“They’ve gotten better every game, and their last two, they’ve really played at a high level,” he said. “They’re doing more as it goes along, as they learn what they’re doing.”
Cutcliffe noted the experience of the team, pointing out the preponderance of juniors and seniors in the defensive front seven (four seniors and a junior) and the seniors at A-back, wide receiver and quarterback.
“I think Paul’s one of the best football coaches that I have seen in my long career,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s had an outstanding long career, so they have worked very hard to improve, and they’ve got a good team. We’ve got to play better than the last time we played (a 31-14 home loss to Virginia Tech) to have a chance to win.”
Cutcliffe went on to say that Johnson “calls a game as good as anybody.”
He expressed his concern for Tech’s passing game, whose 8.6 yards-per-attempt average is tied for 23rd nationally.
“The thing they do, they’ve got big, talented receivers, and they will burn you, and they will burn you with those backs, who are good out of the backfield,” he said.
Cutcliffe also offered his critique of a new rule banning blocks below the waist more than five yards downfield.
“I’ve seen no change in how they’re calling anything – zero,” Cutcliffe said. “None.”
Tech has been called for it once, against South Florida, though the Jackets appear to have adapted to it by not throwing cut blocks downfield. Johnson said earlier in this season on his radio show that it has made blocking downfield more difficult for the offensive linemen as they’re having to try to engage smaller, quicker safeties and linebackers in open space.
Cutcliffe called for further study of the rule and cut blocking in general as they pertain to player safety. The topic is a sensitive one at Tech, for which cut blocking is a staple of the offense, though most offenses employ it to some degree.
“We don’t need to talk about it, we’re responsible to study it, no different than the (new kickoff rule),” Cutcliffe said. “If we’ve admitted, in my opinion, that we have a problem, we’re responsible for continuing to look at what’s the best path.”
Advocacy for study of the block below the waist is not an entirely different stance than Johnson’s, although they’re coming at it from different directions. Johnson has protested rules limiting the use of cut blocking as he has said that there is no data supporting that the practice is dangerous.
In April, when the new rule was introduced, he noted that the blocking was still permitted within five yards of the line of scrimmage, an area where teams that run bubble screens and run-pass option plays, use blocks below the waist.
"Either blocking below the waist is dangerous or it's not," Johnson said. "It's not anymore dangerous five yards down the field than it is on the line of scrimmage. If it's that scary, they ought to not tackle below the waist."