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Johnson's fourth-down gambles a hit with the players

POSTED: September 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATLANTA — When Georgia Tech needed only a few inches to put Boston College away last week, Paul Johnson says he never thought twice about the fact the few inches had to come on fourth down.

That's been the consistent game plan for Johnson, the first-year Georgia Tech coach. Georgia Tech, which plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday, has won its first two games while converting two of its first three fourth-down opportunities.

Perhaps the biggest came with Georgia Tech protecting a 19-16 lead last week at Boston College. On the fourth-and-inches play, Johnson could have attempted a field goal of about 47 yards to increase the lead to six points.

Not good enough. Johnson wanted to erase any hope of a Boston College last-minute comeback.

"I really didn't think twice about that," he said. "I knew I was going for it unless it was fourth and long."
Added Johnson: "I just kind of think about what gives us the best chance to win. I thought we could make it on fourth down."

Georgia Tech needed only about six inches for the first down that would allow the Yellow Jackets to run out the clock.

"If we couldn't get that, I don't know if we deserve to win," Johnson said. "Also it was on their 30-yard line, so if we don't make it they've still got to go 40 yards in a minute or so. If we do make it, the game is over, so I thought it was worth the gamble."

Johnson's players liked the move — especially after quarterback Josh Nesbitt picked up the first down on a sneak.

"It shows that we're a very aggressive team," Nesbitt said. "We're not scared to go for it on fourth down."
The bold move has helped a young offense, which includes first-year sophomore starters in Nesbitt and running back Jonathan Dwyer, gain confidence.

"It's always good for your coach to have confidence and believe in you and the system that you can get it done," said senior offensive tackle Andrew Gardner. "You just know Coach Johnson has a lot of guts.

"At the end there was no question in my mind we were going to go for it with just six inches to go instead of kick a field goal and hope and let the defense play."

Gardner said the first two games have proved Johnson brings "a more aggressive mindset" to the program.

"He expects to win and he expects to make it and that kind of permeates throughout the team," Gardner said.

When asked if he has a history of fourth-down gambles, Johnson said, "I never thought of it like that."
Johnson said his fourth-down decisions should show he has confidence in his offense and defense.

"I think it says something about both," he said. "For the offense it says I think we can make that and get the first down. For the defense, I think it says we've got confidence we can stop them right here."

FAMILIAR SETTING FOR EDWARDS: Georgia Tech backup safety Mario Edwards is returning to Blacksburg after playing for Virginia Tech last season.

Edwards, from College Park, was given a waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to transfer to Georgia Tech without sitting out a year so he could be near his sick father.

Edwards was initially recruited by Georgia Tech out of Westlake High School. He recovered a fumble against Jacksonville State and played mostly on special teams against Boston College.

KICKING WOES: Sophomore kicker Scott Blair has made only one of five field-goal attempts in the two wins. He made a 27-yarder against Boston College but has missed four, including three longer than 40 yards.

Johnson said Blair doesn't deserve all the blame for the missed kicks, but he said he doesn't have many options at the position.

"There's really not anybody to pick up off waivers," Johnson joked.

"We've got to do a better job of giving Scott a chance to kick. The snaps haven't been great."



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