Back-to-back conference losses to Virginia Tech and Miami have severely threatened the Yellow Jackets’ prospects of returning to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, yet their head coach seemed in no mood to brood Tuesday.
Johnson was surprisingly chipper, saying Georgia Tech (3-2, 0-2 ACC) has been undone by a “myriad” of mistakes the past two weeks.
Georgia Tech jumped to a 17-7 lead at Miami, and then seemed powerless to slow the Hurricanes as the defense of new coordinator Ted Roof was gashed for the first time this season to the tune of 551 yards.
“I told our football team, ‘We’ve still got more than half the season,’” Johnson said. “We’re disappointed that we lost two games in the league, but also the two teams that beat us are a combined 9-1 with the one loss coming to the No. 1 team in the country. We can still have a pretty good season if we can get the corner turned.”
The Yellow Jackets want to avoid a three-game losing streak for a third time in four seasons.
Saturday’s game at BYU may offer special incentive.
The Cougars manhandled Georgia Tech last year, 41-17 in Atlanta. Johnson likened that to a trip “to the woodshed.”
“It’s definitely a motivation for us to go up there and whip them,” said linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. “What they did to us, in our home … they made us look real, real bad.”
There is no single solution to what’s ailing the Yellow Jackets.
They’ve lost their three top safeties to injuries or discipline, and Roof is auditioning down-the-depth chart defensive linemen as Georgia Tech will need more bodies in anticipation of the Cougars running as many as 100 plays.
On offense, Georgia Tech’s running game is again potent but not explosive quite like in recent seasons, and the passing game has flopped.
Three quarterbacks played at Miami, and although sophomore Vad Lee remains the starter, freshman Justin Thomas is likely to play some at BYU. Whether Tim Byerly makes another appearance is less clear.
Lee was just 5-of-13 passing at Miami while Thomas was 0-for-3 and Byerly 1-for-3. Lee and Thomas threw interceptions, and Lee lost a fumble to trigger a swing in momentum in the second quarter.
“It’s not just one guy,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to coach it better, and we’ve got to work at it and pay attention to detail. We can’t just go out there and wing it.”
The Yellow Jackets have one of their more experienced offensive lines, yet that unit has been inconsistent. Also, left tackle Ray Beno (foot) and swing tackle Morgan Bailey (neck) are dinged up.
“We thought that that was going to be a strength of the team,” Johnson said. “We’ve yet to have the group we thought we were going to have, but that’s the nature of the beast. We’ve been blitzed some. When we had max protection called and we haven’t blocked it right. We haven’t thrown hot when we should have. We haven’t run very good routes.”
Johnson’s reference to players’ inattention to detail has become a theme. After the loss to Virginia Tech, he lamented the Yellow Jackets’ inattention while running the option.
That’s was better at Miami, although some feel that Lee doesn’t fit that style as well as Thomas. Lee, though, has demonstrated more potential as a passer.
Johnson and Roof know this — the new up-tempo option offense of coordinator Robert Anae, who was an offensive graduate assistant at Hawaii in 1987 when Johnson was the offensive coordinator, the Cougars go no-huddle and all over the place.
Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill is 15th in the nation in rushing (115.8 yards per game) and running back Jamaal Williams is 19th (114.25).
When Roof was the defensive coordinator for Auburn’s national championship team in 2010, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn ran elements of the offense BYU will use.
“Gus did that so I’ve got some background in that,” Roof said. “We can run pretty much all of our package off one-word signals that mean something to everybody. … We’re disappointed in some of the things we did and didn’t do at Miami. We’re all accountable, players and coaches. We’ve got to shore things up.”