Sept. 15, 2004
Head Coach Chan Gailey September 14, 2004 – Tech vs. North Carolina
You talked about playing at a consistent level from week to week, does that come into play this week?
Yes. It did last week and it will next week too. Consistency means that you are trying to play as good as you can play, no matter the situation. I think you have to avoid letdowns, for whatever reason whether you lose or whether you win. You have to avoid letdowns.
Why do you think you played so inconsistently at times last year?
I think that I needed to press the issue harder about making sure we knew the importance of every ball game. I assumed maybe too much. I can’t let that happen again.
Is there a different way to handle a big win or an upset loss in the NFL and college?
I think you have to educate the college player in that respect a little bit more than you do the NFL player. The emotions of games and the ups and the downs are not that much different between college and NFL. Every game to the NFL player works towards the playoff system so you understand that a lot. In college everything is based on where you stand and rankings and ratings. You have to make sure you stress the importance of every game every week. In the pros you have them there locked in so you can stress the importance of the next game and that’s the only thing they are hearing. There are a lot of outside influences for the college age guy.
Do you expect to see a change in attitude this week?
Not really. Our guys are pretty even keeled, pretty smart, pretty steady. They don’t tend to get on too big of an emotional roller coaster. I think the more maturity your team has, the more you are able to handle all those situations. We have a lot of players on this football team that were on last year’s team, and saw that and are better able to guard against it than they were last year. Especially some of the leaders of our football team. They recognize and realize what happened. I hope we will be better able to handle it. We will find out on Saturday.
How do you think Reggie [Ball] has changed from last year to this year?
I think two things: one is his knowledge of what we are doing, and the other is the knowledge of what the other team is doing defensively. I think he has a much better grasp of that. I think once you have a better grasp of that then you understand game. The game starts to make more sense. Your not just executing plays, you are running an offense and that is a big difference. I think he has a better understanding of the total offense and what we are trying to do, who we are trying to attack and thinks like that. I think as time goes on in the next couple of years, we will start to see the development of thinking ahead, next series, how we are setting something up for down the line. Right now he is just executing and has a much better understanding of what we are doing.
Was it a challenge to have a freshman quarterback and try to get the older guys to listen and follow him?
It is somewhat, but after the second game of his career last year, everyone seemed to buy into it. I don’t think that was the issue for him. The issue was for him to understand enough to keep his head above water. This year that is certainly not the case.
Is there any concern that Reggie will rely too much on Calvin [Johnson] and just throw the ball up and let him go get it?
I think that there are times you worry about that, and if it becomes an issue, we will address it. But then again you have to look at it and say, `how dumb is that?’. That’s not exactly dumb to throw it up there and see if he can because he has proven he can. Even the interception he threw the other night, he threw the ball up high to let Calvin go up and make a play. I told the team, `that interception, that turnover, we are going to make some like that because we are going to give our players an opportunity to make a play.’ The good thing we don’t have just Calvin that can go out there and make those plays. We have a couple of other guys that can go out there and make a play. That makes it a little more honest for the defense.
Did you pull Levon Thomas to the side after the game and say, `See, I told you you could be a big time receiver?’
I didn’t have to pull him aside. He knew it. He has practiced and played like a starter since the whole preseason and into the first two ballgames. It’s been fun to watch him, a lot of fun to watch him. From where he has been the two years prior to this to see where he is now is great fun.
What do you think if somebody elects to double team Calvin, that basically says to the other receivers they will have a one on one match-up?
That’s great for us. That’s exactly how we look at it and exactly what we told Reggie and all the other quarterbacks. If they take that away, then go right over there because we feel like we have great match-ups all across the board.
Looking back to last year, do you think this year’s receivers are stronger?
Last year we had two proven guys, Jonathan [Smith] and Nate [Curry]. I don’t even think Nate was a 100-percent healthy like he is this year. This year we look like we have four guys that can go out there compete at a very high level and that is very good for our football team. We helped our receiving corps a great deal this year.
Does having a young player like Calvin playing so well inspire other players to play better?
It might to a certain extent. I think everybody is excited when someone makes a play to help the team win. I really don’t think they care if the guy is a freshman or a senior. It is exciting for Calvin to make something happen big. But if it had been Levon that would have caught it or D-Bo [Damarius Bilbo] that would have caught it, anybody, I think that everybody would have still been happy. There has been a lot of hype that surrounded Calvin and he certainly lived up to it on Saturday.
With a team like Carolina that has struggled on defense, how do you show the guys on the team game film from their games? Do you show them big play here, big stop there, etc.?
I think that you have to get them to understand the capabilities of the team. Not where they are now but what they are capable of. One way to do that is to say, `here is where they stopped them three plays in a row. Here’s where they were three and out in a series.’ Things like that. But overall, if I try to talk them into a certain thought process, someone else might talk them out of a certain thought process. They have to understand we have to go out there and play the way we know we can play and it doesn’t matter who is on film on the other side. That’s what I am trying to get across to our players. We have a level we have to get to. It doesn’t matter who we line up against and whether they have been good before or been bad before. We have to play to our level and work on our execution. If we can do that, that’s where we will gain some consistency.
Carolina has struggled on defense but offensively they look as explosive as any team in the league, can you comment on that?
They are that explosive. They did not put it all together last week, but they scored 49 the first week. They scored a bunch of points last year. They have some very good football players and they have a good scheme and they do a good job with their execution. When [Darian] Durant is hot, he is as good as anybody and he can beat you with his legs too. He went to Clemson last year and I think they scored 36 there. This is a good offensive football team. We have our work cut out for us.
Does it concern you a little about your defense and giving up the big play, especially on the run?
They have a good running game too. They have a few guys averaging a lot of yards per game with [Ronnie] McGill leading. I think that goes back to the same point that we talked about before, it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We have to go out and shut down what they do best and keep those big plays from happening. It doesn’t matter if they blue uniforms or red uniforms or orange uniforms, it doesn’t matter. We have to play to our level. That’s the thing we are preaching. It doesn’t matter what they look like on film. If they look bad, they can be great this week. If they look great, they can be bad this week. We have to play to our level.
Two weeks into Chris Reis’ linebacker career he is already leading the league in tackles, can you talk about how he is doing?
It’s probably nothing short of amazing. He really has a nose for the football. I had a guy that has been around Tech football for a long time telling me that he is just the Georgia Tech football player. Hard nosed, tough, can run, will hit people, great instinsts. All those things that are allowing him to be around the football. He’s making the tackles when he gets there. He’s not missing many either.
What did you say to Levon Thomas that has elevated his play this year?
We didn’t say anything to him except, the only thing that was keeping him from being a good wide receiver was consistency catching the football. He went out and worked on it and came back and has done a great job. He has done a great job running with ball after the catch. I think when he started catching the ball consistently, his whole confidence level has taken a step up.
What can a guy like Calvin Johnson learn from a guy like Reggie Ball?
First of all they are two totally different personalities. That part won’t be that big of an issue. Reggie will sometimes say whatever he is thinking and I think he has realized that is better to sometimes guard what you say. I think Calvin realizes that already. He’s not a very vocal person anyway. He will probably guard himself pretty well. I don’t try to sit down and tell them what to say or what not to say, I just want them to use good judgement. I don’t want to make them robots. I want them to be themselves. It’s great that they are getting attention, but you typically get attention when you win.
What is Calvin like off the field?
He is pretty quiet and reserved; very intense, great person and really doesn’t say that much at all. Doesn’t show a lot of emotion.
Last year you used the tight ends a lot, this year you haven’t used them quite as much. Is that part of your game plan or just you haven’t needed them as much?
Well I think that we will start to diversify as time goes on, if we need to. Right now we haven’t needed too. The thing that has happened with our football team is we have emerged with some good wideouts and we still have to have a running game. It just hasn’t come up that we need to throw to them. Now when you say use them, you mean throw to them because we use them a lot. They are important. We have to have them to run the football and to pass protect and things like that. We use the tight end a bunch, we just haven’t thrown to him yet, but we will as time goes on.
You had a lot of success with the shotgun and two backs especially at the end of the game, is that something we will see more of?
Possibly. That was our two minute offense that we used and it was a little bit better protection for us because of the situation. It deterred them from doing some things that I think they wanted to do. That’s why we went to it fairly early there. But really, we are going to keep doing what we do for the most part. That’s part of our package as well. We can use it in the middle of the third period, end of the game or end of the half.
How important is it to have Eric Henderson back?
Well it would be nice to have him back if we could get Eric back. We have to have him back healthy. We can’t force the issue. If he is healthy he will play, if he is not, then he won’t play. We will just wait and see, but you are right it would be great to have him on pass protection. He is going to try to practice towards the end of the week. He won’t practice today. I think we will make that determination about how many plays he will play if he plays at all.
When Reggie was being recruited, some were reluctant to try him as a quarterback. Did you see him as a good college quarterback right away?
I watched the film on Reggie in high school. I thought he had a chance to play quarterback, but I thought he would end up moving to another position. I told him we would give him a shot at quarterback and he came in and won the job. I wish I could tell you I looked at high school film and knew right off the bat that he was going to be a very good player, but I’m not that good. We gave him a shot and he has earned the position. That’s how he won the job, he had a great deal of confidence in himself and he showed that from the very first snap he took in summer practice last year.
How has he matured?
I think he understands the magnitude of where we are and what we are doing. It doesn’t just affect a small group of people, it affects a large group of people. I think he understands that more and that’s part of the maturing process. He understands the game and that everything he says is used and abused so he has to be smart about what he says.
Sophomore Quarterback Reggie Ball:
On playing consistently and avoiding a let down game: “We just want to stay consistent and play every game like it’s a playoff game. We want to approach to this game the same way we approached the last two games and try to get another win.”
How difficult is it to stay consistent after an emotional game like that? “This year we have a lot more experience. We know what to expect and we know how to overcome that emotional win.”
How good do you think Calvin Johnson can be? “I know how good he can be, but you can’t measure that kind of talent. If he keeps himself healthy he has the chance to be the best.”
On being more comfortable as an underdog: “I doesn’t matter to me whether we’re the underdog because every time we take the field I expect to win. I won’t think of myself as the underdog.”
On Calvin Johnson’s freshman experience: “I went through it just last year and it’s still fresh in my mind. He respects when I tell him what to do, what to expect, and what not to do. I think it means a lot to him coming from me.”
On the first touchdown against Clemson: “That touchdown just shows you what he (Calvin Johnson) can do because that was a terrible pass. It was inside and late. I just threw it up and in my head I was thinking, just go make a play, and that’s exactly what he did. I expect a lot more out of him and the other receivers. Last year I under threw and over threw them, but this year I’m going to give my wide receivers more chances to make plays.”
On the difference in his comfort and accuracy this year versus last year: “I’ve been trying to give the receivers more of a chance and I’m not trying to be so perfect. I think last year I was trying to be too perfect. This year I’m putting the ball out there and I’m telling the receivers to make the play.”
On his comfort level during the last six minutes of the Clemson game: “I was kind of nervous when they broke that big run, but when they got that celebration penalty it gave us good field position. After I threw the touchdown pass to Levon it clicked in my head that if I got another chance we were going to win.”
On the team’s emotions after beating Maryland and then losing to Duke last year: “We were trying to figure out what we were and where we were as a team, but at the same time it was very humbling. To beat a program like Maryland in a tough Thursday night game 7-3 and to come off of a bye weekend and lose by 24 points was very humbling. I think some of the juniors and seniors on the team helped us realize that we just needed to come out and play hard. We have a lot of players still here from last year and we know how easy it is to let down after a big emotional win like last week. We are a lot more prepared to get the job done this week because of last year.”
How surprised were you that Clemson didn’t double Calvin Johnson especially on the last touchdown? “I was really surprised on that last play. As soon as I let the ball go I knew he was going to make a play and I’m glad he was able to stay in the box.”
On him doing more running: “I love to get hit. That’s just apart of the game and without getting hit it’s like I didn’t play. If you saw the game on Saturday, I ran a lot and I got hit a lot. I think that’s another dimension I bring to the team. I’m not the average prototype quarterback that just sits back in the pocket. I want to go down and get dirty too.”
Do you still feel comfortable in the pocket after being sacked six times in the Clemson game? “I can think of two or three sacks that were my fault. The others were just a matter of them picking the right plays at the right time. They showed us some things that we didn’t expect. I got a little lazy and didn’t go through all my reads.”
On looking forward to the North Carolina Game: “I’m ready to play North Carolina and go out there and try to get another win. We know we have to go out there and execute. We have to go out there and establish the run. They have a very explosive offense so we can’t make a lot of turnovers and we have to put points on the board.”
What can the team do in practice to make sure that no one is looking back at the Clemson game? “I know that when we go out on the practice field today the only thing on our mind will be North Carolina. The scout teams will be in UNC’s formations. We may refer back to the Clemson game but only to learn from our mistakes, but besides that Clemson is over with.”
What is the difference in being a sophomore quarterback versus a freshman quarterback? “As a freshman quarterback in the back of your mind you are always wondering if your team is going to listen to you. The upper classmen have been here and they’ve paid their dues. This year I feel like I’ve played some dues and I can come in and take more of a leadership role. I’ve been a lot more vocal this year and I think things have gone pretty well.
When did you notice that Levon had turned the corner? “It started this summer. I knew he would step up because it was his last year and he didn’t get that many reps last year during the season. I know Levon and just watching him work out this summer I knew that he was anxious and ready for the season.”