ATLANTA — One of Paul Johnson’s primary messages to his team this week is simple: all is not lost.
Back-to-back conference losses to Virginia Tech and Miami have seriously threatened the Yellow Jackets’ prospects of returning to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, yet their head coach seemed in no mood to brood Tuesday.
Johnson was surprisingly chipper, saying Georgia Tech (3-2, 0-2) has been undone by a “myriad” of mistakes.
Georgia Tech jumped to a 17-7 lead at Miami, and then seemed powerless to slow the Hurricanes.
“I told our football team, ‘We’ve still got more than half the season,’” Johnson said. “We’re disappointed that we lost two games in the league, but also the two teams that beat us are a combined 9-1 with the one loss coming to the No. 1 team in the country. We can still have a pretty good season.”
Saturday’s game at Brigham Young may offer special incentive. The Cougars manhandled Georgia Tech last year, 41-17 in Atlanta. “It’s definitely a motivation for us to go up there and whip them,” said linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. “What they did to us, in our home ... they made us look real, real bad.”
There is no single solution to what’s ailing the Yellow Jackets.
They’ve lost their three top safeties to injuries or discipline, and Roof is auditioning down-the-depth chart defensive linemen as Georgia Tech will need more bodies in anticipation of the Cougars running as many as 100 plays.
On offense, Georgia Tech’s running game is potent, but not explosive, and the passing game has flopped.
Three quarterbacks played at Miami, and although sophomore Vad Lee remains the starter, freshman Justin Thomas is likely to play at BYU.
Whether Tim Byerly makes another appearance is less clear. Lee completed just 5-of-13 passes at Miami while Thomas was 0-for-3 and Byerly 1-for-3. Lee and Thomas threw interceptions, and Lee lost a fumble that triggered a swing in momentum.
“It’s not just one guy,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to coach it better.”
The Yellow Jackets have one of their more experienced offensive lines, yet that unit has been inconsistent. “We thought that that was going to be a strength of the team,” Johnson said. “We’ve yet to have the group we thought we were going to have, but that’s the nature of the beast. We’ve been blitzed some. When we had max protection called and we haven’t blocked it right.”
When Roof was the defensive coordinator for Auburn in 2010, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn ran elements of the offense BYU will use.
“Gus did that so I’ve got some background in that,” Roof said. “We’re disappointed in some of the things we did and didn’t do at Miami. We’re all accountable, players and coaches. We’ve got to shore things up.”