A review of Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson’s Tuesday news conference in advance of the Yellow Jackets’ game against Duke on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
1. Johnson said that he planned to start the same five offensive linemen who started the Louisville game, which would be left tackle Zach Quinney, left guard Parker Braun, center Jahaziel Lee, right guard Connor Hansen and right tackle Andrew Marshall. He offered the caveat that that would hold true as long as none were injured in practice this week.
“That’s always the question: Can you get ’em all to the game on Saturday?” Johnson said.
Johnson said that rotating linemen “doesn’t matter.” He had said prior to the start of the season that he preferred to have more linemen play to keep players fresh. The Yellow Jackets have played lower snap numbers in the past three weeks, likely making rest less of a factor.
“It just depends on the number of plays and how long you’re out there,” Johnson said. “You’d like to have three guards and three tackles, so if something happens, you can rotate, but we don’t go into a game trying to say, ‘O.K., we’re going to rotate. Jimmy gets ‘X’ plays and he gets that many plays.’ You just kind of play it like it is.”
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Aside from center Kenny Cooper, who was held out for the first quarter, Tech stuck with the other starting four through the first three quarters of the win over Louisville. Cooper and Lee rotated.
2. Johnson hinted that more playing time could be coming for freshman safety Juanyeh Thomas. At free safety, Thomas is playing behind Malik Rivera, who has been a highly valuable member of the defense as he played in a similar scheme for three seasons at Wofford before coming to Tech as a graduate transfer.
“We can use Malik in other places when Juanyeh comes along,” Johnson said. ‘I think as he’s matured and gotten to where he understands it better, especially in some sub packages and that kind of thing,’ we can get Juanyeh out there more.”
Thomas made a big play Friday, returning an interception 95 yards for a touchdown late in the 66-31 win. Thomas said Monday that he’s OK playing behind Rivera.
3. Johnson expressed his admiration for Duke’s progress in the 11 seasons that both he and Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe have been leading their teams, saying Duke has made “leaps and bounds” of progress since Johnson’s arrival at Tech.
After playing in two bowl games between 1961 and 2011, Cutcliffe’s fourth season, Duke has been to five bowl games in the past six seasons.
Johnson noted Duke’s non-coaching staff, which he said was second or third largest in the conference.
“I think they’ve poured a lot of resources into their program, with the new stadium and a lot of that stuff,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that Duke’s starting defense has players from nine different states and none of their players in their defensive depth chart, a total of 27 players, is from the state of North Carolina.
“Which tells you they have a huge base and huge recruiting office,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that Tech is gaining in recruiting staff.
“We went from three to five,” he said. “We’re gaining. I think we’re trying to get it right. (Athletic director Todd Stansbury) understands. He’s trying to get the thing right. It takes time.”
Johnson would not be opposed to having a broader recruiting base. The large majority of Tech’s players come from Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina.
“I would think that, the broader the net you cast, the more people you can find,” he said. “I don’t know that we would ever want to play here without kids from Georgia, because the football here’s really good. But we wouldn’t mind having a good player from California or New York or somewhere if we could find ’em and get ’em to come here. It’d be great.”
4. Johnson on the defensive line depth: “I think the first group has played well. (The starting line has been Anree Saint-Amour and Desmond Branch at ends and Kyle Cerge-Henderson at nose tackle) I think there’s probably been too big a dropoff behind the first group. Not at every position, but certainly at some. That’s something we’ve got to continue to work on and continue to try to build some depth.”
5. Johnson on what the offense can do better after scoring 63 points against Bowling Green (touchdowns on eight of nine drives, not counting the final clock-killing possession) and 66 against Louisville (eight touchdowns and a field goal in nine possessions, again not including the final possession to end the game):
“We had 10 or 12 missed assignments. We had two or three plays that went for nothing. We miscalled a formation on a play. It wasn’t perfect. And we had to kick a field goal. There were things that we could have done better.”
Johnson acknowledged that the unit is playing pretty well, going back to the high rate of efficiency on possessions, calling it “pretty remarkable.”
6. Johnson asked for patience again as the team starts the second half of the season. Tech’s three consecutive losses had many fans in an uproar before the wins over Bowling Green and Louisville.
“I’ve said all along, let’s play out the year,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen from here on. But before you jump off the bus, hell, you at least ought to get on the main road. You’ve got to see where the thing’s going.”
7. Johnson on quarterback Taquon Marshall’s early struggles:
“I think sometimes (he) just tried to do too much. Just, you’re trying to make plays and sometimes you force things and you get frustrated and it’s like I told him, and this adage works. It’s the way I’ve looked at life: The best you can, worry about things you can control. Focus on what you can control and let the noise and let all the other stuff go. Because that’s all it is. You can’t control it. So don’t worry about it. Now, that’s hard to do, and especially it’s hard to do for guys that are younger, but that’s the way you’ve got to play, too.”