things. It does not matter who are you playing, if you are not doing those things, you are not going to do very well.”

On early-down defense:
“If you can give up less than three yards on first down, you’re probably in pretty good shape. I don’t know if there’s a benchmark; we don’t have a number where we say ‘OK, we’ve got to hold to second-and-seven.’ What I’m talking about is you’ve got to create some negative plays.”

On Georgia Tech’s pass protection:
“We’ve spent a lot of time working on it. We’ve changed a couple of things but we’ve spent a lot of time working on it. That’s all I can tell you. We’ve got guys that are a little better at it, little better feet, little better athletes. And we haven’t played the guys with great pass rushers yet; they’re coming.”

On a kicker (Harrison Butker) being named team captain:
“I think that it says a couple of things. It says the respect that they have for him … For a kicker to get enough votes to win, I think says a lot about him as a person and his ability and how hard he works, what he does off the field. I spend a lot of time talking to our guys in camp and before we vote about electing somebody as captain that you want to represent you and your values and what you stand for and what you’re about. It’s more than just ‘Who is the best player?’ It’s ‘Who is the guy that’s not in trouble?’, ‘Who’s the guy that goes to class?’, ‘Who’s the guy that you want to put out front to represent you and the program?’ and I think they’ve done a really good job of that when they vote.”

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