Oct. 13, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– It’s been quite a while since Georgia Tech was not ranked first or second in the ACC in yards per rushing attempt.
It’s certainly something Paul Johnson has not seen since his arrival on The Flats prior to the start of the 2009 season. Tech’s 5.1 yards per attempt ranks third heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh at Bobby Dodd Stadium (kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.) and is more than a yard behind North Carolina’s ACC-leading 6.1 yards per carry and more than half a yard behind runner-up Florida State’s 5.7 ypc.
Then, again, the 2015 season has had several things Johnson had never seen and hadn’t missed not seeing.
“I’ve never called so many third-and-12s or second-and-16s or second-and-14s,” said Johnson, during his Monday morning press conference. “The nature of what we do, that’s not something that happens, usually. For us a bad play is two yards going forward. You miss a read we gain two yards and it’s second and eight. Not second and 15 or 16. So it’s just kind of out of character.”
He counted more than 20 plays that either failed to gain or lost yardage in last Saturday’s loss at No. 6 Clemson. That accounted for 37 percent of the Jackets’ plays from scrimmage.
The players running those plays weren’t exactly familiar to him, either.
“I looked out there on the field Saturday, we’ve got five true freshmen. That’s not redshirt guys, that’s five true freshmen playing. You’ve got the B-back, both A-backs, one receiver and an offensive tackle,” he said. “There are going to be some growing pains. You couple that with the guys who are returning aren’t playing very good up front. It’s a deadly combination.”
Among the frustrating parts for Johnson during this four-game losing streak — also unprecedented for him at Georgia Tech — has been the inability of players to recognize coverages. That’s held true for youngsters and upperclassmen, offense and defense, alike. He pointed to running the improper coverages, ill-advised decisions and, one time, even having a play shuttled in from the sidelines but miscommunicated in the huddle.
But he put the blame squarely on his shoulders, promising to get back to the drawing board in preparation for the Panthers, who come into Bobby Dodd 4-1, 2-0 in ACC play, with their lone loss coming by a field goal in Week Three at 6-0, No. 17 Iowa.
“My deal this week is we’re going back to basics, and we’re going to go back and keep learning,” said Johnson. “You have to do that with the young guys. You can’t just throw them more and more stuff because they’re still trying to digest the other stuff. We’ve just got to do it better at a higher level and be consistent.
“You go back and you practice the plays that you run and practice the offense,” he added. “When you line up, and you are trying to run an option play, and the kids can’t tell the difference between a 50 defense or a 4-3 or a 6-1, you’ve got issues. If you can’t look and see if the guard’s covered or uncovered, you’ve got issues. So you go just back to basics, you keep repping it and hope that they do that. If you try to load the read-key and you load the pitch-key, you’ve got issues. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching that up. It comes back to me. We’ve got to coach it better. Same thing on defense. It’s not just on offense. Trust me.”
Pittsburgh comes in second in the ACC in rushing defense, continuing the gauntlet also known as the Jackets’ 2015 schedule.
“The sixth-ranked defense is coming in now,” Johnson said of Pittsburgh. “It seems like we’ve played Top 15 every week in defense. There are some really good defenses in the conference. Most of the scores have been 17-13, 9-7, except for ours. We’ve got to find a way to play better. We’ll play pretty good defense for a couple of series, then all of a sudden we’ll give up a 65-yard run or a long pass.
“We are making mistakes and we are not good enough to overcome those mistakes,” he added. “We are not making any plays to overcome it. That’s why I say there is a small margin of error.”
Johnson doesn’t want to see is a loss of confidence in themselves or trying to do too much and abandoning the principles of the offense.
“The worst thing that you can do when things aren’t going well is throw the baby out with the bathwater and just panic,” he said. “We’re not bad on third downs because of the scheme. We led the nation and set an all-time record last year running the same plays. We’ve got to do them at a higher efficiency and play better. And, it doesn’t do any good to add more plays and add more stuff when you can’t do the basics of what you are doing right.
“I think what happens is when you play good defenses, and we have, we’ve played good teams, and you have young people, and then you start trying to fix things to help,” he added. “Well this guy is not good at pulling and this guy is not good at scooping and this guy is not good at this, so we’ll try to give you a call where you don’t have to do that where we can do this. Then what happens, before you know it, you’ve got it all jacked up. I look out there and I don’t even recognize it. It doesn’t even look like what we do.”
Johnson was encouraged by the team’s fight in the second half against Clemson, the kind of effort that has kept them in every game.
“I don’t think anybody’s ready to give up. We still have half the season left,” he said. “Really, there is a thin line between winning and losing. You could make a case, maybe not the last game, but you could make a case in almost every other game where if a play goes this way or that way, we could have won those games, especially the Duke game and North Carolina. Even Notre Dame. We don’t get the touchdown called back, that’s 16-13 in the third quarter and you’re in the game. But, you know if ifs and buts were candy and nuts. It doesn’t happen. You have got to make it happen.”
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