Paul Johnson is in his ninth season as Georgia Tech's head football coach.
Photo: Brant Sanderlin/AJC
Photo: Brant Sanderlin/AJC

Johnson wants to see more poise from Georgia Tech

Poise … it’s not just for Miss Manners classes anymore.

Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1 ACC) coach Paul Johnson mentioned it several times during his weekly press conference on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s game against Miami at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Hours later, assistant coaches and players mentioned the need to play with more poise in their remarks about what they can do to avoid repeating the mistake-filled performance that occurred in last week’s 26-7 loss to Clemson.

“You can’t play the game afraid to make a mistake,” Johnson said. “You just can’t. You’ve got to play. And you’ve got to go play and have confidence in your ability that you can play with those guys and that you can hang with them.”

The lack of poise can lead to the mistakes that Johnson said players can’t be afraid to make. Sometimes it shows in players moving at “warp speed” and missing blocks. Sometimes, it shows in players running to the wrong place or blocking the wrong man.

It showed in the start of last week’s game by the offense, and the continued poor starts by the defense, that have to be avoided this week to increase the chances of defeating the Hurricanes (3-0), which have similar talent as the Tigers, and have run roughshod in their first games against Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State.

Georgia Tech has just the one loss, but hasn’t inspire the same confidence as have the Hurricanes. That was particularly true of the Yellow Jackets in last week’s loss to Clemson. Tech’s offense produced minus-13 yards in its first two drives, while the defense once again gave up a touchdown on its first drive for the third consecutive game. By the end of the first quarter the Yellow Jackets were already behind 14-0, and that included Clemson missing a field goal.

Tech’s offense isn’t designed to come from behind, especially when its bend-but-don’t-break defense typically absorbs a lot of the time of possession in the game.

Johnson can’t put his finger on why the defense has given up touchdowns on the opening drives. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said it’s something the staff and players and have discussed, but he declined to share the details.

“When things don’t go well early sometimes it’s panic,” Johnson said. “I tried to stress to our guys last week at the hotel on Thursday … everybody thinks it’s all these locker room speeches and come out and beat your head into the wall and man I’m fired up.

“You’d better be poised and execute. All that stuff is gone after you get hit in the mouth a couple times.”

Johnson seemed to have an inkling that poise was going to be a problem during the Saturday morning scrimmages.

He said whichever side – offense or defense – was on the wrong side of momentum usually had a difficult time gaining it back.

“If I had the answer we wouldn’t do it but I know it’s an issue,” Johnson said.

Quarterbacks and B-backs coach Bryan Cook said developing poise is a reflection of maturity, confidence, experience, trust and recognition.

It sometimes take time to develop those things. Tech’s starting lineup on offense against Clemson featured two seniors, Justin Thomas and Freddie Burden, and five players who were redshirt sophomores or younger.

Cook said the coaching staff tries to put the players in as many positions as possible during practice so that they aren’t surprised in games.

Offensive lineman Will Bryan said games just feel different than practice because of the atmosphere, the emotions and the hype.

“You just have to relax and play your ball game like you know how to play it,” he said.

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