ATLANTA — It’s gotten so bad for Georgia Tech that coach Paul Johnson can no longer count on his beloved spread option offense to run basic plays.
With the Yellow Jackets struggling as much as they have in his eight-season tenure, Johnson huddled the team together Monday to discuss Football 101.
He’s blaming himself and his assistants for poor coaching. He’s blaming the players for poor execution.
“When you line up and you’re trying to run an option play and the kids can’t tell the difference between a 50 defense and a 4-3 and a 6-1, you’ve got issues,” Johnson said. “If you look and can’t see if the guard is covered or uncovered, you’ve got issues.
“So you go back to basics and keep (repeating) it and hope they do that.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around as Georgia Tech (2-4, 0-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepares to host Pittsburgh (4-1, 2-0 ACC) on Saturday.
Junior quarterback Justin Thomas is trying to do too much. Linemen are missing basic assignments for an injury-riddled offense that played five true freshmen in last week’s blowout loss at Clemson.
Four weeks ago, the Jackets were ranked No. 14 and favored to win at Notre Dame. Now they’re riding a four-game losing streak and about to face a Pitt defense that ranks sixth in the nation.
Johnson has no plans to tinker with his offensive scheme. Instead, he wants Thomas and others to focus on the basics of the spread option to create more short-yardage scenarios on second and third downs.
Against Clemson, Georgia Tech had over 20 plays of zero or negative yardage. Johnson said he’d never called so many third-and-long plays in 19 seasons as a head coach.
“When it goes like that, if you’re not careful, you lose a little confidence and so you start pressing and trying to do more,” Johnson said. “That’s (what) makes it worse.”
Johnson has challenged Thomas, a second-team All-ACC selection last year, to trust himself more in the run game. He had a career-low 3 net yards rushing on 14 carries at Clemson.
To avoid that kind of meltdown again, Thomas must make better decisions and his teammates must block better.
“In this offense, you’re the featured ball carrier, and it’s not your job to dish it to everybody else,” Johnson said. “Now can (the defense) take that guy out? They can, but I’m not sure anybody has. We kind of take him out ourselves (by) not sealing inside and not looking to turn it” up field.
Johnson has no plans to open up more of the playbook in hopes of finding solutions.
“We’re not bad on third downs because of the scheme,” he said. “We led the nation and set an all-time record last year running the same plays. We’ve got to do them at a high efficiency and play better.”
Note: It appears senior long snapper Sean Tobin is out of a job. After watching the ball sail over punter Ryan Rodwell’s head for a third straight week, Johnson replaced Tobin with Casey Wilson during the Clemson game. “Do it once, shame on you,” Johnson said “Do it twice, shame on me. I don’t think we’ll do it again. He won’t.”