Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has gotten good at defending his triple-option offense. He’s had lots of practice.
Every year the non-believers pop up and he’s answering the same questions he’s answered throughout his career.
After he left Georgia Southern for Navy, they whispered that his quirky system wouldn’t work against Division-IA football teams. When he came to Georgia Tech, the murmurs turned into a roar of disbelief.
“Any time you do something different, people are going to question it,” Johnson said earlier this week in a teleconference with reporters.
You’d think after the Yellow Jackets won nine game (including a 45-42 win over Georgia) and rushed for 273 yards per contest in 2009, the doubters would have dispersed — or at least found something better to doubt.
There was a lot of talk this week that now that ACC teams have had a full season to see and evaluate the offense, they’d be better at defending it, too.
Johnson doesn’t believe that.
“When we were at Georgia Southern, we were in a conference where we played the same teams, and for five years we won the league every year,” Johnson said. “People will get better at defending it. We’re going to get better at running it, too. We didn’t run it very well last year, I don’t think.
“In some ways it’s funny, because, OK, you play against a pro-style offense every year for 20 years, do you get better at defending it?
When you have better players than they do, you get better at defending it, when they have better players than you, you don’t.”
The Jackets offense will be improved in Year 2 of The Paul Johnson Experiment. In the final three games of the 2008 regular season, the unit piled up more than 400 rushing yards per game against North Carolina, Miami and Georgia. With another full spring of fine tuning, the quarterbacks will be more comfortable and the offensive line will be more technically sound. And there’s more depth and flexiblity among the running backs with the addition of 230-pound transfer Anthony Allen and 235-pounder Richard Watson, a redshirt freshman.
Instead of asking Johnson to defend his offense, here’s a better question:
How well will the Jackets defend the other offenses of the ACC?
The running game, which was fourth in the country last year in yards per contest, stole the headlines in 2008 and made it easy to overlook the fact that the Tech defense finished the season at No. 25 in the country in yards allowed.
The good news is that six starters from that defense return, led by safety Morgan Burnett, possibly the best defender on the team.
And cornerback Jerrard Terrant, who Johnson called “probably our best corner going into last year,” is back from suspension and will soften the loss of Jahi Word-Daniels.
But the foundation (all-conference linemen Vance Walker, Darryl Richard and Michael Johnson, all out of elgibility) won’t be there to solidify the unit next year. Instead, Johnson said he expects to use a committee of defensive linemen alongside returning end Derrick Morgan.
That’s the bad news.
What’s not news at all — at least not to Johnson — is that after 12 seasons with only one losing record among them, he’s still answering the same old questions.
“If we have any success next year, which who knows whether we will or not, but if we do, then it’ll be ‘well, you can’t recruit to that,’” Johnson said. “There’ll be something every year. I don’t pay much attention to it.”