Georgia Tech’s Johnson: ‘I Know How Hard It Is To Win’

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson speaks during a press conference at the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. 

Yellow Jackets coach says Seminoles’ unbeaten record speaks for itself

Special to by Steve Phillips

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( – Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson knows first-hand about college football winning streaks and the mindset that accompanies them.

During his tenure as head coach at Georgia Southern (1997 through 2001), Johnson led the Eagles to an NCAA I-AA-record 39 consecutive home-field wins. That gives him an appreciation of the winning streak defending national champion Florida State carries into Saturday night’s Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game against his Yellow Jackets.

The Seminoles (12-0 this season) have won 28 straight games over the past two-plus years. The streak, which is an ACC record and ties for the 14th longest in Division I history, began with FSU’s 21-15 win over the Yellow Jackets in the 2012 ACC Championship Game.

“I know how hard it is to win, so I think you have to give them all the credit in the world for winning,” Johnson said.

While the Seminoles have played a number of close games this season, Johnson cited the bottom line.

“(At Georgia Southern) I can just tell you the mindset of our players was that somebody was going to make a play and we were going to win the game,” Johnson said. “It never entered their mind that we could lose. And I’m pretty sure that’s where Florida State is. They’ve made so many plays and they’ve managed to find ways to win, and that’s a hard quality to have. My hat’s off to them.”

Johnson, whose team carries a five-game winning streak and a 10-2 record into Saturday’s game at Bank of America Stadium (8:14 p.m., ABC), says the fact the Seminoles have been pushed to the limit by some opposing team is irrelevant in final analysis.

“It’s not horseshoes or hand grenades,” Johnson said. “Close isn’t good enough. As long as they keep winning, they keep winning.”

The Yellow Jackets hope to be the first team since November of 2012 to break through on Saturday night. But if that doesn’t happen, the Seminoles will be ACC Champions for the third straight year.

And, according to Johnson, something more.

“My take on it, until somebody beats them, they are the top team in the country,” Johnson said.

Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was a member of Johnson’s first five coaching staffs at Georgia Tech (2008-12), but Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher doesn’t believe that has made it any easier to prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ patented triple-option offensive attack.

“Coach Kelly has a great appreciation for it after coaching at Georgia Tech for a while, because he's seen it,” Fisher said. “But that still doesn't get you prepared for it. You've still got to go in and make the adjustments for it.”

It has been an ongoing challenge for Georgia Tech opponents over the past seven seasons, but perhaps never more so than this fall. The Yellow Jackets enter Saturday night’s game as the ACC leader in scoring (37.2 points per game), total offense (469.1 yards per game) and rushing (333.8).

Georgia Tech’ rushing total ranks third nationally, but that has almost come to be expected. The new wrinkle likes with sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas, who hasn’t thrown the ball enough to be listed among most ACC statistical leaders, but is a threat whenever he does.

Thomas has 16 touchdown passes and 1,460 passing yards on just 161 attempts. His 154.3 pass efficiency rating would lead the ACC and would rank 13th nationally if he had thrown the minimum number of passes per game (15) to be listed among the NCAA leaders.

“It’s a whole different perspective to how you've got to defend their offensive attack,” Fisher said. “They do a great job, like I say, and they also throw the ball very well. It's going to have to be a complete game plan and overhaul as far as different things you do.”

Some teams have relished having an open date – and thus an extra week of preparation – prior to facing the Yellow Jackets. The Seminoles don’t have that luxury. Both Florida State and Georgia Tech faced important games against SEC in-state rivals in last weekend’s regular-season finales before they could begin to focus on the ACC Championship Game.

“This is like another regular season game as far as the time frame now,” Fisher said. “Now, if it's a bowl game, it's different because you have a lot more time and film and time to break things down even more complete and really study and maybe put a few wrinkles in and do the things you do. You’ll have your few wrinkles here, but this is more like a regular game routine.”

Georgia Tech’s Johnson expects the best shot from his former assistant in the way of a game plan.

“He's a really good coach,” Johnson said of Kelly. “He's a hard worker, so I know he's going to have a good plan. He understands what we're trying to do.

“It'll be the team that goes out and executes the best. I don't think that we're going to be forcing enough that they can't get lined up or don't know what to do. They'll have a good plan.”

Florida State’s series of close calls this season have played havoc with the nerves of some Seminole fans, but Fisher has maintained a sense of calm. More importantly, he’s sensed a similar feeling among his staff and players.

”When you’re in (a game) you don’t have time to get nervous,” Fisher said. “You’re trying to figure out what to do. I think as a coach, when you're in the arena, on the field, if you're getting nervous you're not focusing on what you've got to do to come out of those situations, and that's kind of what we try to focus on there.

“You can't worry about scoreboard … (it’s) how can we fix this, how can we do this, how can we move here, and that's what you've got to do.”

Much discussion has centered on Florida State – the defending national champions and the nation’s only remaining unbeaten team – slipping to No. 4 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. Georgia Tech’s Johnson, as previously noted, is among those who feel the Seminoles should be rated at the very top.

But what about Johnson’s own team? The Yellow Jackets are clearly playing their best football of the season heading into the ACC Championship Game and have climbed to No. 11 in the CFB pecking order. Georgia Tech’s surge includes wins over No. 19 Clemson and No. 9 Georgia in its final two regular-season games.

Is there a chance Georgia Tech could sneak in and snare one of the final coveted top four spots?

“I think there's clearly a path that's there,” Johnson said Friday afternoon. “But it's certainly not going to be there unless you can beat Florida State.

“If we could pull that off, then we'll worry about that. We probably need some help. But I think you could make a case in our last three games we will have beaten three top 20 teams and two top 10 teams in the last three weeks, and I don't think there's anybody else out there that can make that claim.”

- Georgia Tech defensive back D.J. White has intercepted a pass in each of the last three games, including last week’s overtime game-clincher in the win at Georgia. He is the first Yellow Jacket since Dominique Reese in 2008 to record a pick in three straight games.

- Florida State’s 8-0 mark in ACC regular-season play is its ninth in 23 years as a conference member.

- FSU is the 17th program in college football history to win at least 28 consecutive games and the first since Miami won 34 in a row from 2000 through 2002.

- Georgia Tech has rushed for at least 200 yards in each of its last 12 games, the longest active streak among FBS schools.

- Florida State has had a league-high 17 players voted to the All-ACC team each of the past two seasons. The 10 Seminoles on this year’s All-ACC first team match the school record set in 1994.

- Georgia Tech’s 123 points off turnovers this season rank fourth in the FBS. The Yellow Jackets’ seven red-zone takeaways rank second among FBS teams.