Ga. Tech still optimistic about ACC opener

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- If there is any solace Georgia Tech football fans can take after the Yellow Jackets' disheartening 28-25 loss to Kansas last Saturday, it is the fact their team has not lost two games in a row in Paul Johnson's two-plus seasons as head coach.

That is a good omen heading into Tech's Atlantic Coast Conference opener against North Carolina this Saturday at noon in Chapel Hill, N.C.

However, Johnson pointed out during Tuesday's weekly press conference that the Jackets (1-1) must be better if they expect to keep from suffering their first two-game losing streak under his watch.

"There's not anybody playing (on this team) that can't play better," Johnson said. "And we can coach better. The whole operation needs to be better.

"(Kansas) is not as bad as everybody thinks they are. They made a bunch of plays when they had to make them. And we just didn't play with any zip or burning desire. It's like they wanted to win more than we did. ... We can't play that way at Georgia Tech."

In his usual uncomplicated and blunt manner, Johnson refused to point fingers at any one particular area that went wrong in last Saturday's upset.

Not a defense that yielded 18 first downs and 28 points, nor a passing game that continues to struggle with just five completions by Joshua Nesbitt in 15 attempts, nor players on all units that combined to commit nine penalties for 91 yards.

Nor, however, was Johnson ready to join some of the gloom and doom that has been the fodder in the media and the Internet since Saturday's loss.

"Everybody wants to write the history and deem everything after two weeks into the season," Johnson said. "I'd let the thing play out before we decided somebody's year is over. ... It's never as good or as bad as it seems.

"We just didn't play solid. I think if we'd played really solid in any one phase (of the game), it would ve probably been enough to win the game. But we really didn't get a solid performance out of anything -- special teams, defense or offense."

Getting that solid performance from any phase of the game will be crucial against a North Carolina team that has every reason to feel good about itself, despite dropping its season opener to LSU on Sept. 4 at the Georgia Dome.

Despite missing as many as 16 different players due to investigations by the NCAA and the university itself, the Tar Heels rallied from a 20-point deficit against LSU and was an incompletion in the end zone away from the winning score in the 30-24 loss.

They will have some of those players back Saturday, including senior tailback Shaun Draughn, one of the team's rushing leaders from a year ago, who was recently cleared to play by the NCAA.

In addition, the Jackets will have to deal with a Tar Heel passing attack led by Marietta native T.J. Yates, who completed 28 of 46 passes for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns against LSU.

"He had a great game throwing the ball against LSU," Johnson said of Yates. "Especially in the second half, I thought he played well. He hit a lot of deep throws. ... He had a lot of poise.

"(This game) is a challenge for us. We've got to play better. If we don't play better than we did the first two games, we're not going to win Saturday, I can tell you that. This is the best team we've played."