For much of the past year-and-a-half, Paul Johnson has answered all types of questions about his unique option offense.
It is becoming quite clear he’s tired of hearing them.
“It’s hilarious to me (to hear), it really is,” Johnson said earlier this week at the Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. “ ‘Oh, they have another year of film now, they’re going to be able to (adjust).’ Man, we’ve been doing it 26 years now, they got 25 years of film, OK? It’s like anything else, if you execute the offense efficiently, you’re going to be good. If you don’t you won’t.”
By most accounts, the Georgia Tech head coach has run the rare system quite efficiently for the better part of his 12-year head coaching career. Just once under his watch has a team finished a season with a losing record.
Last year, Johnson discounted naysayers and fielded a Georgia Tech team that greatly exceeded national expectations by going 9-4 and appearing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But none of that seems to matter to people who don’t understand his option scheme, he said. Just because his offense looks different and because he happens to line up his option-style quarterback under center, the speculation will continue.
“People don’t understand it. People that don’t understand things are never going to accept it,” he said. “So it’s like, you just move on. I don’t worry about those people.”
He added that what has made his offense thrive for as long as it has is the fact that he has seen a breadth of defensive packages to counter it, and very few have worked.
“It doesn’t make any difference what you do,” Johnson said. “There’s no secret, special way you can line up and say, ‘Oh my God, they can’t run it.’ Or, ‘They’ll put nine people in the box.’ Go ahead, you’re not going to line up a special way that we haven’t seen over 26 years. You might beat us, but I highly doubt it’s going to be because of the way your guys line up.”
At the end of the 2008 regular season, Johnson was adamant in his opposition to what he believed were missed calls by officials calling his games.
There were times — far too many for Johnson’s liking — that Georgia Tech offensive linemen were flagged for clipping calls because of low blocks that referees deemed unsafe for defensive players.
As part of Johnson’s option offense, linemen are required to dive at a defender’s lower body to ensure that they don’t get leverage as they try to chase down the Yellow Jackets’ ballcarriers.
“Well, we practice against ourselves every day, and we didn’t get one guy hurt. Not one,” Johnson said. “And everybody cries, ‘Aw, you’re going to get somebody hurt.’ Well, teach them to get their hands down, and they won’t get hurt instead of crying about getting cut. That’s part of the game. Otherwise, let’s just get all 340-pound guys and put them side-by-side and they can just waddle on.”
There was one brief scare for the Yellow Jackets in practice this spring, however, as true freshman defensive end Emmanuel Dieke fell awkwardly during a full-speed 11-on-11 drill after taking a low block. To the offensive lineman’s credit, Dieke’s hands were up high and not close to the blocker.
Briefly spraining his knee, Dieke returned to action several days later.
As a result of what he felt were blown calls — particularly several in a late-season loss to North Carolina — Johnson said last fall that he hoped to meet with referees this offseason to demonstrate his team’s blocking techniques.
On Tuesday, he reaffirmed that sentiment.
“I’m going to show them a tape on the difference between cut blocking and chop blocking,” Johnson said. “There’s a huge difference.”
OUT OF HIS CONTROL
Officiating wasn’t the only thing on Johnson’s mind earlier this week. He was also somewhat animated about something he admits he has no control of: the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
For the second straight year, the ACC vs. SEC season opener at the Georgia Dome will not include Johnson’s Yellow Jackets or even the rival Georgia Bulldogs. The two college programs closest to the Dome, and the only ACC and SEC in-state teams, the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs seem like a natural fit, to many, to play in the contest.
“I learned a long time ago not to worry about things you can’t control,” Johnson said. “Right now, that’s out of my control. They’ve got a job to do, and I’ve got a job to do. I understand what they’re doing. But if you’re asking if it helps us, it doesn’t help us. And I’d be surprised if (Georgia head coach) Mark (Richt) didn’t feel the same way.”
The Atlanta Sports Council, the group behind the kickoff game, as well as the Chick-fil-A Bowl, reportedly approached the Yellow Jackets about playing UCLA in next year’s games, but the Bruins turned down the offer.
Last year, Alabama and Clemson appeared in the inaugural kickoff. This year, the Crimson Tide are set to face Virginia Tech, last year’s ACC champion.
“It helps the teams that are playing — no question. No use dancing around it,” he said. “It helps them, doesn’t do anything for us or Georgia. And when you bring teams in your own conference in to showcase now in a kickoff game, it’s got to help them recruit.”