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Quotes From Tuesday's Paul Johnson Press Conference

Oct. 21, 2008

Opening Comments

“I am awfully proud of our football team and the effort they displayed on Saturday. Everyone realized that it was a pretty hostile environment and once things got going their crowd really got into it. There were probably 80,000 people yelling and to our guys’ credit, they didn’t even flinch. We had an early lead and then kept slugging away until we found a way to get it back. I really didn’t see anybody panic on our sideline. Nobody thought that this thing was slipping away from us – players or coaches. We felt like we were going to win the game the whole time and the players found a way to do it.

“Clemson is a very talented football team. There’s no question they’ve got some great athletes out there. Having said that, now we come back and get ready for Virginia. Like I tell the team, you take it one game at a time. That was the biggest game of the year and now Virginia becomes the biggest game of the year. One of these two teams is going to have two losses in the division come Saturday night and really put themselves behind the eight ball. Hopefully, we understand what we are playing for and approach this as the biggest game of the year.

“It would be great if we could have a packed house and a home field advantage. We want to get the crowd involved and I know the players feed off of their energy. It certainly will be fun to be back at home again.”

Can you talk about what makes Morgan Burnett so special?

“He has great range and is a good athlete. He got one interception against Clemson on the last play of each half. You’d like to see him knock those things down, but when you’re as good of an athlete as he is, you can do that. He’s just a great all-around football player. He loves to play the game and works hard. Really, you can’t say enough good things about him.

“I remember him in high school when he was a quarterback and a great all-around player. I was joking with him when I got here that we were going to make him a quarterback and I think he thought I was serious there for a while. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea! You could see then that he was a good athlete. The thing that impresses me most about Morgan is that he loves to play the game of football. If you called a bunch of guys and said, `Bbring your pads, we’re going to play a game this afternoon at 2:00,’ he’d be the first one there. He just likes to play and I think he has a really bright future if he continues to work hard and doing the things he’s doing.”

How did the hiring of defensive coordinator Dave Wommack materialize?

“I’ve known him for a long time through other people. Dave worked for Jesse Branch at Missouri State and I’ve known Jesse forever. I’ve been around Dave, but we’ve never coached together. The x’s and o’s part is important, but to me, when you put together a staff, you want guys who will continually get along with each other. I knew him a little bit through some people, but when Dave came in here and we talked. I felt like he would be a good fit for who we had here and what was going on. You spend so much time together and I wanted somebody who was going to be a team player. It’s not about one guy, it’s all about the team and he is that way. It’s a group effort among the defensive coaches and they all enjoy working together. To me, that’s the most important part. X’s and o’s are important as well, but chemistry is key to me. He’s a team guy and they are doing a great job so I haven’t had to go over there at all. If a situation came up and I had to go over there with a suggestion, I wouldn’t hesitate and I don’t think he would react in the wrong way. I think all of the defensive coaches have done a great job. They’re working together and it’s a great environment over there. The worst thing you can have is – `This is my defensive line or these are my linebackers’ – and that’s not the case. It’s Georgia Tech’s defensive line and Georgia Tech’s linebackers and I he understands that. The players believe in him, they like him and they play hard for him.”

You always hear about team chemistry, but is there something special in chemistry among the coaching staff?

“I’m a firm believer in the players react how you do. If the coaching staff is split and has factions, then the players are going to be split and have factions. There are going to be times when things aren’t going great on every side of the ball. It would be easy to point fingers, but the bottom line is when you lose, you all lose. When you understand that it’s a team concept and everybody buys in then you will be successful. If I’m down over here, then I need to pick it up over there. It doesn’t accomplish anything to say `do your part.’ You have to do what it takes to win. I always tell the team, there will be games we win 6-3 and there may be games you have to win 36-33. You have to try to find a way to win, bottom line. We’ve had all kinds of situations already this year. There have been a couple of times when we came back in the fourth quarter, some times when we got the lead on offense or times when we’ve had to hold on with defense at the end of the game. I think the guys are never in a panic situation where it’s `oh no, we have to score or oh no, we have to hold them.’ They realize they are in it together as a team.”

What impresses you the most about Virginia?

Size — they are huge. When you look at their size, they look like an NFL team. Their linebackers are very talented and offensively, as [tailback Cedric] Peerman goes, so goes Virginia. Since he’s come back, he he’s kick-started their offense. He’s a great back and when he gets going, they’re tough to stop. Last year, he ran through us like nobody was there.”

Are the Virginia linebackers just as active as Duke was?

“They have four very talented guys. [Clint] Sintim is as good a linebacker as anybody we have played. A 3-4 defense is set up for those guys to make plays and they do. They’re very active and we will have our hands full.”

How much do your players notice the crowd and feed off their energy?

“Before the game starts, I’ll look around and see what the crowd looks like but once it starts I couldn’t tell you if there were six people in the stands because I get so zoned in. I couldn’t have told you if there six people at Clemson. I knew they were loud and making a ton of noise, but you don’t have time to think about that. With that said, I think a lot of people feed off of it. I know our team does when they get the home crowd behind them and they’re loud. Everybody is different. For some guys, that would mean a lot to them. I’d love to have the place packed for our team. I think they deserve to have a good crowd in here on Saturday for how hard they’ve worked to this point. It’s for them, not me.”

How do you think quarterback Josh Nesbitt played in his first game back in a month at Clemson last Saturday?

“Not great, but for a guy that missed four weeks I was pleased. I think Josh would be the first guy to tell you that he could have played better. For a guy that has only played in three games and been out for four weeks, it was a little bit like starting over. The thing about Josh Nesbitt is that he is such a competitor. He does not want to lose. Did he get every read right? No, but he finds a way to make plays. He has a calm confidence about his ability and doesn’t get rattled. The more he plays, the better he will get.

“Fortunately for us, we also have [freshman quarterback] Jaybo [Shaw] who has played a lot and we feel good about him. We went from not knowing who was going to play quarterback for a week or two to back to normal with our two guys.”

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