Oct. 23, 2012
By Jon Cooper
You didn’t really think that a win over 1-5 Boston College was going to bring out the warm-and-fuzzies in head coach Paul Johnson, did you?
Johnson was pleased to re-hash a victory after three straight sessions in which he had to regurgitate issues on losses, but didn’t want anyone to think that the team’s 37-17 win over BC on Saturday was a sign that the team was out of any woods they’d entered.
“Take that game and try to build on it as a foundation and move on,” he said in his opening statement. “Certainly we’ve got a big challenge this week in BYU, which is a really, really good football team. I don’t think their record indicates how good they really are. They’ve lost three games to ranked teams, two in the top 10. They’re in the top 10 in about every defensive category and they’re always a big, physical team. This year is no exception. They’re well coached and playing very well, especially defensively.”
The 4-4 Cougars have lost three games by seven points, including a 7-6 loss at then-No. 24 Boise State, and a 17-14 loss last week at No. 5 Notre Dame. Their only “bad” loss was a 42-24 home defeat to No. 7 (although then-unranked) Oregon State. But that game was 28-24 with six minutes to play.
The Cougars defense is formidable, ranking rank fourth in the nation in total defense (276.9 yards per game), and are eighth in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rushing defense (93.13 ypg). They’re also in the top 10 in first downs allowed, third down conversions, red zone conversions, sacks and tackles for loss.
“They’re big and physical up front and they can stop the run with just the front seven,” Johnson said. “Then they give you a lot of different looks when they get you in third-and-long. A lot of blitzes, a lot of zone fires, a lot of things that way. And they’re good tacklers.
“They’ve got the defensive end, 47, (6-6, 270-pound DE/LB Ezekiel Ansah), the guy’s a heck of an athlete. He’s probably a first-round draft pick,” he added. “So they’ve got guys that can rush the passer, they can get pressure with three or four and then they’re able to drop into coverage. Teams haven’t been able to run at all, so they get them in a lot of long-yardage situations.”
It’s the kind of situations Tech had BC in all day on Saturday, when they held them to 1-for-9 on third down, with six of the third-down plays requiring gains of at least 10 yards. A key was first down, where the Jackets forced a loss of yardage or no gain seven times.
“I think a big part of it was we stopped the run,” he said. “If teams have a hard time running the ball, when you do get in third down, sometimes you have third-and-longs. You can play back at the sticks and come up and tackle them and they had to punt the ball. That happened to them a couple of times. So if you can have that kind of third-down defense every week you’d win a lot of games.”
Of course BYU quarterback Riley Nelson is a lot more of a threat to take off than BC’s Chase Rettig. Ironically, while Johnson would like to see an improved pass rush — he’ll rotate the defensive line as he did last week — the rush has to make sure it contains Nelson.
“The big key is their quarterback,” said Johnson. “He’s an experienced guy, he’s older, he can really kill you scrambling and running the ball. He’s got a strong arm but he’s really hurt people when they get out of their rush lanes and he when he pulls the thing down on boots and runs.”
Keeping Nelson in check — and in the pocket — isn’t the only area where Johnson felt Tech needed better focus.
He was not pleased with some of the offensive execution, especially in the second half.
“Clearly we lost focus,” he said. “We missed a ton of reads in the second half. We missed some wide open guys in the passing game. I’m talking about wide open. It would have been touchdowns. Each quarterback did it.”
As far as his quarterback, practice will settle where and how much time Johnson finds for Vad Lee, who Johnson admitted, “gives you a boost when he gets out there. No question about it.”
Regardless of who’s at QB, leaving points on the board won’t get it done against BYU. Nor will anything less than an all-for-one attitude, something Johnson saw last week on the sideline, addressed with the team and doesn’t expect to see again.
“We’ve had a ‘Come to Jesus,'” he said. “We understand. We’re on the same page.
“It’s like I explained to them, if you’re non-attached, then if we win a bunch of games and we go to a bowl game you’ll be non-attached,”he said. “You’re part of the team and you should be there cheering on your teammates and be excited to watch what’s going on and not in la-la land. It should still be a privilege to be able to dress out and have your name on the back of the uniform and be on the sidelines at Georgia Tech. It’s not something that you should just kind of show up. If you want to giggle it up and laugh and cut up and have fun and dance to the video board then go get in the stands.”
Among the bright spots Johnson pointed out was the continually improving play of freshman wide receiver Anthony Autry, who caught his first career touchdown pass last week, and A-Back, B.J. Bostic, whose bounce back from injuries to gain 94 yards of total offense Saturday earned him a game ball.
The health of Will Jackson is a wait-and-see. If healthy, he’ll rotate at tackle and guard as needed. If not, redshirt junior Tyler Kidney and redshirt freshman Bryan Chamberlain would rotate at tackle, with Trey Braun or Errin Joe, both redshirt freshmen, serving as third guard.