ATLANTA — Only four days after he talked about the wave of "malfunctions" he saw in his team’s final preseason scrimmage, Paul Johnson offered a more optimistic tone on Monday.
Georgia Tech, home of the Ramblin’ Wreck, "wasn’t a total wreck" after all in last week’s scrimmage, according to Johnson. He said his players should be ready for Thursday night’s opener against Jacksonville State.
Johnson said Monday that his criticisms of his team’s scrimmage last Thursday were based on his constant search for perfection.
"I think that probably got blown out of proportion a little bit," said Johnson, referring to reports of his criticisms. "My nature is that if anything is not exactly perfect, I’m going to find fault with it, and the expectation level is going to be set at a high standard.
"I’m always going to find the things that we didn’t do up to the standard that I set. All in all, it wasn’t a total wreck."
According to Georgia Tech’s research, Johnson will have the youngest team in the Atlantic Coast Conference for his first game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Of the team’s 110 players, 75 are freshmen or sophomores. Virginia and Virginia Tech each list 72 freshmen and sophomores to rank as the second-youngest teams in the league, according to Georgia Tech’s research.
Of the 44 players on Georgia Tech’s two-deep depth chart, 26 are freshmen or sophomores.
That youth, combined with the new schemes on offense and defense, create the potential for the mistakes that continue to worry Johnson.
"There’s going to be some things Thursday night that don’t happen exactly the way I want them to, I’m sure, in certain things," he said.
Johnson has installed a new offense he calls a spread option.
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt, a sophomore, will be making his first start and will be scrutinized as he makes decisions to run, pitch, handoff and pass in the option-based attack. Nesbitt’s backup, freshman Jaybo Shaw, also is expected to play.
"I think he’s earned a couple of series in the game and we’ll figure out when we’re going to put him in and play," Johnson said of Shaw, a Flowery Branch graduate. "I think he’s good enough to help us win the game so we’re going to put him in there and see what he does under fire."
Shaw, whose father Lee Shaw played at Western Carolina, ran a similar option offense at Flowery Branch. Shaw picked up Johnson’s offense so quickly he moved past more experienced players, including senior Calvin Booker, on the depth chart.
There is only one senior, left tackle Andrew Gardner, on Georgia Tech’s list of projected starters. The youth of the unit will be obvious as sophomores Jonathan Dwyer and Lucas Cox and freshman Roddy Jones join Nesbitt in the starting backfield.
Dwyer, the B-back, is expected to be the featured running back. Dwyer will line up behind the quarterback in a three-point stance and, like a fullback, will have more blocking responsibilities than a normal tailback.
The two A-backs line up like slot backs. Cox, a transfer from Connecticut, is the younger brother of former Georgia Tech fullback Mike Cox.
The three seniors on the line — tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard and end Michael Johnson — form the foundation of the defense. Cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels is the only other senior on the first-team defense.
Tech’s placekicker, sophomore Scott Blair, and punter, freshman Chandler Anderson, will be making their first starts. Blair handled kickoff duties last season.
Johnson said the attention paid to his offense has overshadowed questions he has about other areas on the team.
"My attention is just as much on the other side," he said. "I’m scared to death in the secondary and at linebacker and places we’ve got all kinds of young guys. It’s not like we’ve done anything there, either.
"Nobody knows anything about this football team. They haven’t played a game. Who knows what happens? We might go out there on Thursday night and it might be 3-0. It might also be 46-43. Nobody knows.
"As a coach you worry about everything."
Still, Johnson says he enters his first game with confidence.
"I think we’ve made a lot of progress," he said. "Can we carry it from the practice fields to the game field? I don’t know. That’s why we play the games. I know we’re a much better football team now than we were in the spring."