ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is expecting “a bounce-back game” when the Yellow Jackets play Presbyterian in their home opener on Saturday night.
The Yellow Jackets (0-1) had only five days to regroup after Monday night’s 20-17 overtime loss at No. 15 Virginia Tech. The players were off Tuesday and Friday, leaving only two practice days, including none in full pads.
There was little time to implement a game plan for Presbyterian, a Football Championship Subdivision team that played in Division II until 2007. Johnson says his focus will be on his team showing improvement.
“Every team has some good players and I’m sure Presbyterian will have some guys as well, but Saturday night is about Georgia Tech,” Johnson said. “It’s about us moving forward and improving in a lot of areas we need to improve in.”
The Yellow Jackets played well on defense against Virginia Tech before giving up a tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation. Johnson wasn’t satisfied with the production from his spread-option offense.
There are expected to be at least three new starters for Georgia Tech on offense: running back Zach Laskey, wide receiver Darren Waller and offensive tackle Bryan Chamberlain.
Laskey is moving past Charles Perkins at the “B-back” position which lines up behind the quarterback.
“If we can’t run, we can’t do a lot of things,” Perkins said. “It all starts with that, so Saturday we have to improve in the running game.”
Perkins had only three carries for five yards against the Hokies. Laskey had seven carries for 28 yards.
“It was a lot I saw that I didn’t like, not just at that position,” Johnson said. “There were several positions. We’ve got to do a better job coaching those guys. My take on that is if one or two guys are not doing what you like, then they’ve got an issue. If it’s more than one or two guys, then we’ve got an issue.
“We’ve got to work and make sure we help those guys play better.”
There is no line on the game. Johnson didn’t dwell on the upset potential in the game, but he mentioned two examples of FCS schools playing well against Atlantic Coast Conference teams, including Georgia Tech’s 10-7 home win over Gardner-Webb in 2008.
“Gardner-Webb came in here a few years with about 25 kids from Georgia and they played their tail off and we went out and showed up and barely got out of there alive,” Johnson said. “That kind of stuff can happen.”
Presbyterian (1-0), from Clinton, S.C., has 31 players from Georgia.
Johnson’s second example more closely mirrored Georgia Tech’s scheduling crunch this week. In 2010, Virginia Tech had less than a week to prepare after a close opening loss to Boise State. Then the Hokies lost to James Madison, 21-16.
While James Madison is a FCS power, Presbyterian is still adjusting to Division I football. The Blue Hose finished 4-7 overall last year for their best record since 2008. Presbyterian was 3-3 in Big South games for its best conference record.
Lance Byrd ran for 109 yards and Demarcus Rouse scored three touchdowns in Presbyterian’s 45-10 win over Brevard College last week.
Brevard runs a spread-option offense. Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols said the opening win served as an introduction to Georgia Tech’s faster version of the scheme.
“The good news is we just played a team that runs a similar type offense as Georgia Tech,” Nichols said. “The bad news is we’re playing another team that runs that offense, and they do it at warp speed and they’re very talented.”
Quarterback Tevin Washington, who led the Yellow Jackets with 987 yards rushing with 14 touchdowns in 2011, again led the running game with 19 carries for 63 yards last week. He completed 10 of 16 passes for a modest 96 yards with a touchdown and threw the interception in overtime that set up Virginia Tech’s winning field goal.
“That was a pretty tough game to cut your teeth on,” Johnson said. “Pretty loud, the atmosphere, the hype of the game. Not the one you’d want to be in for the first one, probably, and we played like that early on.”
Johnson and Nichols share coaching backgrounds at Georgia Southern, though they never worked on the same staff. Nichols was an assistant at Georgia Southern from 1992-95. Johnson, an assistant from 1983-86, was the Eagles’ head coach from 1997-2001.
“He knows the system, he knows what we run,” Johnson said. “They’re not doing it, but I’m sure he’ll have some thoughts and ideas.
“They’ll come in here and they’ll play hard. Don’t underestimate them. ... You hope you’ve got more than they do. You’re supposed to.”