ATLANTA — Coach Paul Johnson isn’t placing special significance on facing Georgia Southern for the first time.
It’s been 13 years since Johnson, now in his sixth season at Georgia Tech, left the Eagles for the head coaching job at Navy after winning 62 games, five Southern Conference titles and two Division I-AA national championships.
“I just know they’ve got a pretty good football team and if you don’t get ready to play, they can beat you,” Johnson said Tuesday.
Though he’s treating the matchup as “just another game,” Johnson said he has fond memories of his stay with Georgia Southern. He also worked as offensive coordinator when the Eagles won national titles in 1985-86.
|1997||10–3||7–1||Division I-AA Quarterfinal|
|1998||14–1||8–0||Division I-AA Runner Up|
|1999||13–2||7–1||Division I-AA Champions|
|2000||13–2||7–1||Division I-AA Champions|
|2001||12–2||7–1||Division I-AA Semifinal|
“It was a great time,” Johnson said. “It was a fun time. They get it. They care about football and they want to be good. They do what it takes to be good.”
Georgia Tech (2-0) is coming off a 38-21 victory last week at Tulane that included three turnovers. Quarterback Justin Thomas threw an interception and played a part in two fumbles, but Johnson is still encouraged that the Yellow Jackets’ offense has a chance to be one of his best.
“The potential is there, but we’ve got to play better.” Johnson said. “You can’t turn the ball over and do those types of things, especially with a young defense. You can’t do that to them.”
Georgia Southern (1-1) is playing its first FBS season after joining the Sun Belt Conference.
The Eagles gave North Carolina State fits in their road opener, losing 24-23 after giving up the lead with 1:37 remaining. They beat Savannah State 83-9 last week.
Willie Fritz is Georgia Southern’s new coach after Jeff Monken led the Eagles to a stunning victory at Florida last year and took the job at Army.
Johnson is concerned about ball security, but also believes his younger players need more time to develop.
Thomas, a redshirt sophomore, is a first-time starter who is still finding his way and has yet to play 200 career snaps.
“You build gradually and correct all of the little things that you can,” Johnson said. “I’d be far more concerned if I looked over the tape and I saw guys get run over and physically mismatched. That you can’t fix. That’s hard to fix. Wrong steps and bad angles — you can fix all of that stuff.”
The Jackets rushed for 342 yards at Tulane and converted 10 of 12 third downs. The defense shut out Tulane in the second half and scored a touchdown on linebacker Quayshawn Nealy’s second-quarter interception return.
“We’ve found a way to get them off the field,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the best way to stop them is if you don’t give up the big play, they will stop themselves with a turnover or penalties. You’d like to be a little more aggressive, but it’s hard to shut out teams in the second half.”
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