ATLANTA — When it comes to preparing his defensive strategy, Paul Johnson has said that he ignores the names and faces he sees in film study, and instead focuses wholly on how the opposing offense on the screen sets and executes its playcalling package.
“I’ve never geared myself toward any one player,” the Georgia Tech head coach said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “I gear myself toward a given team. You have to gear yourself for a scheme.”
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This week, however, even he recognizes that he can pay all the attention to North Carolina State’s overall system as much as possible, but part of the preparation work likely will revolve around guarding against the Wolfpack’s strong-armed, often elusive quarterback, Russell Wilson.
“It could be based some on personnel, but my aspect of it, on my end, I don’t try to run away from people. I run to where we’ve got numbers and angles,” said Johnson, who doubles as Georgia Tech’s offensive coordinator.
As mentioned in The Telegraph on Tuesday, Wilson and his 300-yard producing arm pose a significant threat to any defense. But against the Yellow Jackets, he could really be a unique challenge because of how well he thrives getting outside of the pocket and away from containment situations. When other, less athletic quarterbacks have gotten out of the pocket this season, Georgia Tech’s defense “hasn’t been very good,” Johnson said.
So, to make sure the Yellow Jackets (2-1, 1-0 ACC) don’t get torched this Saturday when they host the Wolfpack (3-0, 0-0), Johnson said his players had to stay within their defensive assignments.
“It’s going to be magnified this week with him,” Johnson said. “If you’re the contain rush guy, it doesn’t mean you don’t rush, it just means you better keep outside containment and not let the guy outside you.”
Watching more Wolfpack players
During a three-and-a-half-minute stretch of his news conference, Johnson spoke about slowing down Wilson by also approaching him as if he were just another ordinary quarterback in the Wolfpack’s scheme. Although minor tweaks would be made in rushing lanes if the Yellow Jackets were facing a more drop-back, pocket-style quarterback, he said, the preparation would still be made for the offense itself.
With a slew of standouts in the secondary, the game plan for facing North Carolina State’s defense may be follow suit.
One week after playing perhaps the ACC’s best linebacker unit in the North Carolina’s, the Yellow Jackets face another collection of ball-hounding players within the Wolfpack secondary.
According to Johnson, there is no weak link at linebacker for North Carolina State, with each of the three being “good players.”
The biggest name in the unit is that of Nate Irving, a senior who missed all last season because of injuries suffered in a preseason car accident. Junior Audie Cole, however, may be the best of the bunch. The outside linebacker leads the team with 20 tackles and 4.5 for loss.
“Certainly the guy that they missed, Nate, coming back is a big help for them,” Johnson said. “And 35? I’m terrible with names, but I know the number. He’s a really good player that No. 35. He makes a lot of plays.”
Sophomore Terrell Manning — No. 35 — ranks second on the team behind Cole with 18 total tackles.
Developing ‘killer instinct’
The Yellow Jackets had chances, Johnson argued, to put the Tar Heels away before last Saturday’s game turned into its eventual close finish. As a result of that fact, he questioned his team’s “killer instinct.”
“I don’t know about ‘killer instinct,’” Johnson said, asked about Georgia Tech’s lack of putting more distance between itself and the Tar Heels in Saturday’s 30-24 win. “When we had two chances to put them away, we got two penalties that stopped drives and we had to kick field goals.”
On the first of those opportunities, with the Yellow Jackets one yard inside the red zone, center Sean Bedford was flagged for holding, backing them up. Three plays later, they settled for a field goal that made it 27-24.
The latter “killer instinct” opportunity came more than six minutes later, when a Joshua Nesbitt run put the Yellow Jackets in a 4th-and-1 situation on the Tar Heels 15. As Georgia Tech lined up in a set it hoped would cause North Carolina to jump offsides, right tackle Phil Smith moved early and was charged with a false start. Instead of going for it on 4th-and-short, the penalty backed the Yellow Jackets up and forced them to kick Scott Blair’s third and final successful field goal.
“A real killer instinct would have been able to put both those balls in the end zone,” Johnson said.
Addressing Bedford’s cramping
In what has become a common gameday occurrence, Bedford was sidelined part of last Saturday’s contest with cramps stemming from dehydration.
Before the season, Bedford said he began a Pedialyte diet in order to replenish his system after games and to attack the cramping problem before they started. Johnson said the training staff has tried to work with Bedford to address the problems, but “we might have to help him in other ways.”
“Sean’s a guy that plays really hard and he sweats a lot, and it’s been hot,” Johnson said.
Bedford was on the field as the Yellow Jackets engineered that second-quarter drive that lasted 10:32 and went the length of the field before they kicked another field goal.
“People talk about it takes it out of the defense on a 10-minute drive, well, the other guys are playing, too. It takes it out of them a little bit,” Johnson said.
A coach’s health
Stress and physical fitness as they relate to coaches has been front and center this week as the college football world continues to reel over news that Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio suffered a heart-attack following the Spartans’ emotional win over Notre Dame last Saturday.
The news of the heart-attack was numbing for most who watched the game—which was decided by a fake field goal pass in overtime—and who saw a seemingly calm Dantonio on the sidelines throughout it. Even in a postgame interview, he seemed in control of things.
But when news broke Sunday of his condition, it had some questioning the role of stress in coaching and how big a part it played in his heart-attack. Johnson understands that argument, but knows coaches aren’t alone in needing to care for their health.
“Mark’s probably not the first 54-year-old man who’s had a heart-attack. But you don’t read about the others in the paper because they’re not in the spotlight,” said Johnson, 53. “Is there stress involved? Yeah. But there’s probably stress involved for the guy who’s trying to make a living for his family everyday and doesn’t know if his job’s going to be gone, either.”
Johnson, who said he knows Dantonio, added that it’s a good thing the heart-attack was noticed now before something else bigger cropped up.
Dantonio still is reportedly resting in a Michigan hospital. Johnson, when asked, said he sees a doctor once a year.