Nov. 24, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
There wasn’t a whole lot of positive ions in the air Monday morning as head coach Paul Johnson did his final pregame press conference of the 2015 season.
That wasn’t completely unexpected in a season Johnson basically identified as “miserable.”
But having coached for as long as he has, he also knows that positive ions aren’t going to win Saturday’s 110th renewal with arch rival Georgia (kickoff is at noon at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field and even with all that hasn’t gone his and the Jackets’ way this season and the teams’ rather disparate records — Georgia Tech is 3-8, Georgia 8-3 — neither he nor his team is going to go down without a fight.
That fighting spirit was the one thing about which he was most upbeat Monday — that it was addressed in the final question of the session also may have contributed.
“I’m not into moral victories but the one thing I’ll say about these kids, and I think it says a little something about their character, they don’t quit,” Johnson said. “It’s like that dog that keeps running into the car, he ain’t gettin’ in but he keeps running. They’ve kept coming. Sometimes when you get in a situation like this, I would imagine it might be easy to quit running into the car. I don’t think the freshmen have figured out that they possibly could not run into the car and the older guys, have kept playing. They’re just resilient and keep going and that’s all you can ask them to do.
“We’d like to do it smarter and better,” he added. “It’s like I told the team after the game Saturday, what’s happened is not acceptable, I’m not going to accept it, I don’t think anyone is going to accept it. But I will give you credit. They’re still fighting like hell in the fourth quarter. They’re still playing. I’ve seen a lot of teams that wouldn’t. They’d just sack the bats and go home.”
Johnson would not answer whether or not the Jackets will go to bat with their home run hitter, quarterback Justin Thomas, who left Saturday’s game at Miami late in the first quarter. That will be answered on Thursday after three days of practice, when injury reports officially come out.
“Nothing this year would surprise me,” he said. “We’re hopeful that he’s going to play. We’ll have to see how the week unfolds.”
Redshirt freshman Matthew Jordan would start should Thomas be unable to go but regardless of who is back there, Johnson knows that to beat Georgia at home for the first time in his eight-year tenure, the Jackets first have to stop beating themselves.
“It’s kind of been a situation where every game, for the most part we’ve been in and we find a way to self-implode,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s just playing young guys or just our turn. I’ve been doing this long time. Maybe it’s just my turn.
“It’s just kind of been like a dike. You put your finger in one whole and something pops up over here,” he added. “You go back to the North Carolina game. We have every chance to win that game. You look at our division. Pitt, we had every chance to win that game. We can’t get the [offense and defense] to play together or we can’t seem to make a play at an opportune time. It’s just been one of those kind of years.
He kidded that seemingly every team has hit a school-record field goal against them — Miami and Pittsburgh each had record-setting field goals this year — but also was able to show just where the Jackets had erred to put their opponents in position to score.
A lot of it is the crazy number of freshmen.
“I looked out there Saturday and at one time we had seven freshmen on offense and you’re playing with a third quarterback and probably the fourth and fifth B-Back,” he said. “I think the kids are trying hard. We just have to be smarter and hang on to the ball. Effort hasn’t been a problem. They’ve played hard.”
He feels that what most separates a Division Champion and BCS Bowl winner and a team that won just once in ACC play is the offense. It’s a unit that has felt the loss of both starting B-Backs, both starting wide receivers and, possibly most important, its leader on the offensive line. Then there was the slew of injuries.
“We’re not as good on offense and we haven’t gotten the turnovers,” he said. “Last year the offense was good enough that it could carry the whole team. `You want a shootout? Let’s go. You’ll miss your turn before we will.’ This year we can’t we’re not that good. You’re not going to be with six or seven freshmen, then we got seven or eight backs hurt, two quarterbacks hurt. Hard to play. It sounds like an excuse and I don’t mean it to be an excuse but it’s the truth.”
The truth also is that there will be no rah-rah speech about how this is “Georgia Tech’s Bowl game.”
“No,” he said. “We don’t have a bowl game.”
But they do have an opportunity. A chance for the youngsters to make one last stand.
“Some of those guys that are playing now may not be playing next year,” he said. “Lynn Griffin will be back. We thought Nathan Cottrell would be the best guy we had off a week of practice. He’ll be back. Qua Searcy will be back. J.J. Green will be back.”
On Saturday, it’s lace `em up for 60 more minutes one more time and simply take the youthful enthusiasm with the youthful mistakes.
“When you’re winning the little things don’t get magnified but when you lose all that stuff gets magnified. It’s a harsh reality,” said Johnson. “You have to stay on top of those little things all the time and you have to get them fixed.
“You don’t accept if it’s not going great but you understand it,” he added. “You have to find that fine line where you challenge them but you also understand that three years from now it might be a little different. All those things will get better. It’s just hard to wait on them.”