Sept. 12 Football Notebook: Yellow Jackets Johnson, Lee to Feel At Home On Saturday

Sept. 12 Football Notebook: Yellow Jackets Johnson, Lee to Feel At Home On Saturday

Thursday September 12, 2013


GEORGIA TECH COACH RETURNS TO HOME STATE, QUARTERBACK TO HOMETOWN VS. DUKE

Georgia Tech hits the road for its Atlantic Coast Conference football opener at Duke this weekend, and head coach Paul Johnson will try to improve on an already-impressive track record when playing in his home state of North Carolina.

Johnson, a Newland, N.C., native and Western Carolina University graduate, owns a 15-2 record against teams from the Old North State since coming onboard at Tech prior to the 2008 season. In his 16-plus overall seasons as a head coach, Johnson stands a cumulative 33-8 (.805) against schools from North Carolina.

Johnson won’t be the only notable Yellow Jacket with home ties come Saturday. Starting quarterback Vad Lee will be playing his first collegiate game in his hometown of Durham, N.C.

“I’m sure he’s excited to go back home,” Johnson said. “I was joking with him yesterday in practice by

asking him how many tickets he needed, and he said that he was at 30 and probably going to end up at around 40. I can imagine that he’s excited to go back and play. I get excited to go back to North Carolina and play. It’s always fun to go home and play.”

Regardless of the location, Johnson and Lee would be braced for an intense game with the Blue Devils. Johnson noted that Georgia Tech’s last trip to Durham two years ago resulted in a back-and-forth thriller that the Yellow Jackets won 38-31. And while Tech will have seven conference games remaining after Saturday, stakes in the opener are plenty high.

“We’ve talked to the team about the importance of the game,” Johnson said. “It’s a conference game. It’s a division game. It’s a road game. Anytime you can win a division game on the road, that’s a bigger plus. Then you’ve got the tiebreaker over that team. You’ve got the division record. You’ve got the whole nine yards. Our guys understand it’s a big game and they’ve set goals that they want to get back to Charlotte (for the Dec. 7 ACC Championship Game). And we need to win this game if that’s going to be one of the goals.”

NEXT MAN UP

With starting quarterback Anthony Boone sidelined by a broken collarbone, Duke will turn to Brandon Connette in Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech and for at least the next several weeks.

“We miss our Anthony,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He was our starting quarterback for a reason – he was our starter. But at the same time I can’t tell you how thankful I am to have a guy like Brandon Connette.”

Connette is capable of filling at least a large chunk of the void, as evidenced by his 14-of-21, 198-yard performance in relief of Boone in last weekend’s game at Memphis. That performance included a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes that lifted the Blue Devils to a 28-14 win.

“He comes in and he leads us to 21 points in the second half -- and we don’t miss a beat,” Cutcliffe marveled. “We don’t have any cadence issues or getting the signal from the sideline. There are a lot of college football teams that this early in the season, if they have to go to their backup, would have a struggle functioning. Brandon didn’t even think twice about that.”

Though listed behind the now-graduated Sean Renfree and Boone on the QB depth chart since his arrival at Duke, Connette has been a presence throughout his first two seasons. The Corona, Calif., redshirt junior has been used extensively in short yardage in goal line situations, as his 19 career touchdowns scored – second among active ACC players only to Virginia Tech quarterback Logan’s 21 – attest.

“He played against us at quarterback in 2010, so he’s been in the program for a long time,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “I’m sure he will know a lot of what they do.”

Cutcliffe expects as much from Connette, and more.

“It’s just like any other injury,” Cutcliffe said. “In football when you have those on either side of the ball, people have to step up.”

MOVING ON

Pitt coach Paul Chryst acknowledges that the Panthers’ first-ever game as an ACC member came with a lot of hype and emotion.

Over 65,000 fans poured into Heinz Field for the Monday Night game against defending ACC champion Florida State on Sept. 2. Millions more watched on ESPN as Pitt turned up the electricity by grabbing an early 7-0 lead.

Then the Seminoles, led by quarterback Jameis Winston and a stout defense, found their bearings. By game’s end, Pitt was on the losing end of a 41-13 score and, thanks to last weekend’s open date, had nearly two weeks to brew in the disappointment before playing another game.

But that next game arrives Saturday against visiting New Mexico, and Chryst looks forward to seeing his team play with renewed energy and a sense of purpose. The FSU game was a big one, but not one the Panthers should consider the defining moment of their season.

“Certainly our guys were excited to play Florida State,” Chryst said. “But I think our guys are also smart enough to know that was not all we talked about. Our guys know that we have a heck of a schedule. Florida State was certainly part of it, but that wasn’t just the goal. We didn’t go into camp and say, ‘This is all about Florida State.’ We certainly have a lot of respect for them, but we have guys that are smart and have been around football enough to know that you better respect all of your opponents, so I don’t anticipate (a letdown) being an issue.”

Chryst hopes that is also true for the Panthers’ fan base, even with Pitt playing host to a geographically distant and somewhat unfamiliar opponent this weekend.

“I don’t want people to give up on this team,” Chryst said. “(The atmosphere week-in and week-out) can be really, really good.”

LIKE FATHER …

Wake Forest graduate assistant coach Ryan McManus will be matching wits with a familiar opponent when the Demon Deacons play host to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

The Warhawks’ tight ends coach is none other than Jerry McManus, a Wake Forest graduate who played quarterback for the Deacons – and Ryan’s father.

“Once the game got announced, he had just gotten to Monroe when they had just started spring ball,” Ryan reported. “He didn't want to give away any secrets that they’re doing offensively. They have a multiple set offense with a lot of exciting things going in their pass game. He couldn't tell me too much about what they’re doing. And then when we went into spring ball, we tried to revamp our offense a little bit and do a lot of new things, so I couldn't tell him what I was doing.

“So our conversations went from Xs and Os to just like, ‘Is everybody doing well, staying healthy?’ “

Ryan McManus, like his father, chose to attend Wake Forest, played football as a walk-on, and saw action in 43 career games at quarterback and on special teams. He continues to follow Jerry McManus’ lead as he pursues a career in coaching.

“It’s part of the reason I’m a grad assistant,” Ryan said. “I want to get my foot in the door and follow in his footsteps. He’s been such a great example to me of how to handle the coaching profession and seeing how the impact that he’s had on some of his players’ lives. That’s what I want to do, and be around the game of football.”

Ryan believes he has been blessed to have a father that not only leads but example but has been supportive of his chosen profession.

”It’s amazing how many guys are like, ‘Wow, you’re an idiot. Go do something else, use your Wake Forest degree,’ ” he said. “But my dad was one of the only guys that was really like, ‘If you want to do it, I will help you in whatever way you can and I strongly encourage you to do it.’ ”

And, as Ryan learned well, that doesn’t mean setting skewed priorites.

“I've had a great role model in how things are done the right way and in a way that you focus 100 percent of your time on your job and doing a good job at that, but you’re still never neglecting your family,” he said. “I was blessed to have him be able to come home to dinner a lot of times growing up. He made a ton of my football and baseball games in high school. So, I've seen the balance of working your tail off when you’re at work, but when you’re at home you’re being a good father.”

They will be together at home in a few short months, at which time Ryan McManus plans on holding bragging rights.

“There will be some fun jabs at Christmas time when we’re all together with the family,” Ryan said. “I might make him buy me dinner if we win.”

CROSS COUNTRY

Boston College will face Southern California for only the fourth time this Saturday, and for only the third time in a scheduled, regular-season game.

If first-year Eagles coach Steve Addazio has his way, such games won’t be such novelties in future years.

“It’s a targeted area for us,” Addazio said. “We’ve got a great population from California here at Boston College. There are some really good high schools out there, a good educational system and some great football players. Obviously, I think that helps us with recruiting and we have a great product. We have a great Catholic education and ACC football.”

Boston College’s academic credentials speak for themselves, and Addazio hopes the Eagles’ performance against the Trojans will provide the athletic sales pitch.

“You want to go out there and play well,” Addazio said. “We’re a building program going out there to play a top tier football program. We just want to make sure we go out there and really battle and play a good brand of football because there are a lot of eyes watching, and it’s a good opportunity to expand our brand.”

GOOD FOR THEM

The first two weekends of the season saw Clemson and Miami take down a pair of top-10 SEC opponents, and count Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher among those happy with the results.

“I think it’s great for them,” Fisher said. “Clemson is a very good ball club and I said this before that did not surprise me with what happened in Miami … They’re very talented, they’re athletic and they’ve got good players.

“I think you’re seeing that this league is much better than what people give it credit for. That’s what you have to do, if you want credibility in the league: You have to go out and win those games. I was very proud for both of them and very happy for both of them.”

MORE THAN ONE

As expected, Fisher fielded several questions regarding redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston as he prepared his team for this Saturday’s game against visiting Nevada.

That was to be expected, as the buzz from Winston’s collegiate debut against Pitt on Sept. 2 (25-of-27, 356 yards, four TD passes) has yet to fully subside. But Fisher asked for a bit of perspective.

“There is more to this team than Jameis Winston,” Fisher said. “Now, Jameis is doing well. I’m very proud of him. I love Jameis, but we have other good players.

“Quarterbacks get a lot of glory, they get a lot of blame and a lot of it has to do with how people play around him. He’s got to go out and execute it, don’t get me wrong and it takes nothing away from how he played – I thought he played extremely well and I thought the guys around him did too. I think that’s something we have to remember.”

RUNNING MAN

Following Maryland’s season-opening win over FIU on Aug. 31, Maryland’s offensive coaching staff called in running back Brandon Ross for a brief film study.

“We had an issue where we thought he was dancing a little bit too much (on his rushing attempts), and we talked to him about it,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said.

Ross took the message to heart – and to the field for last Saturday’s game against Old Dominion. The only dancing last weekend came from Maryland fans who watched Ross rush for a career-high 149 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in Maryland’s 47-10 win.

“We showed it to him on film and then he went out and played better,” Edsall said. “That’s what you like because it shows that he’s coachable, he understands it, and now he sees it and he’s doing it. That’s all we want him to do, that’s all we want all our guys to do. Just go out and do everything to the best of your ability. When we make a correction just take it as such that we’re just helping you get better.”

Edsall has met with Ross as Maryland gears up for this Saturday night’s road trip to UConn, but the message this week is a little different.

“I just told him to keep doing his job,” Edsall said. “We don’t make it complicated around here.”

STAYING THE COURSE

Season-opening losses to Penn State and Northwestern weren’t what Syracuse first-year coach Scott Shafer envisioned, but he has reminded his players that a lot of football lies ahead – beginning with Saturday’s home opener against Wagner.

“John Wooden stated, ‘A setback is a setup for a comeback’ and I believe that,” Shafer said.

The key for Shafer is making sure his players and staff believes it, too.

“We can’t have any regard for those outside our inner circle,” Shafer said in regard to outside perceptions. “We need to stay the course that we set out on months ago and really believe in the initial intent of the plan.”

A plan that can still come to fruition, Shafer says, in spite of the disappointing start.

“That’s the biggest mistake I have seen over my years coaching: Feeling like you’ve gotten derailed because you got beat by two pretty good teams and all of a sudden you start changing who you are and what you believe in,” Shafer said. “That will never happen here. We are going to stay the course and just make the formula work by working on direct, targeted goals and objectives that we work on throughout the course of each practice and each period.”

CATCHING ON

After watching his receiving corps come up with just five catches for 59 yards and drop several passes in a season-opening loss to top-ranked Alabama, veteran coach Frank Beamer knew things had to get better in a hurry.

Things did in last weekend’s 45-3 win over Western Carolina, and freshman tight end Kalvin Cline played a significant role.

Making his college debut, Cline hauled in four passes for 46 yards, including an 18-yarder. The Boca Raton, Fla., native made a positive first-game impression on Beamer.

 “He’s athletic and he’s smart,” Beamer said. “We threw a lot at him last week. Offensively, we move around a lot and shift, so there’s a lot of stuff going on.”

Not bad work for a student-athlete who played only one year of high school football and did not sign with Virginia Tech until several months after last February’s national signing date.

“We threw him in there, and he didn’t miss much,” Beamer said. “To not be around it and not getting reps, to be thrown in there and picking up most of it is really pretty impressive.”

Even at 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, Cline has room to grow and mature.

“He’s got some toughness, and he cares,” Beamer said. “I like the kid. He gives us a little stretch there. You’d like to see him get a little bit bigger and stronger, and he will in time. He’s an athletic tight end, and hopefully he can help us this year.”

Cline helped a receiving unit that regrouped to make 20 receptions for 225 yards in the Western Carolina game, and Beamer hopes to see more progress in this weekend’s game at East Carolina.

“We made a couple of tough catches (against Western Carolina),” Beamer said. “We had some balls that should have been caught, but far less than the previous week. They spent a lot of time in practice catching balls, and we’ll do it again this week and see if we can have zero drops.”