Georgia Tech ranks eighth in the nation and first in the Atlantic Coast Conference with its average of about 250 yards rushing per game. That’s no surprise; his spread option was expected to produce big yards on the ground.
With the gaudy rushing statistics have come problems with fumbles and concerns about the team’s lack of balance.
The Yellow Jackets rank 118th of 119 FBS teams with 17 fumbles lost. Johnson aggressively attacks accusations that his offense is one-dimensional, even though his team ranks 115th in passing.
As Georgia Tech (7-3 overall, 4-3 ACC) has an off week to prepare for Thursday night’s home game against Miami, Johnson is the first to acknowledge there is much room for improvement.
"We’re awful on offense, from my expectation level," Johnson said, adding he would stick with that description even though he was shocked to discover his offense ranks second in the ACC with 358 total yards per game.
"I promise you, we can be a lot better and we will get a lot better," Johnson said.
Three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — contributed to Georgia Tech’s 28-7 loss at No. 19 North Carolina last week. The loss knocked the Yellow Jackets out of the lead in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
"We probably played our worst game on Saturday," Johnson said. "For whatever reason, I don’t know. We had a lot riding on the game, and we knew that. I don’t want to take anything away from North Carolina, but we played horrendous in every facet, from the kicking game to canceling gaps on defense to offensive execution. A lot of it was mental stuff. It wasn’t physical."
Johnson seemed surprised by the rash of missed assignments and bad decisions he found in his review of the game.
"I had no idea it was as bad as it was when I watched the tape," he said. "Just from a mental aspect. I knew we missed a lot of reads, but it was worse than I thought."
Georgia Tech’s only touchdown came on Jonathan Dwyer’s 85-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes left. Most frustrating to Johnson has been his team’s inability to make good on his expectation that his team would be able to pass out of the run-first attack.
The offensive line was a concern even before a rash of injuries left the unit unable to give quarterbacks Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw enough time to pass.
"Quite honestly he was running for his life," said Johnson of Nesbitt’s efforts against North Carolina. "I don’t know if he ever got to set his feet throwing the ball. For everybody who wants us to throw more, they clearly are not watching the same games I’m watching. I mean, it’d be great. We’d love to throw more if we could."
Nesbitt was only 10-for-22 passing for 97 yards with an interception against the Tar Heels. Demaryius Thomas had four catches for 35 yards, giving him 33 receptions for the season. No other Georgia Tech player has more than seven catches.
Thomas, who had all of the team’s nine catches for 230 yards and a touchdown in a 27-0 win over Duke, could be an even bigger threat if he had more opportunities.
"It is frustrating," Johnson said, adding he has agonized with his offensive assistants about the lack of passing punch.
"It’s disappointing that we can’t mix more of it in," he said. "I’d love to be able to throw some of our run-and-shoot stuff, some of our four-receiver stuff. But there’s not any difference in can’t and won’t right now. We can’t. We just really struggle with it, the protection."
Questions about the imbalance on offense arise only after losses.
Few complained when Nesbitt was only 4-for-5 passing for 55 yards in a 31-28 win over Florida State on Nov. 1. Dwyer rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
One week later, Johnson faced renewed questions about his offense following the loss to North Carolina.
Johnson isn’t shy about addressing his critics head-on.
"Somebody sent me an article the other day that we got (out)schemed at Carolina," Johnson said. "Yeah, OK. We had 20 first downs and (423) yards. I don’t think we got schemed. I don’t think we finished drives, and on fourth-down plays we handed it into (traffic) and checked the play the wrong way 10 times.
"We were our own worst enemy. Now, you don’t take anything away from (North Carolina) because they won the game. ... I can promise you, in my 24 years of doing this, that’s not the first time we’ve seen that defense. It wasn’t ‘Oh wow. We found the magic elixir."’
And as for the criticism that he can’t win while relying so heavily on one part of the offense?
"We ran for 326 yards and we threw it for 97," said Johnson of the loss to North Carolina. "We’re one-dimensional. If we had thrown for 320 and the tailback had 120, we’d be perfectly balanced. It’s all in perception. It’s what people think."