Read what Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson had to say about his defending Coastal Division champion Yellow Jackets. What did Johnson have to say about the team’s chances of repeating this fall? Check out some of what he had to say below. All quotes courtesy of ASAPSports.com.
Q. Yesterday’s news that you’re going to have the opportunity to play Tennessee in the kickoff game in 2017. What does that mean for you and the program?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, good morning. We’re excited about the announcement to have the chance to play the University of Tennessee. I think that Tennessee and Georgia Tech have long had a long-standing tradition of playing. They haven’t played in quite a few years. Certainly we’re familiar with each other. We recruit the same areas. Tennessee, I think Butch has done a really good job of rebuilding their program and brand. Ought to be a heck of a game. To be able to have the opportunity in our backyard to play one of the first games in the new Falcon Stadium ought to be a real treat for both programs. We’re really excited about the opportunity.
Q. Georgia Tech was picked first in the pre-season balloting. Six of the seven teams got a number of first-place votes. The Coastal is wide open. Would you contrast the Coastal with the Atlantic. Do you feel like the Coastal is gaining on the Atlantic?
COACH JOHNSON: I don’t think the Coastal has to gain on the Atlantic. I think if you look, it kind of goes in circles or whatever. When I first came into the league, the Coastal was by far the stronger division. I think that both Clemson and Florida State have had good teams. If you look, this will be my eighth year I think at Georgia Tech. We’re 5-3 against Clemson, 2-3 against Florida State. We’ve had better success with them than we have Virginia Tech and Miami. So I think the two televisions are pretty well-balanced if you look at the head-to-head and those type of things. Again, since I’ve been at Georgia Tech, every year but one, either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech has won the Coastal division, so that’s always a huge thing. There’s a lot of teams that are competitive. For once I hope they got it right. They haven’t got it right too many times. This time I hope they picked it right.
Q. How comfortable are you now with Justin Thomas at quarterback? He said yesterday he’s seeing why you’re calling some of the plays and it makes sense to him.
COACH JOHNSON: Justin is a tremendous athlete. We’re very fortunate to have him as part of our program. He has a great skill set. I think he’d be a really good quarterback in any system. But his skill set really fits what we like to do. He’s got great quickness. He’s really fast. He’s got a quick release. I think one of the things that people don’t realize sometimes, if I’m not mistaken, he was either third or fourth in passing efficiency a year ago in QBR. I think the more he plays, the better he’s going to get. We have a lot of confidence in Justin. I think our team does. We’re really excited about the type of season that he may have. So just really glad he’s on our team. I think he brings a different dimension to the game.
Q. With so much talk about the triple option, what Justin can do, on the defensive side through the spring, who are some of those guys you are keying in on?
COACH JOHNSON: We have eight starters coming back on defense. We’re excited about that. Statistically we weren’t very good defensively if you look at yards per play, total yardage, whatever. But I think Ted and the defensive staff did a nice job. We became very opportunistic. We were pretty good with takeaways. After the North Carolina game a year ago we turned to more pressure and decided we’re going to get off the field one way or the other. Our guys kind of took to that and we played better on defense down the stretch.
So coming back in the secondary, D.J. White and Chris Milton return at corner, Jamal Golden and Demond Smith both played at safety a lot. Adam Gotsis is a guy up front that’s been a starter. Jabari Hunt-Days, who sat out, was a linebacker for us two years ago, at 245. He’s now 295 and is a down tackle. P.J. Davis returns at linebacker. Tyler Marcordes. We have a lot of guys who played a lot. We’re anxiously optimistic that we’re going to be much better defensively and hopefully they can be a big part of leading the team early on till some of the young skill guys can develop.
Q. I asked some of your players this yesterday. Georgia Tech is a program, 18 straight bowls, third longest streak in college football, won the Orange Bowl last year. Nationally when people talk about the ACC, they talk about Florida State, Clemson, Miami. What is it going to take to change it and how much does that bother you?
COACH JOHNSON: I don’t know what it’s going to take to change it. If anything, we’ve just got to keep doing what we do and let that take care of itself. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve been at this thing for a long time. We have our own set of expectations. I think we left here a year ago picked to finish fifth in our division. We didn’t pay much attention to that, just like we won’t pay much attention to being picked to finish first. I think you’ve got to play the games on the field. We’ve been in the ACC championship game three of the seven seasons we’ve been there. That’s certainly our goal and what we’re shooting for again this year.
Q. Of all the coaches in the country, you have more ways of proving the offensive pundits wrong time and time again. Does that help you in recruiting? Everybody said it would kill you in recruiting.
COACH JOHNSON: Believe it or not, it never really hurt us in recruiting. As much as the media wants to put that perception out there, you know, we’ve never really had a problem. I think we’ve got five or six wide receivers playing in the NFL. When people tell receivers, Why would you want to go there, they don’t throw the ball? You point to Demaryius Thomas, Stephen Hill, all these guys that are playing in the league. The other aspect, just like we were talking about Justin Thomas, clearly the offense helped us recruit Justin. He committed to the University of Alabama to be a defensive back. He wanted to play quarterback.
He felt like he fit our system. So I’m not sure that it’s really mattered that match. I think anytime you do something that’s a little bit different, everybody wants to point out why it won’t work. I still get questions, Will the offense work on this level, after umpteen years. We were joking earlier on the radio today. It’s like when somebody plays against us and has a really good defensive game, then that’s the blueprint, the offense is over, here is the blueprint, this is the way you stop the thing. Somebody has a good game against a team that runs a pro-style offense, they don’t stay, There’s the blueprint, no more pro-style offenses, they’re gone forever. It’s like anything else, if you execute, good players make you better. There’s no magical way to line up on defense and play. When teams play well and they play good defense, they can stop you the same as they stop anything. It’s kind of been amusing in a way through the years to hear people try to describe and talk about what we do.
Q. You had the Rolling Stones come in this year. You enjoyed the concert. Would you be willing to have that if you knew you could get new turf?
COACH JOHNSON: They didn’t ask me. You’re right, we enjoyed the concert. They put on a great show. They resodded the field and it looks great. I’m not sure what the future plans for that are. But we had fun that night. It was fun.
Q. This past year you got over the hump and beat your rival in Georgia. How big was that for recruiting this off-season and how important is that game to you guys?
COACH JOHNSON: I think that’s a huge game for our alumni and for everybody in the state. I’m not sure that it has a huge impact in recruiting, if you want to be truthful. The two schools are different. Different fan base, different type school. We’ve had some really close games the last few years. The year before we went to double overtime and came up on the short end. It was good to finally be on the right end of that game. More than any other game, our fans can enjoy that for at least a year. But Georgia typically has a really great program. Mark does a really great job. They’re always going to be pretty good. It’s always a tough game at the end of the year.
Q. Coach, you always hear coaches talking about first down, the importance of first down offensively. With you all, third down seems to be one of the keys. If you’re not converting, you may be getting to the spot where you’re not scared to go for it on fourth down. What is your philosophy?
COACH JOHNSON: I think third down is important. When I started coaching a long time ago, I feel like if you can run the ball, stop the run, be good on third downs on offense and defense, you’re going to win a lot of games. We were fortunate last year, I think we converted on almost 58% of our third downs, which is an all-time record for the NCAA since they’ve been keeping that stat. The way you do that is you stay out of a lot of third-and-longs. I think it’s important that we stress it, we practice it a lot. Usually in the season we’ll end almost every day good-against-good, and we’ll start out maybe Tuesday might be third-and-four, then we’ll go to third-and-six, then do a third-and-two. Once in a blue moon we’ll do a third-and-long for the defense. But we talk about it and stress it. The big thing is we stay out of a lot of third-and-longs.
Q. 2016 you’ll start off the season in Dublin taking on Boston College. Your thoughts on that?
COACH JOHNSON: I think it is a great opportunity. We’re excited for our young men and the fans and alumni. I had the opportunity to do that when I was at the Naval Academy. We played Notre Dame in Ireland. It was a great experience for the players, everybody around. I know a lot of our fans and alumni are excited to put together a week of golf over there and a vacation with the game. The only thing that I remember about the last time we played there, a lot of the local fans were questioning how could a tiny school like Notre Dame play the whole Navy (laughter). They had that a little backwards. This time it will be two schools, and I’m sure it will be an exciting game and a fun time.