ATLANTA -- On paper Georgia Tech’s season opener against Western Carolina doesn’t appear to be fraught with peril.
Western Carolina plays in the Southern Conference, competes in the FCS and struggled to go 2-9 a year ago. The game sounds like it has all the makings of an Olympic basketball game featuring the U.S. and Sri Lanka.
Despite the lack of a marquee opponent in the opener, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson doesn’t believe his players will show up and go through the motions. But just in case, he reminds them of last year’s opener.
“Remember South Carolina State?” Johnson said. “They’ll knock the fool out of you just like Clemson.”
Of course, Georgia Tech won that S.C. State game 41-10, rushing for 362 yards and six touchdowns and forcing three fumbles. The two previous years they, handled Jacksonville State in the opener. Rarely under Johnson’s reign has there been a meltdown against a lesser opponent, an exception being a 10-7 midseason win over Gardner Webb in 2008 when a third-string quarterback had to be employed.
Georgia Tech has won its past four opening games and six of its past seven. The Yellow Jackets have outscored their opposition 152-44 in their past four home openers.
Johnson said he’s less worried about the opposition than he is concerned about his own team, which is trying to rebound from last year’s disappointing 6-7 season.
“It doesn’t make any difference who you play,” Johnson said. “We’re concerned about ourselves. I’m more concerned about Georgia Tech than I am about who we play and going out and playing well and doing the things we need to do to win.”
After a successful preseason, Johnson wants to see the enthusiasm carry over to the regular season.
“I want to see us play hard,” Johnson said. “I want us to take care of the ball, execute, be ready to play and play with attitude.”
All eyes will be on quarterback Tevin Washington when it comes to execution. He started the final four games in 2010 and held onto the starter’s job, despite heavy competition from redshirt freshman Synjyn Days and true fresman Vad Lee. If Washington can run the offense and keep fumbles to a minimum, he’ll likely retain his job. But the leash on Washington is probably short and Johnson said that Days will play in the opener.
The other area to watch is the Georgia Tech defense, which is entering its second season under coordinator Al Groh. The Yellow Jackets expect improvement from a unit that allowed 371.7 yards and 25.2 points per game.
Western Carolina returns 13 starters, including nine on offense. The Catamounts installed the “Pistol Offense” and will start 6-foot-7 quarterback Brandon Pechloff, who started five games last year and threw for 1,405 yards and seven touchdowns. Western will be without running back Michael Johnson, who is still suffering the effects of a shoulder injury incurred in camp. Western Carolina has 13 Georgia players on its roster, none from Middle Georgia and none of whom were recruited by Georgia Tech.