In comments in his weekly news conference Monday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson laid out a team goal of making a bowl game, a worthy accomplishment after a 2-5 start. Following the Yellow Jackets’ stunning win over then-No. 9 Florida State Saturday, he had raised his team’s gaze a bit.
In his post-game locker-room message to the team, a speech captured by the ACC Digital Network, he told his players, “Now, what we’re going to do is we’re going to take it, we’re going to build on it, we’re going to run the table out!”
A five-game winning streak to follow a five-game losing streak would be a stunning turnaround. In Tech’s favor is a closing schedule far less severe than the previous six games: Virginia (2-5), Virginia Tech (3-5), Miami (4-3) and Georgia (5-2). Their combined record: 14-15. The previous six opponents: Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pittsburgh and Florida State are a combined 37-5.
Regardless, after beating the Seminoles, the Jackets’ next step is preparing for Virginia and trying to continue the momentum built up in the upset.
“We’ve still got a deep hold to dig out of,” Johnson said Monday at his weekly news conference. “But we’re in better shape than we were a week ago.”
Tech will try to put together a second strong defensive effort after limiting Florida State to 16 points and 70 rushing yards, both well below season averages. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, a Heisman Trophy candidate, was limited to 82 yards on 17 carries. Opponents had averaged 178.4 rushing yards before the FSU game.
“We rallied to the ball better and overlapped some and guys made some plays,” Johnson said. “We still missed some tackles, but we had other guys there and made some plays.”
Offensively, Johnson wasn’t overwhelmed by the unit’s play against the Seminoles, a performance that included two interceptions by quarterback Justin Thomas and what Johnson termed missed assignments at key times, particularly in blocking.
“That part’s still a work in progress with a lot of the young guys,” he said.
But, as Johnson is wont to say, it is easier to correct mistakes after a win than a loss. He was hopeful about the team not losing focus after the emotional win over Florida State.
“I would hope not,” he said. “We’re 3-5. We’ve got a big, big hole to dig out of. We’ve got to get ready to go play.”
The excitement and glow from the FSU win still attended the Jackets Monday. An ESPN reporter was on campus trailing Lance Austin, who returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock, for a “Big Man on Campus” feature to run on SportsCenter later this week. (The reporter, Jeannine Edwards, tweeted that Austin received a standing ovation at Chick-fil-A Monday morning.)
Johnson fielded a question about the tongue-wagging gesture he made walking off the field, an atypically silly expression that was caught on the broadcast and spread quickly on social media. Johnson said it was in response to a fan who had rushed the field after Austin’s touchdown.
“It was some girl, I don’t know who she was,” Johnson said. “She goes, ‘Hey, I love you, Coach!’ I was just, like, Yeah. If that field goal had went through, I doubt she would have loved me much.”
Indeed, days after one of the most memorable wins in school history, it resonates with the position that the Jackets find themselves in – needing to follow it with more victories or else render it hollow.
“We’ve got to continue what we’re doing,” quarterback Justin Thomas said. “We can’t let up. It was a big win, but at the same time, we’re still not where we need to be at, not where we want to be.”