ATLANTA — Paul Johnson hears criticism of his Georgia Tech team’s mixed performance in its 2-0 start, and he is reminded that it can be dangerous to reach conclusions after only two games.
Last year was a painful example.
The Yellow Jackets outscored their first two opponents by a combined margin of 134-19 in 2015. After the strong 2-0 start, they lost five straight and finished 3-9 overall with only one Atlantic Coast Conference win.
The lesson was that it was unwise to read too much into lopsided wins over 2015 underdog opponents Alcorn State and Tulane.
Georgia Tech, which plays Vanderbilt (1-1) on Saturday, opened this season with a narrow win over ACC rival Boston College before beating Mercer 35-10 last week. Apparently, Johnson has heard feedback that the win over Mercer should have been more impressive.
“The first two games we came out of the gate last year and killed everybody, and everybody was talking about how great we were, and we weren’t,” Johnson said Tuesday when asked what he has learned about his team.
“And now after the first two games this year people want to talk about how bad we are, and we’re not. So it’s kind of somewhere in between.”
Johnson should learn more about his team in the next few weeks. After the visit from Vanderbilt , Georgia Tech plays No. 5 Clemson and No. 25 Miami.
Johnson provided hints he is encouraged by what he has seen so far.
“At least this team in the first game found a way to win without our A game,” he said, referring to the 17-14 win over Boston College in Dublin.
Johnson said he gave a C grade to the win over Mercer.
This game also should reveal much to Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason. The Commodores have lost five straight in the series and are 0-11-1 against the Yellow Jackets since 1941.
“We’re facing a Georgia Tech team who we have not had the opportunity to beat in a while,” Mason said Tuesday. “So with that says there’s an opportunity in front of us to do something great.”
Georgia Tech freshman running back Dedrick Mills, who scored the game-winning touchdown against Boston College, was suspended last week for a violation of team rules. He is back with the team and may start against Vanderbilt. Mills and Marcus Marshall are listed as co-starters.
Mills rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries against Boston College. Marshall and Quaide Weimerskirch lost fumbles against Mercer.
Qua Searcy ran for a career-high 91 yards on only seven carries in his first career start against Mercer. Quarterback Justin Thomas, who sat out the second half last week with a minor injury, should return against Vanderbilt.
Matthew Jordan and TaQuon Marshall played behind Thomas. The three quarterbacks combined to run for 125 yards and four touchdowns in the spread-option offense.
“I thought Saturday we made some improvement in some areas,” Johnson said. “We’ve still got a ton of work to do. Certainly we’re not where we’d like to be in any facet.”
It’s no surprise that the triple-option aspect of Georgia Tech’s offense has led to extra work for Mason and his staff. He said his staff began studying the offense this summer.