Isaiah Johnson simplifying, improving

Georgia Tech interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is like his predecessor in at least one regard. Similar to former coordinator Al Groh, Kelly doesn’t mind using baseball analogies.

“It’s like a hitter in baseball,” he said, talking about safety Isaiah Johnson. “Sometimes you get your pitch. When you get your pitch, you’ve got to make it count.”

Kelly refrained from assigning Johnson a spot in a batting order or guessing what his on-base percentage might be, but let’s just say that Johnson has raised his slugging percentage in the past two weeks. With a forced fumble against Boston College followed by an interception return for a touchdown against BYU a week ago, Johnson ranks among the defense’s more improved players since Kelly succeeded Groh on Oct. 8.

“I think he’s kind of settled down a little bit,” Kelly said. “When Isaiah puts his eyes in the right position and he’s comfortable, he can make some things happen.”

Johnson said he misses Groh and has good memories of the only defensive coordinator he had had until Groh was fired. However, Johnson’s play has taken a turn with Kelly. The simplification of the scheme has impacted his performance.

“I was thinking too much,” he said. “Just a lot going on as far as the defense and things weren’t going right. They’re still kind of not going right, but you just can’t sweat it. You’ve got to let things happen.”

For Johnson, a junior and second-year starter, letting things happen refers to Kelly’s “wait for your pitch” exhortation. Johnson’s mindset has been to hurry.

“So he’s telling me to slow it down,” he said, then paraphrased Kelly’s instructions. “Look, it’s not your responsibility to be on the front line, trying to stop them. He’s just saying, ‘You’re a safety. You’re the last line of defense. Just make sure nothing gets behind you.’”

Through the first six games of the season, Johnson and the secondary repeatedly misplayed coverages and either missed tackles or were outrun when they took poor angles to the ball carrier.

With less thinking and a renewed commitment to just playing his assignment, Johnson has responded with the two impact plays and better tackling. It was his first interception since the first half of the 2011 season and his first forced fumble since the first game of his 2010 freshman season. On the fumble, Johnson delivered a punishing hit to Boston College running back Andre Williams on the opening play of the second half, causing a turnover that Tech turned into a field goal.

On the interception, he baited BYU quarterback Riley Nelson into throwing to tight end Kaneakua Friel, then picked him off and returned the ball 22 yards for the score. It was Tech’s first defensive touchdown of the season.

“I know I haven’t been doing what I’m capable of doing, so this second part of the season has been like a whole new season, a different mindset,” he said. “Just run the play. Be free and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

Across the defense, mental errors are down considerably. Tackling was much better against Boston College but worse against BYU. Often defending short fields — the Cougars needed a total of 23 yards to score two of their touchdowns — Tech gave up 40 points for the fourth time in five games.

Kelly thought part of the reason for the missed tackles against BYU was that players were so anxious to get to the ball that they overran the play.

“The one thing I’ll say, I don’t think it’s a not-want-to factor,” he said, “but we have to learn how to be under control.”

It is a lesson that Johnson appears to be grasping. Maryland, Tech’s opponent Saturday, could enable him to keep his turnover streak going. Because they’ve lost their first four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, the Terrapins not only are starting a freshman who was a linebacker until last week, but they also have turned the ball over 22 times, fourth most in FBS. Johnson is more than willing.

“Whatever I can do to help the team and get to a ‘W,’ then I’m just going to do my job,” Johnson said.

In case you missed it…

Notes: Return home excites Attaochu

Johnson responds to critics

Washington, Lee keep relationship smooth

Tech scrambling to prepare for Maryland QB

On Tech ending its kick-return drought

Johnson says it’s not time to panic

Heisman biography offers revealing history

Notes: B-backs struggling to produce

Notes: Johnson mum on starting quarterback

Thanks for reading.

Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog

29 comments Add your comment

Jacket Time

November 2nd, 2012
12:14 am

If do right, no can defense

November 2nd, 2012
12:22 am

Ah, very interesting article Ken. I really did think it was a lack of focus and discipline that we’ve had so many missed tackles, but I realize now that it is in fact possible to attack too much defense and let the ballcarrier slip by you. So many flying dives and arm-tackling instead of proper wrapping… that’s not poor coaching after all… it’s players attacking too much. There is a fine line between overrunning the play and hanging back lazily, and that’s the line we need to play.

All goes back to recruiting. We have such a minute margin of error (on offense, defense, special teams) that even the tiniest lapses can cost us the game. Yes, we may not have brand-name playmakers… but overall our unit is capable and talented enough to win the ACC. We just need to be near-perfect. That may be asking too much… or could be well within reach.

Jacket Time

November 2nd, 2012
12:23 am

Nice article Ken. I’m thinking the D should be arlight for this game. Any word on our qb situation?

1 4 GT

November 2nd, 2012
12:26 am

I have noticed I Johnson’s improved play since the defense has been simplified. TJ Barnes has made some plays too since since Coach K took over. He actually got what I referred to as “the next time he collapses the pocket will be the first time” in the past….he did it at least twice that I noticed against BYU. The dismissal of Groan has begun paying off just with some simplification.

Jacket Time

November 2nd, 2012
12:27 am

Agreed If do right, in the words of lombardi “…if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

Ken Sugiura

November 2nd, 2012
7:39 am

Jacket Time – not yet. i’ll see what i can find out.

Jacket Detective

November 2nd, 2012
8:01 am

Way to go #1.
U shut your critics up too but losing prevented your being a hero which has happened to a number of Jackets who made good plays in losses.
Reminded me of Tarrant’s pick 6 that prevented the NC State game of 2010 from being a blowout loss though it still came close.
A good QB having the time to pick us apart, even on our field, was evident in year one of Groh (especially that game) and never solved.
There is a solution to the two WRs, one behind the other, that also has not been solved in three years.
But I’m not providing it for free.


November 2nd, 2012
9:12 am

Does this game scare anyone? I am worried that we make the LB/QB look like a pro with our soft defense. If he picks us apart it will be very embarrassing. Maryland has a good D and they have played GT’s offense well. Gotta get pass rush, make this guy hurry up and make mistakes. One thing to remember though, the LB/QB is big, has run an option attack in high school and can run the ball. With our poor tackling I expect him to run or give it to someone who can run. He won’t be easy to bring down that’s for sure. Think Logan thomas size.

5150 UOAD

November 2nd, 2012
9:17 am

Johnson was BURNED on so many big plays early in the year. I was wondering if he was not hearing the what the D play was being called. he was coming up and not covering the Deep WR. Glad to see is playing better. I know he is a talented player so it is good.
I hope we go to the 4-3 next year.


November 2nd, 2012
9:23 am

Remember when we were SO PROUD of that close loss to Va Tech. Both teams felt pretty good about themselves back then, but look where we are now! Thank god for Virginia, else we’re tied for last in the weak sister division of the weak sister conference. That CPJ, he REALLY has us moving in the right direction. Well , he will soon, anyway, because we can’t be too far from rock bottom now…

5150 UOAD

November 2nd, 2012
9:35 am

Delbert D.

November 2nd, 2012
9:49 am

Here is a nugget from the Associated Press that seems to indicate an “expanded curriculum” for football players at Pitt:

“Police tried to ensure the students identified the correct players by having them look at photo lineups. While none of the alleged victims could recognize all three players, each player was recognized by at least one, including Mitchell who recognized Street from a class they took together on vampires.”

5150 UOAD

November 2nd, 2012
10:17 am

Tre Jackson (FSU) & Stephon Tuitt(ND) at TECH on Defense and TECH is Undefeated and in the top 10. We have to close the deal on some of the Great Defensive players we recruited.

Hayseed Dixie

November 2nd, 2012
10:23 am

Ken, what’s the final word on Autry?

His story this year was probably my favorite.


November 2nd, 2012
10:27 am

5150 UOAD A lot of folks have been thinking for a while that you only had a tenuous grasp on reality, but that latest perhaps indicates you have lost your grip. If you think Tech is two players away from undefeated and top ten, you are surely gone…

5150 UOAD

November 2nd, 2012
10:36 am

billyBob…………..with a GOOD defense TECH doesn’t go to OT and lose those 2 games and isn’t down when playing MTSU. Very different season at that point and BYU isn’t a question either.

5150 UOAD

November 2nd, 2012
10:37 am

AJC fire Michael Carvell……The guy has posted 5 articles and none have been open for comments.

Why does he write if we can’t respond.

Get Michael Carvell off the Recruiting Blog he sucks.

Tech is a joke

November 2nd, 2012
10:57 am

Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?
Reading your posts, I have my doubts!!

Jacket Detective

November 2nd, 2012
11:18 am

Not to worry UOAD.
What kind of grasp on reality do any of us have to be wasting so much time on these blogs just so one day we can be proved “right” about something or another.

Not me, JD...

November 2nd, 2012
12:22 pm

…my wife tells me I am never right so I don’t try to be anywhere…


November 2nd, 2012
12:31 pm

I.J. started quite a few games as a true freshman, (his very 1st college game, IIRC). He has a lot of defensive snaps under his belt to not be any more advanced in his game than he is. I AM noticing an upgrade in his aggressiveness, so maybe a switch HAS finally been flipped on.

Frustrated fan

November 2nd, 2012
2:55 pm

Ken, why does sweeting seem to be burned much more often this year than in the past?


November 2nd, 2012
7:33 pm

UOAD: Lots more wrong with this D that two good players would NOT have fixed. Sounds like CPJ “if this and that blah blah blah everything would be perfect.” If we had quit when the Germans bombed pearl harbor…

And further more

November 2nd, 2012
8:37 pm


BS Patrol

November 2nd, 2012
9:01 pm

You’ve gotta hand it to those Krauts.

Jacket Detective

November 2nd, 2012
10:13 pm

“Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”.
I hope you’re kidding on this one.
Japs not Germans.

Jacket Detective

November 2nd, 2012
10:23 pm

It seems the worse thing u can do as a coach of any team at Tech is to raise expectations.
Once you have a very good year, the fans expect that level of success every year and despise you for not producing it.
Cremins, Hewitt and now Johnson have now made that “mistake”.
It may even have happened to Dodd but to a lesser extent.

[...] Isaiah Johnson simplifying, improving [...]

BS Patrol

November 3rd, 2012
11:14 am

Jacket Detective@ 10:13, Nothing gets by you does it?