Paul Johnson: Tremendous Challenge in Front of Us

Jul 21, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson speaks to the media during the ACC Football Kickoff at Westin Charlotte. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said his team has a big challenge Thursday night when Clemson visits Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.

Here is a transcript from Johnson’s ACC teleconference with the media follows:

COACH JOHNSON: Good morning. Certainly we have a tremendous challenge in front of us. We have a great deal of respect for what Coach Swinney, what Dabo has done there the last few years, building that program up. They’re clearly a top-10 team, a step up for us in competition from what we’ve played so far.

We feel we’re a little better football team than what we were a year ago. We’ll have a good chance to find out here on Thursday night.

Q. To speak on running back Dedrick Mills, obviously in game one he did some good things, suspended for game two. Game three came back for three touchdowns. What can you say about what he’s meant to you on the field, if he got the message after being held out of game two?

COACH JOHNSON: Dedrick is a good kid. Wasn’t a major deal. Wanted to send a message early on on what was going to be accepted and what wasn’t. Yeah, he’s a good player. I think he’s going to get better the more he plays. He’s a true freshman. We feel like he’s got good ability and certainly an upgrade there from where we were last year.

Q. As far as Clemson, Dabo Swinney gave you a lot of respect. What do you see going into this matchup, what you see from him?

COACH JOHNSON: They’ve got a lot of weapons. Offensively it starts with the quarterback. We all know what a great player he is. But the [Wayne] Gallman kid is a really hard runner. Really impressed with the guys who came in behind him, as well, especially the young guy that played some. Got great receivers.

Then you flip over to the other side, and defensively I don’t know of anybody that we’ll play that has better personnel than what Clemson has on defense. They’ve done a great job recruiting talent and they’re playing up to that.

Q. You talk about the offensive weapons that Clemson has. What is your sense of the state of your defense?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, points per game is really the stat that matters the most. That’s where we’ve been the best. We’ve had a hard time at times getting people off the field. Certainly we’re going to have to play better defensively. We haven’t been challenged on defense like we’ll be challenged Thursday night. The teams we’ve played just don’t have the skill people that Clemson has, the way they play offensively. We’ll find out a lot more about ourselves on Thursday night defensively I think.

Q. Returning to Dedrick Mills for a minute. How difficult is it for a true freshman to come in and pick up your offense the way he has? How much different is it than what he ran in high school?

COACH JOHNSON: It’s similar to what he did in high school. He was also here in spring practice. He came in early. He had all of spring and fall camp.

Clearly there’s things that he’s learning every day, things he’ll get better at. But he had a pretty good understanding of what we were doing.

His high school coach played at Georgia Southern, so…

Q. Since you’re the last team to beat Clemson within the conference, two years ago, are there enough guys left from that team who remember what it was like to beat Clemson, the kinds of things you have to be ready for and be able to do it again?

COACH JOHNSON: I guess. We try to approach each game the same no matter who we play. We play Clemson every year. They’re our crossover rival. We’ve had some great games. Other than maybe one time we got them down there in ’08 at Clemson, both teams have been able to win at home. It’s been that kind of game. Last year was the one time in Death Valley they dismantled us. They took us apart. We weren’t a very good football team. We all know how good they were a year ago. On top of not being very good, we played very poorly.

Other than that, there have been some really close games. I think our guys really respect their program. I know we do as coaches. We look forward to having a chance to play them every year.

Q. Usually in football, I’m not sure home-field advantage is a lot, but in this series with Clemson and Georgia Tech it seems to have been very significant. Any significance to it at all?

COACH JOHNSON: I think it’s always easier to play at all. If you ever played at Death Valley, you know that’s not much fun. I’d like to think that playing here can be difficult, too, especially a night game on Thursday night. If we can hang in there for a little bit, I’m sure our crowd will get in there, get into it. For us, we’ve got to shorten the game. We’ll try to limit the possessions, get a break or two, be hanging around there in the fourth quarter.

Q. You have played more Thursday night games than any other team in the conference. Any advantage to dealing with a short week?

COACH JOHNSON: No, there is no advantage. I’m not sure it’s fair to the players or anybody to do it. It’s on the schedule and you play, but it’s less than ideal.

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