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Tech’s Johnson stresses improvement heading into ACC opener

Even though the Yellow Jackets demolished Elon two weeks ago, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson believes his team has plenty to improve on today vs. Duke. (Reuters)

Even though the Yellow Jackets demolished Elon two weeks ago, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson believes his team has plenty to improve on today vs. Duke. (Reuters)

DURHAM, N.C. — It’s hard to get a real good idea of what Georgia Tech accomplished in its 70-0 win over Elon two weeks ago. Although the score was one-sided, coach Paul Johnson found many things that weren’t to his liking.

One thing that didn’t go as well as Johnson would have liked in the season opener was the defense’s inability to close on third down.

“I don’t know what our third-down conversions defensively were,” Johnson said afterwards. “They couldn’t have been great. We had a hard time getting them off the field. The good thing was that when they got down there, we didn’t let them score.”

Elon was 6-for-16 on third downs.

“That’s still not what we achieve for,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is they didn’t score. That’s what happens when you get turnovers like that. The game was out of reach before the offense really had to do anything. When we started the game, the defense got a few turnovers and the game’s gone.”

Johnson also singled out the tackling on special teams and the number of missed tackles on defense as being unsatisfactory. Johnson said he also had a discussion with B-back David Sims about ball security.

“We didn’t have any fumbles, but that wasn’t our fault,” he said.

It won’t be as easy today against Duke, even though the Blue Devils lost starting quarterback Anthony Boone to a broken collarbone in the first half of their game with Memphis. Replacement Brandon Connette brings plenty of experience to the table.

“The guy’s been playing quarterback for three years,” Johnson said. “It’s not like they took a defensive tackle and put him back there.”

Connette (6-2, 225) is more of a short-yardage specialist and part-time tight end. But he was good enough to be named second-team All-ACC as an all-purpose choice by Lindy’s Sports in its preseason publication. Connette isn’t totally healthy; he’s coming back from left shoulder surgery in January.

Connette played well in last week’s 28-14 win over Memphis. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 198 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, but was sacked three times. He also ran 14 times for 31 yards.

It’s hardly the same as the situation faced by Maryland a year ago, when the Terps were down to their fifth-string quarterback, a player who had been a linebacker the previous week.

“I’m sure they’re not going to change much,” Johnson said.

This is the first of four consecutive ACC Coastal Division games for the Yellow Jackets. A loss here would immediately put them in a hole. The motivation is obvious.

“I hope that our guys would be excited to play,” Johnson said. “It’s our first conference game, and it’s our second game of the year. We’ve got a lot to play for. But who knows what the atmosphere’s going to be? They’re 2-0. Maybe they’ll have a huge crowd and it might be wild. But you’ve got to get ready to play and you’ve got to take care of yourself. It’s a big game, but we’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. We’ve got some experience. They know what it’s like.”