Nov. 20, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Keeping focus is always a priority for Georgia Tech football head coach Paul Johnson.
Keeping that focus, especially the week of the Georgia game, normally isn’t difficult. But this week has seen other things at work that have made laser-like focus a little more difficult.
It has nothing to do with the opponent or Monday’s turn of events that saw Miami step aside as Coastal Division frontrunner, making the Yellow Jackets Charlotte-bound for the ACC Championship Game as Coastal Division champions — don’t even mention longtime ACC fixture Maryland’s heading to the Big Ten.
Any lack of focus is primarily due to an outbreak of the flu that has hit his team in waves over the last week and didn’t spare Johnson, who was fighting off the effects during his weekly press conference.
“It’s going around the team still,” he said. “We’ve still got several guys with it. So it’s an issue.
“This thing has normally been lasting like three or four days with our guys,” he added. “What we’re hoping is we don’t come down with it as a large group. We’ve got a few with it now. We just don’t want a large group to get it Wednesday and Thursday. That would be the killer.”
The Jackets, left for dead by some at 3-5, are riding a three-game winning streak, giving themselves a chance to make 2012 a special season. Next up is the trip to Athens to play No. 3 Georgia, the SEC East Champion.
“I think that we’ve got some momentum here in the last half of the year,” he said. “Certainly we’ll have to play our best game of the year to have a chance in Athens on Saturday. They’re very talented. As you watch the tape, I think they’ve gotten better as the year’s gone along.”
One tape Johnson probably won’t watch was the tape of Georgia’s most recent game against Georgia Southern. While the Eagles still run a similar offense to Johnson’s Spread Option — not surprising, since their head coach, Jeff Monken is a disciple and former assistant of Johnson both at GSU and Georgia Tech — Johnson felt it futile to watch the Eagles attack the Todd Grantham’s defense.
He can watch how his team did it last year, when it ran for 243 yards, or, preferably how it did the year before, when it ran for 411 yards.
“They play their base defense, which is what they’ve done against us the last two years. They didn’t do anything a whole lot differently,” Johnson said. “We’ve played each other enough now I don’t think there will be a big guessing game as to what we’re doing and what they’re doing. It will come down to execution and trying to maybe have the right thing on at the right time. They’ve got their plan and they’re going to run with it.”
They hope to stop Tech’s run with it. Tech’s head coach has plenty of respect for UGA’s defensive side of the ball.
“They’ve probably got, I don’t know, six or seven NFL guys, at least on that defense,” Johnson said. “The linebacking corps is physical and fast. Jarvis Jones gets a lot of notoriety and rightfully so, he’s an awfully good player but Alec Ogletree just jumps off the film at you. He’s a special player as well. Then the two safeties are very good. So they’ve got a lot of good football players on that team.”
The Jackets plan on showing up on Saturday with a positive mindset and an offense that has put up 143 points over the last three games.
“We’ve played pretty well offensively the last couple of games. We’ve played okay defensively in spots. The second halves have been better,” he said. “We’ll see. It’s going to be a huge challenge. You don’t want to get into a game with them where you have to score every possession. They’re too good on defense for that. We’ve got to find a way to get them stopped some this week.”
To that end, the Jackets get senior defensive end Izaan Cross back. He missed last Saturday’s win over Duke with the flu. That allowed freshman Adam Gotsis to take the field and record his first career sack. For the Jackets to win on Saturday they’ll need pressure from the D-Line as well as the continued assault of junior linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, on Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who last season tore up the Jackets, completing 19 of 29 passes for 252 yards and four touchdowns.
“The teams that get to him with four-man rush, that are physical and better, like any quarterback, he’s going to struggle,” said Johnson. “The teams that they’ve played can’t get to him. If you don’t get to him and he has time he’s going to pick you apart.”
Ideally, the Jackets would like to play keep-away in a fashion similar to last week, when they held the ball for 38 minutes. While the status of leading rusher senior A-Back Orwin Smith is still unknown, Johnson feels the depth at A-Back — especially sophomore Robert Godhigh, who has six touchdowns (three rushing, three receiving) over the last three games — could still present a formidable attack.
“I think any time you take a player of [Smith’s] magnitude out, clearly you’d miss him if he doesn’t play,” he said. “But there is some depth at that position. Robbie Godhigh has played well, you’ve got Synjyn Days now, B.J. Bostic, Deon Hill, Tony Zenon. So all those guys have played. So it’s not as if you would have to put somebody out there who hasn’t played in a game.
“I think that they’ve gotten better,” he added. “Robbie’s played really well and with Synjyn in there now that he’s kind of getting a grasp, he still has some fundamental things he’s got get better at like they all do, but there are some good athletes in there.”
The surge from the offensive line also has keyed Tech’s late-season surge.
“The last few games we’ve probably played as well as we have since I’ve been here,” said Johnson. “What they’re doing is they’re playing hard, they’re getting a lot of guys cut off and they’re getting down field and getting a lot of guys on the ground when they get down field. When you do that it gives you a chance to hit some big plays.”
Johnson credited the improvement to experience gained by the young unit, which will get redshirt junior and starting tackle Will Jackson back Saturday.
The bottom line is that Tech must to be at its best for 60 minutes on Saturday and execute as it has the past three weeks.
For his part, Johnson won’t be doing anything any different than he always has. There are no new superstitions. He’ll keep to his one “ritual.”
“Same old same old. It doesn’t change much for me,” he said. “Try to score more than the other team. That’s the biggest superstition you’ve got. I’ve found that usually works.”