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#TGW: Calming Their Own Storms

Sept. 29, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Those surprised by Georgia Tech’s offensive struggles in the past two games have company in the Yellow Jackets’ locker room, where head coach Paul Johnson’s advice to players might also help fans: calm down.

If Tech (2-2, 0-1 ACC) is to re-discover the offensive rhythm it left at home for two tough road trips to Notre Dame and Duke, the Jackets will need to do what they’re supposed to do Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium against North Carolina (3-1, 0-0) rather than improvise.

Johnson has said the “eye in the sky” doesn’t lie, but that doesn’t mean the Jackets can explain what cameras saw.

After dissecting tape of the 34-20 loss in Durham, Johnson’s primary solution was as satisfyingly simple as the results/reasons were not.

“When they watch it, they can’t believe it,” the coach said, chiefly referencing offensive players and special teams mistakes. “They can’t tell you why they did that. We’ve just got to relax and play.”

Special teams mistakes led to 22 points surrendered, and Tech’s offense operated at far below normal efficiency in averaging 3.9 yards per play, 2.9 per rush, 1.9 per third-down run and 1.1 per third-down pass.

Rather than over focus on what some might consider multiple problems, Johnson is boiling Tech’s ailments down into one easy salve.

A variety of issues that began cropping up early at Notre Dame continued to plague at Duke. The offense is moving in fits and starts in significant measure because the Jackets are blocking poorly – newer and older players alike – and too often not even targeting the right defenders to block.

It may not be a shock during the incorporation of multiple young players at all three running back spots and the wide receiver positions to see some rough spots, but Tech’s four returning linemen and even quarterback Justin Thomas also have been out of sorts.

That has been surprising.

Offensive line coach Mike Sewak concedes that players may be out-thinking themselves.

“We show them tape and tape . . . maybe too much information . . . too many cooks boiling the soup,” Sewak said. “We’re trying to do the same, just do the basics . . . The older guys should not make the mistakes they’re making. If they’re doing it, sometimes they’re over-evaluating . . . “

Thomas, who completed 6-of-21 passes for 141 yards, a touchdown and his first interception of the season while rushing 24 times for 58 yards and a score while losing one of two fumbles, has been among those mis-firing.

“We have got to coach better, but we have got to execute better,” Johnson said. “We are getting critical mistakes . . . I mean, just inexcusable stuff from guys who have played . . . Then, I think that we have guys who have started to press.

“And when they start to press, it gets worse when they get out of the system and start trying to do things on their own. [Thomas] tries to push . . . I do not want to even suggest, remotely, that is the problem . . . When I say ‘press sometimes,’ I think he tries to do too much as opposed to just relax and play and let it come to him.”

Thomas has an antidote in line with Johnson’s.

“It’s little things here and there. We’ve got to go back to the basics, back to the drawing board,” he said. “I have to trust those guys to do their job. When we’re on the field together, it’s an 11-man machine.

“Everybody has to just play, stop thinking so much, just do their job, me included, and just play fast.”

Tech has to worry most about itself.

“I thought that we had it really simplified last week, but clearly we did not do a very good job getting them ready because we had a lot of mistakes,” Johnson said. “It is like I told the coaches, `we have to fix ourselves.’

“I’m really hard on [older players] because they’re the ones who have played. It’s ridiculous for them to be screwing up . . . They shouldn’t be the problem; they should be the solution. You’re going to get beat physically sometimes. Don’t beat yourself mentally . . . Always go to the right guy and give yourself a chance.”

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