Sports

Fresh off big win over Virginia Tech, Johnson pays visit to Touchdown Club

Paul Johnson jumped from his coaching threads after an early end to practice, jumped into a jacket and tie and into a car for Macon.

It was time for his yearly visit to the Macon Touchdown Club, something that piqued the interest of the Georgia Tech head coach’s staff.

After all, the Yellow Jackets have a big ACC game Saturday at Virginia, and coaches usually make their Macon trip during an off week.

Not Johnson.

“One of the guys asked me, ‘Coach, you got something in your contract that says you’ve gotta do these things?’ ” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Well, no, I don’t really have anything in my contract. But I remember when I was coaching at Navy, one thing stuck in my mind when I came here is how they killed Chan Gailey because he wouldn’t come.’

“So I said, ‘If I ever get the job at Georgia Tech, I’m gonna make sure I go to Macon.’ ”

Johnson, who arrived a little late but spoke for 45 minutes, was in the good humor befitting a coach whose team still has its fan base buzzing about Saturday night’s 28-23 win over No. 4 Virginia Tech and a No. 11 ranking.

That win lifted the Yellow Jackets to 6-1, a level of success Johnson’s aforementioned predecessor had trouble reaching but one Johnson's Tech teams have done two straight years.

And Virginia was next on the schedule last season as it is this time around, and Johnson offered a stat to caution the Tech fans in the audience.

“Does anybody have any idea what the University of Virginia’s record is during the month of October since Al Groh has been the coach?” said Johnson, whose team hasn’t won in Charlottesville since 1990. “14-1. 14-1 in the month of October.

“We experienced that last year. I told our team (Monday) we were two-touchdown favorites at home against Virginia last year. They came in and hit us right in the mouth.”

Virginia won 24-17.

Johnson naturally poked fun at his in-state rivals to the east, but he also defended embattled Georgia head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, noting UGA’s top-ranked defense in 2007 and Richt’s winning percentage of 77 percent.

“All of a sudden (Richt) didn’t get stupid,” said Johnson, who has won 73.5 percent of his games and successfully avoided the hot seat. “I guess (Martinez) got hit in the head with a hammer.

“If you haven’t won in two weeks, you must be dumb.”

One impressive part of Tech’s 6-1 start is the schedule, and not just the games on Thursdays and Saturdays. Because of Tech’s school schedule and NCAA rules, the Yellow Jackets had an extra week of preseason practice and only a pair of two-a-days.

“Then once the first game came, we had three games in 12 days,” Johnson said. “We were fortunate enough to win the first two (Jacksonville State and Clemson). The third game, at Miami, we ran into a really good football team, and we didn’t play our best game.

“I probably didn’t do a good job getting us ready for that game.”

That hasn’t been a problem since, with Tech knocking off North Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida State and Virginia Tech.

A perception has been that returning ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer isn’t having that good a season.

“Ironically, before the last game, there was about 40 yards difference in where Jon is this year and where he was last year at this time,” Johnson said. “It just seems like (less), because he hasn’t been the leading rusher (as much).

“Coming into this year, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, people talking about him as a first-round (NFL) draft pick. So therefore when teams come in to play, you better believe they’re keying on him.”

And quarterback Josh Nesbitt has improved all facets of his game and has taken advantage. Nesbitt is 36th nationally in rushing yards per game, tied for 55th in total offense and tied for 40th in scoring.

“One thing I can say about Josh Nesbitt is that in all my years of coaching, I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a guy who wants to win more. That guy is competitive now. When the game is on the line, he’s been pretty good. He wants the ball.”

And Johnson hopes Nesbitt and Dwyer can lead Tech to a win that leads to a postgame locker room celebration that rivals last Saturday’s.

“It was wild,” Johnson said. “It was a lot of fun.”

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