ATL_eagle: 1. A lot was made of Georgia Tech passing in the opener. Do you expect Johnson to continue to air it out? Will passing become a bigger part of this offense than it was at Navy?
Georgia Tech Sports: I would not classify our opening game as "airing it out". We were 8/15 passing for 135 yards. That was fewer attempts than any other ACC team that played in week 1. Will Georgia Tech throw more than Paul Johnson did at Navy? Absolutely. He really had no choice at Navy with the talent, but he has options at Georgia Tech. The wide receivers are better, and his QB's (Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw) have better arms. The offense is actually very versatile, allowing him to run just about anything out of the same base formation. Having said that, Johnson prefers to win with a dominating ground game, as evidenced by the fact that Tech ran for 349 yards total, including 4 different guys with at least 50 yards. Johnson wants the succeed with the run and use the passing game to keep things honest. From that standpoint, it's the traditional winning football formula - run the ball and stop the run.
Here's what I will say about the passing game - it is WAY more efficient than a Chan Gailey passing game ever sniffed at. Even though stats are meaningless, particularly in week 1, Georgia Tech actually leads the league with 9.0 yds/attempt and is one of the top four ACC teams in passing efficiency. I expect this trend to continue. Navy always ran 9 out of 10 times, but was also one of the most efficient passing teams in the country. Why is that? It goes back to Johnson's run-based spread offense. It forces defenses to play assignment football and bring in extra defenders. The result is consistent one-on-one match-ups for WR's and A-Backs (slot backs who run and catch in this system). Also, pass attempts are almost always mid and long range. The short range passing game is really replaced by the run-option game. So when our QB drops back, don't look for a dump-off safety valve - he's likely looking downfield.
Paul Johnson is not married to the run or the pass. He's married to winning, and he'll adjust in the game WAY before most OC's even start think about adjusting. It only takes one series with Johnson to see how a defense plays and start making changes. He's seen every possible defense you can run against this offense. Having said that, it still is a precision offense, that requires great decision-making and timing, particularly by the QB.
ATL_eagle: 2. How is the new defensive scheme different from the aggressive D Tenuta used?
Georgia Tech Sports: The blitz-kreig defense of Jon Tenuta is gone. Under Tenuta it generally went like this - send 5 or more in on every play and force the QB into quick decisions and we'll succeed most of the time. In general it wasn't a bad strategy and made us a perenial top 30 rushing defense and we actually were top 5 in the nation in sacks and TFL. However, it was a bit of a one-trick pony. If your OL could pick up the blitz and you had a QB that made good decisions, you would eat us alive with the passing game (see Matt Ryan last year). Our LB's were blitzing, or corners were playing back and soft off the ball in mostly zone coverage schemes. There were fewer players covering the passing lanes and there were soft spots everywhere. Steve Logan was shooting fish in a barrel with his play-calling last season.
This season, much like BC, our strength lies in our defensive line. There are two possible first round draft picks on that line (seniors Michael Johnson and Vance Walker), another potential future 1st rounder (soph Derrick Morgan), and another outstanding senior who is poised for a strong season (Daryl Richard). This year, the D-Line is being asked to "make plays" instead of mostly setup plays for blitzing LB's and DB's. The D-Line will now have the freedom to decide how they will line up and attack to stop the play. You will see them split out wider and you will see more variety in technique and angles. In the past, Tenuta's scheme typically called for them to attack a certain way, limiting their freedom. Not any longer. We will continue to blitz, but not 85% of the time. Our corners will play more man coverage instead of zone.
It's hard to tell too much based on the first game, but in general we will more heavily rely on our D-Line to create pressure and drop more guys into coverage. That's an overgeneralization, because we'll mix up coverages and blitz as well, but it will be our tendency. This thing is pretty new for us on both sides of the ball, so as fans, we're learning at the same time. Not sure we really know what our defensive tendencies will be at this point.
ATL_eagle: 3. What has surprised you most about the team's adjustment to a completely new style of play?
Georgia Tech Sports: For me, the biggest adjustment for the players has nothing to do with scheme. It has to do with attitude and mental toughness. Chan Gailey was a super-nice guy, but our teams under Gailey were not mentally tough enough to break through to that next level of performance or consistency. Players did not "push through" when things got tough. We talked about "4 quarters" as a mantra, but didn't live up to it on the field. Too many embarrassing losses and bowl performances and an inferiority complex with our rivals in Athens, whom Gailey never defeated in 6 tries. With Gailey, there was this constant "offense vs defense" blame-game theme. There were cliques on this team. We were a team somwhat divided and a fanbase seriously divided.
Paul Johnson brings such a different attitude to the flats. Straight, honest talk about the team. Not much coach-speak with the media. All about the team concept (made O and D players room together during camp). All about discipline. All about mental toughness (PJ quote - "there's a difference between being hurt and being injured"). All about conditioning (toughest camp these players EVER went through). Practices way harder than the games will ever be, with QB's getting hit like everyone else - no special color practice jerseys for those guys. Johnson is all about winning. He absolutely lives and breathes winning (his coaching record speaks for itself). Possibly the most intense game-day competitor in the nation. Plays to win, instead of the Gailey "not to lose" philosophy. Will go for it on 4th down probably more than anyone in the ACC this year. Doesn't matter where on the field.
For players, they were forced to buy-in 100% or not play. It was and is as that simple. Anyone on the team turning into a "cancer" with their attitude won't be tolerated. A few kids didn't buy in. They left. Paul Johnson's attitude is that we don't need them and we don't want them. He doesn't care how many recruiting stars you had or if you're a walk-on. If you work hard and perform in practice, and you believe in what we're doing, you will play. The depth chart is sprinkled with walk-ons. There is never a mystery why you're not playing with Johnson. He has already told you why.
Summing up, I have been most impressed and somewhat surprised by the speed of the change in attitude coming from the team. They're working harder than they ever have, but they see a vision and a roadmap and they believe in it. You can already see that these guys will run through walls for Coach Johnson. His attitude is infectious. Our senior starting left tackle, Andrew Gardner, said that he has never met a guy as confident as Johnson, and that it borders on arrogance, but that he believes so strongly in what he's doing, it's almost impossible not to get on board.
On a side note, I was dumbfounded that Tommy Bowden promised a freshman RB on a recruiting visit that he would get the first carry of Clemson's season, which he promptly fumbled in that Alabama debacle. That is something that would NEVER happen with Paul Johnson. Placing an individual above the team is against the core of everything he stands for.
ATL_eagle: 4. What is your prediction for Saturday?
Georgia Tech Sports: Having gone through all that discussion above, we truly still have no idea where things will end this season. Georgia Tech is still a great unknown. It is completely believable that we only win 4-5 games or even 8-10. We are the least experienced team in the ACC. Of the 110 players on the roster, 75 are freshman and sophomores. If you look at the 44 players in the 2-deep, 26 are frosh or sophs. Out of the 22 starters last week, 14 were either frosh or sophs, including every single skill position. Think about that for a minute. There is a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience.
It is probably to BC's advantage that you are facing Georgia Tech this early in the season. The nature of this offense is that it will get better as the season progresses. The option is about decision-making, timing and execution. With every rep we get, we will get better. Week 2 is probably too early for a big jump.
Turnovers are concern #1. We put the ball on the ground 5 times last week, and even though we only lost 2 of those fumbles, this is the downfall of any offense. With players learning so many new option concepts (center / QB exchanges, belly plays, pitches), we are at a higher risk for turnovers.
For game predictions, I firmly believe our defense will keep us in the game, but that Boston College's defense will hamstring our offense, and it will be a low-scoring affair. Then it will come down to the X's / O's chess match and the execution of our offense against your stout defense. If special teams plays a role, we may be up a creek, since that was clearly the worst part of our week 1 showing. I give BC the advantage because of homefield, special teams and that experienced D-Line against our green offense, but this is a winnable road game for Georgia Tech. We just have to be on our game.
Whatever does happen, Georgia Tech fans will have a better idea of the true progress of this offense by about 3:00pm on Saturday, because BC could be the best run defense we face all year. We can't wait.
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