Something New In The Air

Sept. 15, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

It’s no secret that Paul Johnson does not routinely script plays ahead of games like some other coaches do, but the Georgia Tech boss is occasionally open to the idea.

In a still-young season starting with interesting fashion points – i.e. explosive passing plays and perhaps a hard-to-peg aura — proof came on the first play of the Yellow Jackets’ win last Saturday.

Johnson knew on Friday what he would the next day call to start it all at Middle Tennessee State, and he told his offense a day ahead of time, too. It worked.

Tiny Tony Zenon, by day a 5-foot-8, 165-pound A-Back who does most things in a flash, opened the night game at B-back in place of starter David Sims. That should have been a signal to the Blue Raiders, although Johnson held Zenon on the sideline a tad long so as to make that tricky.

Zenon quickly found himself more than a little open on a pass route, blowing by a linebacker as a cheetah might if it startled an elder dog awake with a “whoosh” sound while running through the mutt’s house.

Tevin Washington threw a pass. Zenon went to the house, wrapping up a devilishly quick 71-yard scoring play. For the second consecutive game the Jackets were on the board in a snap (double entendre alert).

“I saw it watching tape last Sunday that we could get the B-Back matched up on the linebacker, and you look at personnel,” Johnson said in explaining the play’s origin. “I didn’t think that particular guy could run with Tony. I’m not sure he could have run with David, but I wanted to make real sure.”

Kansas may be looking for that play/personnel Saturday, but if the Jayhawks see what they think might be it, I think there’s a good chance that it will be a decoy for something else. That’s the way PJ sometimes rolls because, as he said, opposing defenses, “catch up to you every year.” Ah, a twinge of sarcasm to demonstrate that the bear need not even be poked to poke back (or perhaps it was a residual reaction by a coach with a long memory).

There wasn’t so much of that last season.

This season has a very different feel to it. If you didn’t have a calendar, you might think it was 2008 again, and that Johnson was on campus for the first time. Newness permeates.

The esteemed Wes Durham said the other day that the Jackets have not yet built much buzz about themselves, at least not outside their own universe.

Outer skeptics over-ride believers, although that count may come into greater balance over the next couple weeks if Tech scorches both Kansas and North Carolina in Bobby Dodd.

The Jackets have five scoring plays of 70 yards or longer in just two games, more than any other conference (not team, but conference) can claim. Sure, the level of competition has been low so far. But there is a feeling of breeziness, of anticipation about this Tech team that was dreadfully absent last season.

A baseline thought: Is what we’re seeing real? Even though the Jackets have so far played Western Carolina and MTSU, no murderer’s row, it’s hard to shake the notion that something special may be afoot.

Johnson is not being asked questions about living up to expectations because they were low (outside the program) to begin with. He’s not being asked about surpassing expectations because the two opponents to date have been so over-whelmed. There has not yet been much of a barometer.

Others are beginning to notice. The ESPN.com ACC blogger has re-calibrated in recent days and the hint of a true buzz is in the air.

Why else might Johnson field a question as he did a few days ago like this: “Are you tired of answering questions about the passing game?”

There was considerable laughter in the room.

Paul Newberry of the Associated Press can be a goofball from time to time. He’s actually quite adept at it. He’s also bright. Usually, he’s a tad on the skeptical side. His question, asked mostly – but not entirely – in jest, suggested that he’s less skeptical than he thought he’d be about now.

“No, not really,” Johnson answered. “I mean . . . I can remember talking to June [Jones] when he was at Hawaii and after a couple of years [throwing the ball all over the place] there people complained that he didn’t run the ball. You don’t get any more [points] for running than you do for throwing.”

Do you agree that there is a hard-to-pinpoint vibe around this team? Let me know at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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