ATLANTA — At times Monday morning, Georgia Tech’s Goldsmith conference room was pin-drop quiet.
There was an eeriness and a silence that was more befitting a funeral procession than a news conference. On occasion, there even existed a somber-tone that was rarely seen on weekday mornings last season, whenever the Yellow Jackets’ head coach addressed media.
But there it persisted on Monday, as Paul Johnson spoke with candor about some of the disappointments that have ruled this 5-3 season for the unranked Yellow Jackets. Yet, even as he expressed concerns over how the year has gone, there were elements of optimism and glimmers of his continual hope in his team.
“We still talk about (winning the ACC’s Coastal Division), until we are mathematically eliminated. But it’s not the major focus,” Johnson said. “Our focus is going to try and play better this week. We know that if we don’t win this week, there won’t be much to talk about.”
This Thursday, as Georgia Tech’s torrid end-of-the-year, tough conference slate continues, the Yellow Jackets travel to Blacksburg, Va. to take on Virginia Tech in a nationally-televised primetime contest. A win and they keep alive their wishes — albeit by the narrowest of strings — for a repeat trip to the conference championship game. A loss and those desires wash completely away.
“Who knows, we can go over there and win this week,” Johnson said. “I have seen sicker children get well.”
Asked about the anguish of witnessing the Yellow Jackets struggle, Johnson didn’t mince words.
“The first road game was extremely frustrating,” he said, referring to Georgia Tech’s 28-25 loss at Kansas. “I thought that we would play better in some spots than we have. It’s just kind of a general consensus that to this point we haven’t done as well in some spots as others.”
Specifically, he cited the loss of five key players off last year’s team as being a struggle to replace. Without receiver Demaryius Thomas, B-back Jonathan Dwyer, offensive guard Cord Howard, defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett, the Yellow Jackets have needed players to “step up and be better somewhere else,” Johnson said.
That hasn’t happened, he contends.
While there has been much that has alarmed him this season, Johnson said he is not ready to give up on the year any time soon.
“You keep working and improve and get better. You still have that carrot in front to shoot for,” he said. “There are a lot of things that we have to play for. We are still a game short of being bowl eligible. We still are in the conference race. I have learned in this profession that people jump on and off the bandwagon really fast. You put together a couple of wins and they’ll be right back on.”
Big up front again
In its last game, Georgia Tech faced a defensive line that was full of big, physical linemen that pushed the Yellow Jackets’ offensive line around and forced it to stall on several drives.
Perhaps that was just a tune-up.
On Thursday, the Yellow Jackets will be seeing an equally intimidating, although smaller, unit when they face Virginia Tech.
Whereas the Tigers had ACC sack leader Da’Quan Bowers anchoring the average 284-pound line, the Hokies have seniors John Graves and Steven Friday occupying a significant portion of theirs. While the Hokies average just 271 pounds up front in comparison to Clemson’s more meaty combination, they are still just as effective causing problems for opposing offenses.
“Virginia Tech plays really good team defense,” Johnson said. “If you go back and look, (defensive coordinator) Bud Foster has done a good job for a long time. They know what they are doing, they play really well together and have some talented individuals.”
At defensive end, Friday is among the conference’s sack leaders (4.0), while linebacker Bruce Taylor, who is nursing a high ankle sprain and hopes to play Thursday, ranks with the ACC’s best in tackles for loss (11.5).
“If you go back and you look, they have probably been at the top of the defensive statistics more years than not since (Foster) has been there,” Johnson said.
Foster has worked at Virginia Tech for 24 seasons, and been defensive coordinator the last 15.
Since 2004, the Hokies have been the only FBS program to have a defense finish in the top 12 nationally in total defense each of those seasons. Entering this year, the unit had allowed an average 268.3 yards of total offense per game in the last six seasons.
Miami game time set
Get ready for another early start.
The ACC announced Monday that Georgia Tech’s Nov. 13 home game against Miami will have a noon kickoff and will be televised by the ACC Network.
It will be the Yellow Jackets’ fifth noon start of the season.
The game also will mark Georgia Tech’s celebration of its 1990 national championship season. Twenty years ago, the Yellow Jackets earned a split of a national title with Colorado after the going 11-0-1.
Colorado held its reunion celebration earlier this season, and capped the festivities with a win at Boulder, Colo. over Georgia.
Georgia Tech safety Mario Edwards, a former Virginia Tech transfer, will be making his final trip to Blacksburg, Va. this week. The Atlanta native was able to come to Georgia Tech after his father fell ill a few years ago. … This will be Georgia Tech’s 24th appearance on a Thursday night, ESPN-televised game. That total is more than any other school. Virginia Tech, however, makes its 22nd appearance. … The Yellow Jackets are 11-12 on ESPN on Thursday night. The Hokies are 16-5.