Oct. 6, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson knows that a play-caller walks a fine line between being a genius and being…well, not.
It’s a line he’s walked plenty in his 36 years in the coaching profession, all but two of those as either a head coach or offensive coordinator.
While he’s been on the genius side the majority of the time, he also knows a play-caller is only as smart as the players’ execution of the plays he calls and that he can get dumb in a hurry.
For most of the first half of Saturday’s game against North Carolina, Johnson was “Einsteinian.” Implementing the no-huddle, Tech ran — literally — 21 plays, gained 118 yards and put North Carolina on it’s heels and in a 7-0 hole. The Jackets kept them there for the first 25-plus minutes, building the lead to 21-0 and starting a new streak of 200-yard rushing games.
But as the game went on and the Jackets’ execution fell off some, misfiring on a couple of series, and eventually losing the game, 38-31, he found himself open to the second-guess.
Being human, Johnson is not immune to the frustration when things don’t go right, as they didn’t in the last 34 minutes Saturday, and is prone to stay up late, looking at tape, trying to figure out what went wrong.
“I stayed up all night Saturday thinking, `What could I have done different to help?'” Johnson said at his weekly Monday press conference. “I watched the tape, maybe I could have called a pass on the goal line.’ Other than that we were about doing what we needed to do.”
He reached the same conclusion he reached following the two previous games.
“You’ve just got to execute it a little bit,” he said. “There’s always things you can do better. But it wasn’t like, `Oh, wow, If only I had thought of that’ during the game, or `If I had only thought of this.’ And we didn’t miss many checks because I did them. I think we scored on five of nine possessions. It just so happened they scored on six of their last eight.”
The two most vexing series came at the end of the half, when Tech went three-and-out up 21-7, and at the beginning of the fourth while holding on to a 28-24 lead.
On the first drive, his aggressive play call on first down was right, but the execution was just a little less so. After that came the inability to execute.
“I’m trying to score,” he explained. “We had it setup off running the option. You have to execute. If we throw it and catch it and we go up 28-7 everybody’s talking about, `Great call.’
“(On second down) We run the quarterback draw, don’t do a very good job of executing it. They take a timeout,” he continued. “We don’t complete [third down]. We don’t execute. We have a chance to catch that one in bounds. You can hindsight anything you want but you can’t be afraid. What I was trying to do was score. My nature is 20 seconds left you run the thing out. With a minute, 29 seconds and three time out we’re going to score because if we hit the first play, if they run him down, we’re on their side of the field with a minute to go and we can do whatever we want. The second play we didn’t execute it very good. Third down and 14, I wasn’t going to hand it off and let them take time out and get the ball. I was going to try to make a first down.”
In the fourth, short-yardage issues on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal plays kept Tech from finishing an impressive drive and keep pace with North Carolina as the game turned into a shootout.
Johnson, who called the plays all game long, went with Tech’s bread and butter, the QB Dive, with Justin Thomas. Both plays got stuffed and UNC would eventually take the lead and hold on. Johnson credited North Carolina for stepping up.
“They got in all the gaps. That’s what people do on the goal line,” he said. “They fired the corner both times. So if you toss it he’s going to get a mouthful of corner. We could have thrown the lob down there. People would have been really excited about that, wouldn’t they if it was incomplete on third and goal and fourth and goal on the one-yard line?
“There’s other stuff we might could have run but with what we do you feel like that’s what we needed to do,” he added. “In hindsight it would have been better than what we did. It didn’t work. But if we did what we do right, it’s the nature of the game, you’re going to second-guess if it doesn’t work.”
Johnson hopes the Jackets can get things working this week. It’s a tall task at No. 6 Clemson,. For that to happen they need to do execute, especially in short-yardage situations.
“For the second game in a row, fourth-and-one, third-and-one, I think we missed two third-and-ones, a third-and-two and when you do what we do that’s not the case,” he said. “People can talk about how [Carolina’s defense] lined up all they want. I’m watching the Clemson game all the way back to `13. Clemson is lined up exactly the same way Carolina is on the goal line, we run exactly the same play and we walk in. And Clemson’s got good people. It’s our execution. We had a couple of missed assignments. That’s why I say we have no margin for error.”