ATLANTA — It’s such a simple premise, even Pop Warner little leaguers will nod in agreement upon hearing Paul Johnson’s philosophy for football success.
“With my experience through the years, if you stop the run and you run the ball, you’re going to win way more than you’re going to lose,” the Georgia Tech head coach said.
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Sounds easy, right?
Well, against South Carolina State on Saturday, that doctrine held mostly true as the Yellow Jackets stormed to a 41-10 win over a strong FCS program by running the ball and limiting the Bulldogs’ rushing game as best as possible.
As best as possible, however, wasn’t quite good enough for Johnson.
“We’ve got to do better against the run,” Johnson said during his weekly news conference Tuesday morning.
As a matter of fact, he relayed that sentiment on three separate occasions during the news conference, informing reporters that his players had much work to do in that specific area. Against South Carolina State, the Yellow Jackets defense gave up 178 yards rushing on 39 carries.
“I was impressed with South Carolina State’s tailback (Chris Massey), he broke some nice runs,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get off blocks better. We’re in the wrong gaps a couple of times and when you do that, you open up creases and to their credit, they found them.”
The gap-spacing was an issue of concern for the Yellow Jackets last season when running lanes and passing lanes parted wide enough to fit a tailback, his fullback and one or two 300-pound offensive linemen.
Now, as it was then, the big holes goes all the way back to missed assignments and responsibilities, Johnson said. He believes, if his team is to plan on being better going forward, it has to correct that this week and for the rest of the year.
“I’ll say it again. (On) offense, defense, (players) crutch,” Johnson said. “When they’re getting their butts whipped, it’s always the scheme or they need to make an adjustment.
“Sometimes, they just need to man up and make a play. You’re not going to have two guys let you go unblocked on a play; you need to wade through a blocker. Same thing on offense, you need to block people.”
Orwin, Moore to start?
Several true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores got opportunities to play significant roles in last Saturday’s win. Apparently, some of them performed so well that Johnson has felt compelled to let them prove themselves as part of the starting rotation.
The head coach acknowledged that sophomore A-back Orwin Smith likely will play with the first-team this Saturday when the Yellow Jackets travel to Kansas.
“If he has a good two days of practice, certainly he’ll be starting,” Johnson said.
Johnson was not asked who the Phenix City, Ala. native would potentially replace, but it is presumed junior Roddy Jones would remain in the starting lineup. That means, if practices go well for Smith, he likely would take Embry Peeples’ place.
“I just think he plays a little harder than the other guys,” Johnson said.
Another young player who will factor more into the Yellow Jackets’ game plan is true freshman Justin Moore. The place-kicker from metro Atlanta pushed incumbent Scott Blair for the full kicking duties during preseason camp, but lost out heading into the game prep weeks two weeks ago.
On Tuesday, however, Johnson said Moore will be handling the kickoff duties Saturday after booming a pair of kicks into the end zone against South Carolina State. One went for a touchback, while the other was returned. He averaged 68.5 yards per kickoff.
Blair will retain the field goal and point after responsibilities.
Waiting on Watts
Former Washington County standout Brandon Watts had a challenging preseason session.
The inside linebacker battled injuries off-and-on and missed about 10 workouts as a result. He returned during the week last week and came back into the fold just in time to play in the opener. Due to the injuries, he lost his starting status to junior Kyle Jackson.
As Watts, a redshirt freshman who Johnson and other coaches have credited with having enormous potential, battles back, the climb has been a little tougher than Johnson had hoped it would be.
“Brandon’s fallen off a little bit,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be a really good player, a really good athlete. He’s just got to kind of get back in the groove a little bit.”
Watts had one tackle last week and it was for a loss.
No lying down
The Yellow Jackets do not expect to breeze through Lawrence, Ks. en route to their following game at North Carolina on Sept. 18. The word “oversight” apparently has no place in their vocabulary.
“We expect to get Kansas’ best shot,” Johnson said.
After losing to lower-classified North Dakota State 6-3 last Saturday, it could be easy for Kansas to be overlooked by Georgia Tech. After all, the new-look Jayhawks struggled to score and amassed nearly 100 yards of total offense fewer than the Yellow Jackets did in their opener.
Still, the fact remains, Johnson expects an angered Jayhawks team seeking to claim redemption and prove itself.
“I hope they’re (the Yellow Jackets) not dumb enough to think they can roll out their helmet and somebody’s going to let them win the game,” Johnson said. “It’s like I told them Monday, ‘You better brace for their best shot. Their back’s against the wall. They’ll come out fighting now. They’ll come out mad.’
“It’s like I asked our team, ‘How would you be on Monday if you lost to South Carolina State?’ That’s all you got to think about.”
There is still no news on the status of guard Will Jackson and safety Cooper Taylor, although Johnson expects to know more about at least one of them by Wednesday.
Jackson, a redshirt freshman nursing both a knee and ankle sprain will be reevaluated before an assessment will be made Wednesday on whether he can play at Kansas, Johnson said.
Taylor, Georgia Tech’s sophomore safety who missed most of last season with a rare heart condition, still remained out with what was termed as a “heat-related” ailment.
When asked if doctors and trainers had performed “unusual” tests on Taylor based upon his history with the Wolff-Parkinson-White heart syndrome, Johnson said this: “I guess you’d have to define unusual. They’re still checking him out, making sure he’s OK.”
Long-snapper Tyler Morgan also has missed the last two practices with an undisclosed injury.