ATLANTA — Paul Johnson shows emotion when he wants to.
The Georgia Tech head coach may yell at players if he deems it necessary. And, from time-to-time, he may offer inspirational quotes to get his always chip shouldered team to play with the type of passion and fire that he believes wins ballgames.
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But if you expect to stumble upon YouTube clips of him giving the type of stirring pregame locker room speeches that can lift a broken team’s spirit and turns his players into a real-life version of Denzel Washington’s Titans, then you better get another thought coming.
Following Georgia Tech’s 28-25 loss to Kansas, Johnson said he saw largely uninspired play from each his team’s three units. That play prompted him to say this during his weekly news conference Tuesday: “There’s not anybody that’s playing that can’t play better. And we can coach better. The whole operation needs to get better.”
Just how does that happen then? Can a motivational, Hollywood-esque speech do it?
“From the looks of the game, I can certainly motivate better. But you know what my experience has been in 31 years? That’s movie/TV crap,” Johnson said. “You better be able to motivate yourself, because I’m not going to motivate you 12 days, 12 Saturdays a year.
“And anybody that thinks you’re going to go in the locker room and somebody’s going to punch the locker or cave in a blackboard or head-butt somebody and everybody goes ‘Ahhhh!’ Well, it’s make believe, it doesn’t happen.”
With the first game of their eight-game ACC slate looming Saturday against North Carolina, the Yellow Jackets are searching for an opportunity to pick themselves off the pavement and treat last Saturday’s loss in Lawrence, Kan. as an aberration.
While Johnson neither confirmed nor denied that players gave their own renditions of win-it-for-the-Gipper-style speeches on the plane ride back from Kansas last Saturday, he did say that it wouldn’t matter if they had anyway.
“It’s easy to talk. I don’t want to see anybody talking. Show me, don’t tell me,” Johnson said. “You do it by playing and doing your job and doing what’s right. It’s easy, yeah, anybody can stand up on the plane and say ‘we’re coming this week,’ until you get hit in the mouth the first time.”
Expecting a test
Much like last week, Johnson during his news conference Tuesday said he expected to see North Carolina’s best effort when the Tar Heels host the Yellow Jackets this weekend.
While the Tar Heels are expected right now to still be without nearly a dozen players because of mass pending suspensions due to alleged NCAA infractions, the Yellow Jackets are preparing for their overall schemes as if they were in uniform.
Even without 13 players — many starters — two weeks ago in their season opener at the Georgia Dome, the Tar Heels gave LSU a tough performance before falling 30-24 despite a last-minute comeback.
“We’ve got to play a Carolina team that’s had a lot of turmoil around it, but boy was I impressed watching them play,” Johnson said. “They played really hard against LSU, they never gave up. They’ve got a lot of really good players.
“Don’t think for a minute they don’t have any players left.”
North Carolina’s linebacker unit is probably the best in the ACC, Johnson said, headlined by seniors Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter. Sturdivant led the Tar Heels in tackles against LSU with eight.
In addition to a strong defenders, Johnson said he was impressed by the Game 1 work of T.J. Yates, North Carolina’s Marietta-raised quarterback who threw for 412 yards two weeks ago.
“Their quarterback probably played — well, not probably, he did play — better than I’ve seen him play,” Johnson said.
Last season, an inexperienced offensive line hampered Yates, who engineered a 154-yard total offensive effort against the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium. In relief two years ago at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium, however, he shined in a limited outing to propel the Tar Heels to a 28-7 victory.
After the ACC’s morbid showing last Saturday, writers and bloggers across the country have questioned the strength of the conference and whether any comparisons of it to other conferences remains valid.
Johnson, a staunch defender of the ACC, believed those making such assertions have been too quick in their rush to judge the conference’s flaws.
“Everybody wants to write the history and deem everything done after two weeks in the season,” Johnson said. “I’d let the thing play out before we decided that somebody’s season’s over or somebody else is done. You never know what happens, it all changes.”
When the season started, five ACC teams were ranked in the major preseason polls, including Georgia Tech. After a weekend in which Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech lost non-conference contests, only the Hurricanes remain in the AP’s top 25 poll.
“By the time the thing plays out, we’ll see,” Johnson said. “I thought (the ACC) was open all along. I didn’t think there was one team that was preordained and was going to march through and beat everybody. But, tere still might be someone that does that.”
Tar Heel tidbit
In home openers, North Carolina is 3-0 under head coach Butch Daivs. Those wins came against James Madison (37-14) in 2007, McNeese State (35-27) in 2008 and The Citadel (40-6) last year. Georgia Tech is the first BCS and ACC opponent the Tar Heels have opened with under Davis.