Sept. 25, 2012
By Jon Cooper
No one should have expected Paul Johnson to be robust at his Tuesday press conference, only a few days removed from having the rug pulled out from under him and his team Saturday afternoon.
But it’s safe to say he was back on his feet again emotionally and eager to get back to work and put the previous week behind him. The last few days had not been easy ones.
“Clearly coming off a disappointing loss, one that eats at you, the good news is you get to play again,” he said in his opening statement. “We’re looking forward to going back out there on Saturday and see if we can’t get the ship righted and play a little better.”
As was the case after the team’s earlier heartbreaking loss to Virginia Tech, Johnson made it clear that Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee State was about Georgia Tech more than about its opponent, although, this time, he also had to assure that the sky wasn’t falling on him or the program.
Johnson praised his players for their resilience.
“I think they were down a little bit like you would expect. That was a tough loss and we’ve had a couple this year that have been tough,” he said. “But I think they understand. We talked a lot about dealing with adversity and how you respond to it and how you react to it. It helps to define you. I think they’ll come back and play on Saturday. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t. I think we will.”
The recurring theme was that there was still a lot at stake over the final two-thirds of the season. While he scoffed at the idea that the season was over after four games, he said that this week Tech was taking baby steps in its goals.
“Try to beat Middle Tennessee. That’s our goal. That’s what we talked about. Beating Middle Tennessee,” he said. “I don’t think anybody knows about any goals four games into the season. We have teams in our league that haven’t played a conference game and we’re already anointing conference champions? You have to play it and see what happens.”
MTSU presents interesting challenges with the way it throws the ball in its spread offense. Quarterback Logan Kilgore has completed 69.4 percent of his passes and thrown two touchdown passes in each of the Blue Raiders’ three games. Redshirt junior running back Drayton Calhoun, a transfer from LSU, has provided a spark on the ground. MTSU’s 79 points in the last two games — vs. Florida Atlantic and Memphis — has Johnson’s attention.
“Middle Tennessee is a hot team, they’re coming in with two straight wins, they’ve scored some points,” he said. “They return a quarterback who throws it around a lot. Got a couple of running backs, a transfer that is pretty good, and defensively, a new defensive coordinator in Tyrone Nix, who’s been at South Carolina, Ole Miss, Southern Miss., has had a lot of successful defenses, is very multiple.”
The Blue Raiders also had an extra week to prepare.
But Johnson sounded more concerned with how his Jackets play. He expects a big bounce-back effort and hasn’t counted out the Jackets still being heard from in 2012.
He pointed to 2011 as an example of how things can turn around.
“Last year’s a great example. We got off to a great start and didn’t finish well. This year we get off to a mediocre start, maybe we have a great finish,” he said. “You just kind of have to keep going.
“There are a lot of positives,” he continued. “I’d be more concerned if we were trotting out there every week and we were getting pummeled 50-6 and there wasn’t much hope. Maybe call me an optimist. I don’t think anybody’s ever considered me a real optimist about things, but I guess I see it a little differently.”
The Jackets won’t look much different, but will give new faces some field time, including freshman corner D.J. White, who will be playing due to the banged-up secondary, redshirt senior transfer wide receiver Chris Jackson and freshman wide receiver Anthony Autry.
“We’re starting to phase those guys in a little bit,” Johnson said.
Johnson expects another strong showing from the fans at this Saturday’s noon start, the start of their reclaiming of the remainder of the season. Skeptics are not invited.
“We had a pretty good crowd on Saturday,” he said. “I know they left disappointed. So did we. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the program, as much as you want to make it. But that’s your opinions. Write what you want.”