Sept. 8, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Having looked at film from Thursday night’s season-opening 69-6 blowout of Alcorn State, Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson learned a lot about his team, yet not a lot of things that he didn’t already know.
For example, he knows his team was really good but can and will be a lot better. That mission will start with the practices this week.
“We have a lot of room for improvement off Week One,” he said in his weekly press conference. “I was proud of the way our guys came out focused at the start last week. I thought the first quarter went about as well as it could go. Then after that, once the game was in hand, we made some mistakes, a lot of technique things we can clean up and some other issues.”
The laundry list included a number of things on both sides of the ball.
“Finishing blocks on offense, blocking the right people, taking the right steps, we missed some reads, we missed some opportunities even though we didn’t throw it much,” he said. “We certainly can run better routes. Defensively we missed tackles, we had a ton of missed assignments and missed alignments. All that stuff you can get better at.”
Johnson also now knows that he can feel comfortable spending the majority of practice time getting his team better at what they need to get better, and less on the upcoming opponent, Tulane, as he already has a very good idea about them.
“Tulane actually has about the same team that we played a year ago,” he said. “Pretty much all of those guys are back, with the exception of one or two. I think athletically, they really run well and they have some good athletes, defensively, especially, a couple of good pass rushers off the edge. They run around well. They’ve struggled to score points, but their quarterback is a returner, he played all last year, they have good skill, speed at running back.”
Tech managed to lock up that speed and skill last season, thumping the Green Wave, 38-21, spoiling the opening of Yulman Stadium, but were not quite able to put the kind of lock and key on the ball that Johnson would have liked.
“Certainly we didn’t play particularly well down there a year ago,” he said. “You have to give them some credit for that. They forced some turnovers. That will be big this week.”
Tech put the ball on the ground three times, losing two, with quarterback Justin Thomas fumbling on the first drive and nearly fumbling a second time, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass and was upheld by replay. That lost fumble allowed Tulane to take a 7-0 lead. A second lost fumble by A-Back Tony Zenon, late in the first quarter, with Tech up 14-7, didn’t hurt, as the Green Wave missed a field goal attempt.
Johnson would prefer not to rely on missed FGAs this Saturday and is looking at a more mature Thomas to show that maturity, and break what sometimes can be perceived as his false sense of ball-security.
“Last year the ball-security thing got really exposed in that game,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about it, but he has to do better than he did the other night with ball-security. While he’s a dynamic player that’s one area that he can really improve on. I think sometimes he’s so quick and so fast that he gets away with not being as sound in that area as he needs to be. So that will be a real focal point for him this week.”
Preparation for the Green Wave, who lost 37-7 in its opener last Thursday against Duke, shouldn’t provide anything new or unusual for the Jackets.
“You can see Tulane, they’re playing a little different defense than they played against us against Duke. We’ll get ready for all of it,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the good things about what we do. It’s kind of built-in. There are only a few ways you can play. Last year they played us in a 4-3 and a 3-4 and there aren’t too many other ways they can play. I guess they could jump a double-eagle. They did some against Duke, and some 46, but we practice against all that.
“It’s executing and blocking and tackling,” he continued, adding with a laugh, “I don’t think they’re going to line up in anything we haven’t seen at some point doing this. It might be fun if they did.”
As far as the Jackets, themselves, Johnson was not really surprised by anything he saw, especially from his talented group of freshmen.
“[B-Back] Marcus Marshall did some good things. He has to hold onto the ball and block better,” Johnson said. “I think [A-Back] TaQuon [Marshall] is going to be a good player and [DB] A.J. Gray made some plays. [Linebacker] Brant Mitchell did some good things when he was in there. That’s probably about it that stood out.”
Same with the new starting corps of receivers.
“They did okay. There wasn’t a lot to it,” Johnson said, pointing to the five passing attempts, four of them completions. “I think they all did okay. Nobody was great but nobody was really bad. They played about like we thought.”
Ditto with the A-Backs, whom he substituted liberally, and the offensive line.
About the only player that drew raves from Johnson on Monday was Tulane’s star WLB, Nico Marley, Tulane’s second-leading tackler last year (82, 46 solo, a team-high 13.5 tackles-for-loss) and leader last week against Duke (15, 13 solo). Marley made an indelible impression on Johnson following last year’s game against Tech, in which the 5-10, 208-pound ball of fire made a game-high 11 tackles, six of them solo — one more than the Jackets’ leading tackler.
The Tulane-Duke game did little to change Johnson’s opinion.
“That guy’s a good player. He’s like a little Tasmanian devil out there. He’s all over the place,” said Johnson of the son of former University of Miami undersized linebacking demon Rohan Marley and grandson of the late reggae legend Bob Marley. “Duke threw a fade route one time, by the time the ball hit the ground he was back there 30 yards deep. He’s a fun guy to watch play. He really plays hard and he had a bunch of tackles against us a year ago. He’s a good player.”
Johnson will be better able to deal with a similar effort from Marley if his defense can produce a similar effort on third down as last week.
Tech held Alcorn to two third-down conversions in 16 attempts. Tulane similarly struggled against Duke, putting up an identical number of first downs but on two fewer attempts. Last year they were 5-for-11 against the Jackets.
“They hurt themselves on special teams and third down was awful for them,” Johnson said. “Duke did a really good job on third down defense, so their defense kind of wore down. If they’ll cooperate and be that bad on third down, then we’ll get a lot of kicks at the can.”
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