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Johnson on Duke, Elon, no-huddle

A continuation from Tuesday's post about coach Paul Johnson's radio show. Lots of good information shared.

1. Preparations for Duke will be a little different than usual on the defensive side because the Blue Devils have switched up their offense and are using a lot of option plays with quarterback Anthony Boone and running the ball more. Against N.C. Central last Saturday, Boone threw the ball 20 times (completing 16 for 176 yards) and the team threw 28 times. Last year, Duke averaged 42.4 pass attempts per game.

“It’s a different kind of offense,” Johnson said. “It’s the kind of deal where, if we’re not responsible and know exactly what we’ve got to do, they can really gash you.”

I’m hoping defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his players talk this week about playing assignment football, the terminology Tech opponents invariably invoke when facing the option offense.

Defensively, Duke has in the past not strayed from how it has played Tech and Johnson doesn’t expect it to change. He did say he thought the Blue Devils were better defensively and ran better.

“The scheme’s not going to be a whole lot different,” he said. “They’ll have some blitzes and stunts and we’ll have a wrinkle or two for them, so it’s kind of adjust when the game starts.”

Last season, Duke went to its first bowl game since 1994. The Blue Devils are better, Johnson said, no question.

“They’ve become a tough out, so to speak,” Johnson said. “And I’m sure they’re looking to try to get to the next level, as well.”

2. Quarterback Vad Lee “did some really good things” against Elon, Johnson said, particularly given that it was his first start. Lee missed a few option reads, he said, but “when he did, he’s athletic enough (that) he outran his guy and got the ball kicked.”

This is not a small facet of Lee’s game, I’d say. Granted, he ought to be able to outrun players from an FCS team, but his speed and quickness will allow him to compensate for mistakes as he learns the option game.

Of Lee’s three incompletions, two were throwaways and the third was partially the result of a receiver making the wrong read on a route. Johnson mentioned a pass Lee looped over a defender to A-back Deon Hill on an out route.

It “was a heck of a throw,” Johnson said. “The guy had it covered pretty good.”

I don't know if it was a linebacker or back covering Hill, but he was between Lee and Hill, who was running to the sideline, and Lee dropped it over his head. I remember thinking how nice of a touch he showed on it.

3. The plan for the week: Practice in pads Wednesday through Saturday. Players had Saturday afternoon through Tuesday off. Wednesday’s practice, as is customary for the first practice following a game, is conditioning and error correction. Thursday through Saturday will be rugged practices as the game plan is implemented.

Next week will be the usual game-week schedule: Monday and Tuesday in pads, Wednesday and Thursday in shells. Johnson said he wanted to practice Saturday to keep players on a routine. Typically on open dates, the team has practiced earlier in the week and gotten the weekend off, but those open dates have come later in the season. Further, with Labor Day, players had two days off last weekend.

4. A-back Charles Perkins is “probably as healthy as he’s been,” Johnson said, adding that there was doubt about whether he could continue to play when he had his shoulder injury last season. Perkins scored against Elon and also played well on special teams.

“He’ll determine how many carries he gets as the season goes long, how hard he works and how well he plays as the season goes on,” Johnson said.

Perkins could be kind of an X factor in the A-back rotation. He's got more size than any A-back except Synjyn Days and, having played B-back, is used to being physical. Things didn't work out for him at B-back, obviously, and he has some catching up to do, but it's certainly conceivable that he could become a productive player in this offense. It's not like he's lost the ability that he brought with him from Collins Hill.

5. Tech is at 15 commitments for the 2014 signing class. Johnson is looking at a class of 20 or 21. With the last spots, Johnson wants to take offensive and defensive linemen, possibly a B-back and possibly another defensive back.

“I’m not real concerned about (B-back) because we’ve got a young man coming back in January that we think is going to be a good player,” Johnson said, referring obliquely to Travis Custis, who had to leave school due to an NCAA clearinghouse issue.

“We’ll just have to see how the numbers unfold, and you’re always going to take a good player at any position if they’re better than the other guys (already committed),” he said.

Tech has five defensive backs committed, three defensive linemen, two linebackers and a wide receiver, running back, offensive lineman, quarterback and tight end. I believe Custis will be considered part of the 2014 class. As for why Tech is bringing in a tight end, read here.

6. Johnson on kicker Harrison Butker, who recorded touchbacks on seven of nine kickoffs in his debut: “I thought he had a great start. We’d like to get nine out of nine in the end zone.”

7. Johnson took a call on the show about expanding the passing game: “We’re leading the nation in passing efficiency right now. It’d be hard to be any better than that. Only here, when you score 70 points can you get questions about the passing game.”

It may not come through in the quote, but I'd say Johnson's tone was more bemused than aggrieved.

8. Johnson gave his take again on up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. He is not a fan.

“The thing about fast-paced teams, if you’re not making first downs and you’re not moving the ball, you’re wearing out your team, too,” he said.

Johnson watched the North Carolina-South Carolina game, in which broadcasters evidently spoke about the effect of North Carolina’s no-huddle game.

“Hell, they had 10 points,” Johnson said. “It was like, Yeah, they’re wearing somebody out, but it’s not the other team.”

9. Against Elon, Johnson said the team ran five or six base plays on offense and “pretty much that was it.”

10. On the wide receivers: “I thought that Corey (Dennis) did some nice things blocking and some things that helped offensively and Micheal Summers really performed quite well. He made a big first down early on a little hitch route and caught the deep ball, adjusted to it. I thought he played well.”

11. The running clock in the fourth quarter came at the request of Elon coach Jason Swepson. Johnson said an official came to him and informed him of the request.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine with it,’” he said. “Both sides have to agree. I had no problem with it. The game was clearly out of hand. The last thing I wanted (was) for somebody to get hurt.”

Johnson acknowledged the desire to get walk-ons playing time but also not run up the score. Johnson said on the last series of the game, he called the same play every time – with quarterback Tim Byerly either handing the ball off to the B-back or Byerly keeping and following the B-back into the hole.

“You don’t want to run the score up in the fourth quarter, but it’s hard to tell the kids who practice every day to lay down,” Johnson said. “It’s their chance to play. To run the clock was probably the right thing.”

In the same vein, Johnson mentioned something he said after the game about telling quarterback Justin Thomas not to score. I thought he was semi-kidding when he said it after the game, but now I’m not so sure. Johnson said he told Thomas that if he got in the clear, “we’ll take a knee and give ’em the ball back.”

As you may recall, Thomas got a crease and turned on the jets for a 44-yard touchdown. When he returned to the sideline, Johnson said, “I said, ‘Hey, I thought we talked about that.’ ‘Coach, I had to get one. I hadn’t played in a while.’ It was hard to get too mad at him.”

12. Show host Brandon Gaudin asked Johnson a great question – if he had his druthers, where would he place the two byes. Johnson said after the North Carolina game and before the Georgia game. Tech plays Virginia Tech on a short week after North Carolina. Playing the Hokies after the Tar Heels and their up-tempo offense makes for a tough double. (Unless, of course, North Carolina can’t move the ball.)

Johnson said the team will have to be smart with how it practices for the Hokies given how worn out the defense may be from playing North Carolina but also be physically ready to play Virginia Tech.

“It’s going to limit what we can do in practice,” Johnson said.

13. Johnson said he’s hopeful that offensive tackle Morgan Bailey can play against Duke. Defensive tackle Shawn Green is more likely for the North Carolina game. He wasn’t sure about safety Isaiah Johnson.

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