Paul Johnson will defend Tech’s offense, but not defense

Al Groh must know that whatever he's doing, Paul Johnson is watching. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Al Groh must know: Whatever he's doing, Paul Johnson is watching. (Johnny Crawford)

There are at least two things Paul Johnson has committed to memory. One is his offense. The other is his counterattack for anybody who questions his offense.

It’s like the other day, when I mentioned to Johnson that his team needed significant improvement on defense and his run-run-run-run-run-oh-look-it’s-third-down-run-run offense needed some semblance of a passing threat for Georgia Tech to move up to the next level. (I never claimed either observation was a stunning revelation). Johnson’s response was expected: both amusing and unrelenting.

“Well, the second part I’m not so sure of,” he said. “We beat Clemson last year, and they were ranked fifth, and we didn’t throw the ball. We beat Georgia in my first year throwing for 19 yards. Would it help if the other team has everybody committed to the run and we could throw it over their heads? Sure. But we’re not going to throw it 30 times a game. And we’ve won national championships [at Georgia Southern] without throwing the ball at another level [I-AA]. And didn’t Alabama win a national championship throwing for 58 yards?”

OK! Stop! I surrender!

(Not really. I’m convinced some opponents are starting to catch up with Johnson’s option offense. And while that doesn’t necessarily differentiate it from any other offense that has obvious tendencies, the Jackets would benefit with something outlandish like the threat of a completed pass to keep defenses honest. That said, I’m willing to explore our common ground for the sake of this column. …)

Johnson’s position is accurate in this sense: The biggest thing that has stopped Tech from ascending isn’t the Yellow Jackets’ lack of a passing game. It’s defense. In Johnson’s four seasons, the Jackets have finished (chronologically) 25th, 54th, 64th and 44th in total defense; and 24th, 68th, 78th and 66th in rushing defense; and 28th, 56th, 57th and 60th in scoring defense; and 57th, 82nd, 52nd and 83rd in third-down defense; and 18th, 72nd 101st and 77th in sacks; and 13th, 93rd, 108th and 94th in tackles for loss.

In the final four games of 2012, Tech allowed 37, 31, 31 and 30 points. (The only win in that span: 38-31 over Duke, which was driving until an interception with two minutes left.)

Feh.

“To have a championship-caliber team, we have to play better on defense,” Johnson said. “And we can also be better offensively, no question. … When you play a good team, you’re not going to score every time you have the ball. At times I think [people] act like we’re going to score every time. Sometimes you have to shut the other team down.”

Johnson wasn’t throwing defensive coordinator Al Groh under the bus. But, yes — he is driving the bus.

Johnson already has fired one defensive coordinator (Dave Wommack after 2009.) He never considered firing Groh after last season, saying, “I have confidence in him.”

Groh ran defenses with the New York Giants and New England Patriots. He should be good enough for the ACC Coastal, but he hasn’t made an impact yet. Blame Tech’s shortage of talent or a slow transition to the 3-4, but ultimately Groh is the one who will be judged.

Tech blew a 24-10 lead to Utah in the last seven minutes of the Sun Bowl and lost 30-27 in overtime. Johnson’s offense had four consecutive punts after a third-quarter touchdown and missed three field goals. But the loss was more about a defensive collapse.

“We gave up two fourth-down touchdowns,” Johnson said. The second: a 28-yard touchdown on fourth-and-14 to send the game into overtime.

Maybe the most implausible stat of all was that Tech’s defense allowed 16 of 24 fourth-down conversions last season, which ranked 111th nationally.

The Jackets’ should be solid in the secondary. But the key to most defenses is up front (where they’ve been thin), and in a 3-4 it’s in the middle at nose tackle (T.J. Barnes).

We’ll learn pretty quickly whether this group has improved. The opener is at Virginia Tech. Johnson said, based on practices, he believes Tech will be better, but quickly added, “I don’t know if that’s worth a flip. That’s why we play the games.”

It’s Year 3 for Groh. The games need to look better.

By Jeff Schultz

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167 comments Add your comment

gtzulu

August 28th, 2012
3:42 pm

Jeff, possible misquote, or maybe Johnson misspoke: “We beat Clemson last year, and they were ranked fifth, and we didn’t run the ball.” That should be “didn’t throw”.

George Stein

August 28th, 2012
3:46 pm

I think the fact that the defense has sucked as bad as it has for three and a half seasons (it was competent in the first half of 2008) confirms the awesomeness of the offense.

I’d be curious as to what facts convince you that teams are catching up, Jeff.

1 4 GT

August 28th, 2012
3:49 pm

CPJ don’t give away anything with his remarks, does he??

KBP

August 28th, 2012
3:54 pm

Is it possible the defense has been bad because they practice against the triple option and play against more traditional offenses?

KBP

August 28th, 2012
3:54 pm

Is it possible the defense has been bad because they practice against the triple option and play against more traditional offenses?

5150 UOAD

August 28th, 2012
3:54 pm

I think the O could have won the UTAH game if it kept running the Ball and the Clock but bad passes gave the ball back to UTAH. Yes the D should have made a stop but the O shouldn’t have put the D in that position in regulation.

KBP

August 28th, 2012
3:55 pm

Is it possible the defense is bad because they practice against the triple option and play against more traditional offenses?

KBP

August 28th, 2012
3:55 pm

Is it possible the defense is bad because they practice against the triple option and play against more traditional offenses?

GTBob

August 28th, 2012
3:56 pm

Is it possible the defense has been bad because they practice against the triple option and play against more traditional offenses?

Our defense doesn’t practice against the triple option.

Jeff Schultz

August 28th, 2012
4:00 pm

GT Zulu — Fixed.

Jeff Schultz

August 28th, 2012
4:04 pm

George Stein — I think you can look at some games last year against common opponents (Virginia, Miami, Georgia, even Maryland) and see that offense didn’t function as well as past. That could be just the OL not be great last year but I also believe opponents are more familiar with defending option now than before.

5150 UOAD

August 28th, 2012
4:04 pm

KBP get educated then come back and ask an intelligent question. You don’t know crap about football if you were so dumb to ask that question.

Lifelongjacket

August 28th, 2012
4:05 pm

This piece is nothing new or enlightning for GT fans. And nobody else in that town cares anyway. Lets just play the games PJ!

Lifelongjacket

August 28th, 2012
4:05 pm

This piece is nothing new or enlightning for GT fans. And nobody else in that town cares anyway. Lets just play the games PJ!

Joshua Nesbitt

August 28th, 2012
4:06 pm

Hey Coach Nucklehead…..When do we start my Heisman campaign

Jeff Schultz

August 28th, 2012
4:07 pm

GTBob — Correct — that’s not an excuse. First-team defense goes against scout team offense that mimics opponent’s offensive scheme.

George Stein

August 28th, 2012
4:07 pm

Fair enough, Jeff. I think asking it to bat 1.000 is a little unfair, but ok.

The offense flat sucked against Maryland, that’s for damn sure.

dawgfan

August 28th, 2012
4:07 pm

All you need to know is that Tech is preparing for 6′ 6″, 250 lb. Logan Thomas with a 5′ 10″, 170 lb. true freshmen trying to imitate him on scout team. I about fell out of my chair in hysterical laughter when I first read that. This is just one of many reasons why Tech will never be able to compete on an elite level. They can’t prepare for guys like Logan Thomas. They can’t prepare for guys like Aaron Murray. They don’t have the personnel.

As for the offense, its good at what it does just like all the spread passing teams are good at what they do and put up big passing numbers. You don’t see any of those teams winning national titles or doing much of anything outside of the Mickey Mouse conferences that they tend to play in. They are one dimensional. They are bested by athletically superior defenses. Techies love to claim that Auburn won a national title with their offense in 2010. This is simply laughable. Cam Newton could actually throw a football. He also is Cam Newton and the chances of a guy like Cam Newton playing at a place like Georgia Tech are slim to nil. That’s another thing. The type of QB that Georgia Tech needs to run its system AND throw the ball is extremely rare. They go by names like Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Vince Young and Robert Griffin III. They don’t play at places like Georgia Tech. Never have. Never will.

Thanks.

KBP

August 28th, 2012
4:10 pm

Sorry for repeated posts. I did not think the first one was accepted.

Dawglasville

August 28th, 2012
4:11 pm

This is the closest I will come to trolling ever… I wouldn’t like it if Johnson was my head coach because he doesn’t seem to feel like the defense and special teams are his responsability. It is his management style. I have people to handle these things. My offense works. You do your job (to paraphrase). Time will tell how effective it is. I never get the feeling there is a sense of urgency from the Tech base so I guess all is well in The Flats. I wish he would go somewhere else so I could pull from him. I love option football.

Max Sizemore

August 28th, 2012
4:13 pm

First of all, Jeff, if you want to understand the triple option offense — and its picayune passing game — you need to sit down with a football coach and have him explain some X’s and O’s for a couple of hours. Basically, it’s this: the offense has a plan and if it executes that plan (like making all the right option reads) — which is largely based on what the defense is doing, the defense won’t be able to stop it consistently. Oh, and incidentally, you have to BELIEVE in that plan. And passing is a relatively minor part of the offense.
On defense, Tech’s move to the 3-4 may be failing because it doesn’t have the superior talent necessary to play it. And it takes time. Don’t forget, UGA was very bad on defense when Grantham first came.

Put me in CPJ

August 28th, 2012
4:14 pm

CPJ what about all the reciever running wide open and your QB’s either doesn’t see them or can’t make the throw. Cant believe Groh’s puts up with you and your sarcastic BS

unbiased committee

August 28th, 2012
4:14 pm

Al Groh is the problem.
The Georgia Tech offense was number 1 in the ACC
in points scored and yardage gained last season.

Great Read

August 28th, 2012
4:15 pm

The Braves, they...

August 28th, 2012
4:21 pm

“Blame Tech’s shortage of talent..” Unfortunately, that’s it in a nutshell. Georgia Tech, like all other non-SEC teams in this region have an uphill battle getting the best players to their schools. Maybe that will change one day (not in our lifetimes) but until it does “it is what it is.”

macrotech

August 28th, 2012
4:21 pm

The Triple Option isn’t a matter of “figuring” it out….it’s been around for a long time. Granted, it isn’t as commonly used as in the past, but many of these coaches have played against it or even run it at some point in time. What makes it work is the QB’s ability to read the defense as the play begins. Make the right read and we’re off and running (literally)! Hopefully, if our D steps up…we’ll be tough to beat!!! Go Tech!!!

311Raider

August 28th, 2012
4:22 pm

Dawgfan if GT cannot compete on an elite level then what does that say about Georgia? Who has Georgia beaten over the last couple of years other than GT that is worth a damn? I would worry about the worthless dogs if I were you.
Dawglasville your such a fool Im not going to even respond to your stupidity.

10per

August 28th, 2012
4:24 pm

So Tech is never going to get the recruiting it needs to be elite. Fine. How does VaTech get the talent it is able to pull in? They seem to have had success. They have not won the big one, but they have done better than we have on a national level.

Axel

August 28th, 2012
4:26 pm

Did anyone see the NY Jets vs Denver Broncos game? That idot Mark Sanchez called out his teammates but especially Stephen Hill saying (paraphasing) “Stephen is from Georgia Tech and they don’t throw it at all down there” Really? Wasn’t it Hill who had the most catches and yards for that game?

mountain_jim

August 28th, 2012
4:29 pm

I read earlier this season Paul was including a shotgun option package in practice. Is this still viable? Because I always felt his potential passing game, such as it was, was overly restricted and hampered by the QB having to drop back, and not being able to see defenses or the rush early or well enough.

I don’t recall seeing a shotgun offensive snap since Paul has been at GT – and this GT alum feels his know-it-all arrogance as expressed here (and often) is the reason.

I am glad the other arrogant OC from these parts is now gone this season.

mountain_jim

August 28th, 2012
4:29 pm

I read earlier this season Paul was including a shotgun option package in practice. Is this still viable? Because I always felt his potential passing game, such as it was, was overly restricted and hampered by the QB having to drop back, and not being able to see defenses or the rush early or well enough.

I don’t recall seeing a shotgun offensive snap since Paul has been at GT – and this GT alum feels his know-it-all arrogance as expressed here (and often) is the reason.

I am glad the other arrogant OC from these parts is now gone this season.

George Stein

August 28th, 2012
4:33 pm

Perhaps you should pay more attention then, mountain_jim. We have run the shotgun during Johnson’s time at Tech.

5150 UOAD

August 28th, 2012
4:35 pm

The Braves, they…
August 28th, 2012
4:21 pm

“Blame Tech’s shortage of talent..” Unfortunately, that’s it in a nutshell. Georgia Tech, like all other non-SEC teams in this region have an uphill battle getting the best players to their schools. Maybe that will change one day (not in our lifetimes) but until it does “it is what it is.”
==================================================

I guess you are going to DIE before 2016
In 2016 the NCAA will be changing the Educational Standards for incoming recruits.
The SEC will not be allowed to have 50 to 80% Special Admits on the team anymore.
All the Moe Rons playing for SEC teams will not even be playing college football. If you don’t believe it do some research.

Justpassingthru

August 28th, 2012
4:36 pm

PJ and his TO will always be able to win 7 or 8 games every season, but using the TO will never get Tech to the elite status!

Justpassingthru

August 28th, 2012
4:36 pm

PJ and his TO will always be able to win 7 or 8 games every season, but using the TO will never get Tech to the elite status!

Justpassingthru

August 28th, 2012
4:36 pm

PJ and his TO will always be able to win 7 or 8 games every season, but using the TO will never get Tech to the elite status!

Fred

August 28th, 2012
4:37 pm

George…the pistol is different than the shotgun. In the pistol, the QB lines up closer to the line of scrimage, thereby giving more of an opportunity to read the defense.

Destin Dawg

August 28th, 2012
4:37 pm

Chop block is part of Johnson’s offense.. should be outlawed !!

Destin Dawg

August 28th, 2012
4:37 pm

Chop block is part of Johnson’s offense.. should be outlawed !!

Lou Piniella's cap

August 28th, 2012
4:37 pm

I will agree, the secondary is pretty solid, probably the bests its been in a few years now. However, outside of Jamal Golden there is virtually no depth at all should a starter go down. And while Tech’s D was bad at various times last year, they atleast weren’t Clemson (who couldn’t stop anyone who was worth a damn last season) so it could have been worse.

GTBob

August 28th, 2012
4:40 pm

mountain_jim, I don’t think we will see any pistol or shotgun packages until Tevin Washington is no longer QB. These plays always seem to exist in spring but never make it to the field and you have to figure it is because we don’t have the personnel to execute them properly.

dawgfan

August 28th, 2012
4:41 pm

Another perfectly legimate criticism of Paul Johnson’s brilliant offense is that it has absolutely no ability to score quickly with the game on the line. How many times have we seen this guy absolutely clueless with 2 or 3 minutes left in the game and his team only one score away from a win? Unless Georgia Tech has the lead in those closing minutes fuggettaboutit. Paul Johnson is like a fish out of water. He panics and has no idea what to do.

The Techies are ready to erect a statue of him outside their stadium though. That should be good for some comic relief.

dawgfan

August 28th, 2012
4:41 pm

Another perfectly legimate criticism of Paul Johnson’s brilliant offense is that it has absolutely no ability to score quickly with the game on the line. How many times have we seen this guy absolutely clueless with 2 or 3 minutes left in the game and his team only one score away from a win? Unless Georgia Tech has the lead in those closing minutes fuggettaboutit. Paul Johnson is like a fish out of water. He panics and has no idea what to do.

The Techies are ready to erect a statue of him outside their stadium though. That should be good for some comic relief.

George Stein

August 28th, 2012
4:43 pm

For chrissakes, people, we have been fine on offense. The only reason keep we talking about it is because it’s different. Period.

mountain_jim

August 28th, 2012
4:45 pm

Here’s one of those articles
http://www.ajc.com/sports/georgia-tech/shotgun-option-play-highlights-1417143.html

http://www.ajc.com/sports/georgia-tech/five-reasons-to-go-1422372.html

Speaking of Lee, the offense has spent considerable time honing plays run out of the shotgun, or pistol, formation. It has been a rarely seen element of Johnson’s spread-option scheme. In Saturday’s scrimmage, Days was difficult to stop running a read-option play. Lee, who used the shotgun in high school, has looked comfortable operating from that formation, as well.

“It just gives us a different dimension on offense, just a different way of doing what we do,” Washington said.

The wrinkle and its possibilities have excited players as they have seen its potential in scrimmages. “I love the shotgun stuff,” A-back B.J. Bostic said. “It’s going to hit a lot of people for some big yards when the season comes.”

George Stein

August 28th, 2012
4:47 pm

Perhaps you can do a little research and tell us how often a more conventional offense score in late game scenarios, dawgfan. In the absence of that data, your comment offers no insight.

mountain_jim

August 28th, 2012
4:53 pm

“Perhaps you should pay more attention then, mountain_jim. We have run the shotgun during Johnson’s time at Tech.”

I’ve paid plenty of attention. Maybe once or twice, but I contend it’s absense has really hurt the potential passing game and GT’s ability to catch up when down late.

I contend the fact that he FINALLY worked in the pistol/shotgun into his option offense this spring shows he has finally realized that strategic flaw in his game plans, even if he won’t admit it publically.

And if it helps the passing game then more good receivers and passing QBs might come to GT

5150 UOAD

August 28th, 2012
4:54 pm

I saw Cam newton run the Shotgun Option in his last Preseason game. CPJ can do it. He has been at a lot of schools that have had good/great passing attacks.

George Stein

August 28th, 2012
4:54 pm

I contend that no one should pay any attention to someone who doesn’t know the difference between it’s and its.

Dawglasville

August 28th, 2012
4:58 pm

5150 UOAD – I hope that is accurate (I’m too lazy to look it up). I wish that the teams were made up of all walk-ons who have already been accepted as students. I’m tired of it all. Not too tired to watch. You guys hate the SEC because some schools play to win at all cost. UGA fans get pissed because Richt won’t play to win at all cost. UGA, SEC, Falcons, football does not make or break me. My dad went to Tech and I grew up a Tech fan during the Pepper Rogers years, I learned at an early age not to live my life vicariously through my sports teams.