7 notes from Tech news conference

Sorry for the delay. I had a busy day Tuesday with basketball media day and an extra story for myajc. Onward with notes from coach Paul Johnson’s Tuesday news conference in advance of Saturday’s game with Miami.

1. Johnson sounded rather confident in where his team stood after four games. Tech is 4-0 for just the fourth time since 1966, but has done it in not terribly convincing fashion against a schedule ranked No. 117 by the Sagarin ratings and has won its past two with a mixture of breaks and clutch play.

“I think we’ve gotten better each week that we’ve played to this point,” he said. “We certainly need to (get better), because we haven’t come close to reaching our potential, I don’t think. Hopefully this Saturday gives us a chance to put both sides together – offense, defense and special teams – really, all three sides, and play our best game, because it’s a game that we’re going to need to play better, play well, because, like I said, they’re very athletic and very talented.”

The phrase “we haven’t come close to reaching our potential,” was interesting to me. I suppose every coach might say that but I think it does capture how he feels about the team.

2. Stopping running back Duke Johnson will be a top priority. Johnson ran for 184 yards on 22 carries last year.

“I think Duke Johnson is the complete package,” he said. “He’s got tremendous speed, quickness, good balance. He broke a ton of tackles against us a year ago. And he’s a good receiver coming out of the backfield, so there’s a lot of ways they can get him the ball.”

Johnson sprained his left ankle in the Hurricanes’ win over Duke last Saturday and was seen limping at Monday’s practice, according to the Miami Herald. The Palm Beach Post reported earlier today that Miami coach Al Golden said Johnson was “100 percent” and “ready to go.”

3. One thing I’ve heard Johnson (Paul, not Duke) mention a couple times in regards to quarterback Justin Thomas is how he has become more decisive in cutting upfield on option plays, which enables him to take advantage of his speed and quickness. Johnson said he’s “gotten so much better at getting downhill” in the past two games.

“I think he’s getting more comfortable with it and he’s getting more confidence,” Johnson said. “The more success he has, the more confidence he gets and when he becomes confident and plays more, he’s going to be a handful, now, because he’s got the skill traits to be pretty good.”

4. Safeties Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden have not been at their best through the first four games, particularly in regards to their tackling. (I’m writing about this for myajc and Saturday’s paper. Golden recognized he hasn’t been at his best and attributed it to coming back from a long layoff.) Paul Johnson said the pressure on them to tackle well is magnified as they’re typically the last line of defense.

“Just like every position, they’ve got to get better and tackle better,” he said. “This is going to be a big challenge for them, because this’ll be the best skill guys they’ve played.”

Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett has 10 catches for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Clive Walford has 16 catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns.

5. Johnson said the plan is to continue rolling backup defensive linemen into the game as was done at Virginia Tech, when Francis Kallon, Kyle Travis, Patrick Gamble, Tyler Stargel and Antonio Simmons all took snaps to give the starters a rest.

6. Georgia Tech has seven takeaways, six by interception, and four giveaways, three by fumble. (The six interceptions are tied for 20th in FBS.) While very early, the giveaway rate compares favorably with the best that Tech has done under Johnson. The 2009 team had 18 giveaways in 14 games. Johnson said he wanted to see an uptick in the takeaways. The best average Tech has had since 2008 was the 2008 team, 2.2. Last year, the Jackets had 20 in 13 games.

He noted the two interceptions returned for touchdowns. This factoid is courtesy of the Tech communications (sports information) office: All seven takeaways have been converted into points, 45 in all. On the flipside, only one Tech turnover has been cashed in.

“So we’ve made some big plays and we’ve been able to capitalize when we’ve gotten the turnovers,” he said. “But, yeah, we’d like to get a lot more and take care of it. That’s the best way to get off the field.”

7. Johnson said he couldn’t recall having a sophomore serve as team captain prior to Thomas’ election last week, along with Shaquille Mason and Quayshawn Nealy. I believe he’s the first freshman or sophomore at Tech to be named a captain since 1981 (Ken Carney).

“It speaks a lot to what his teammates think of him and his work ethic and how he approaches things,” Johnson said.


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