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November 29, 2009

Paul Johnson

MIKE FINN: We now bring on Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, whose Yellow Jackets are ranked 12th this week in the Associated Press rankings and will be playing as the visiting team in the Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium, 8:00 kickoff, which will be on ESPN national telecast this Saturday.
Just to let you know how the home and away teams are configured, basically it started with the first championship game. There was a coin toss the year before that game, which determined the home team for that year, and since then it's alternated between the Atlanta and Coastal Division champions.
With that, we'll bring on Coach Johnson, ask for a brief opening statement and then go to questions.
COACH JOHNSON: Good afternoon. We're excited about having an opportunity to extend our season and go to Tampa. We're probably a little bit like Clemson in that we're coming off a tough loss last night, a physical game that we didn't play our best game, and I thought Georgia played well, and they beat us up pretty good physically both lines of scrimmage.
Had our chances, didn't get it done. Got way behind and got back in the game and had the ball last with a chance to win and couldn't get it done. So we've got to turn the page on that tomorrow and get ready for a very talented Clemson team.
I think that most any coach in the league would tell you that Clemson probably is one of the most talented, if not the most talented team in our league.

Q. For a few weeks after that Clemson game, the first Clemson game, you referenced the team and you talked about how good they are and how well their defense played. Since then has the defense gotten even better in the last few games that you've seen them on film?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think that they've always been really good. But you know, they've got some unbelievable numbers. The number of three-and-outs they've got for the year, you know, you look at their defensive football team, and I'm not sure there's a weakness anywhere. They've got outstanding guys up front, really good linebacker corps, and the secondary is experienced; safeties and really the corners are both good players.
Trying to find a weak spot with them defensively is tough, and then on offense, they've got the Spiller kid, who is dynamic; Jacoby Ford, who's a dynamic player, I think, who's just gotten better and better; and their quarterback has gotten better. So it'll be a big challenge for us.

Q. I know you spoke a lot last week about regardless of what would happen in the Georgia game, it wouldn't define your season. But obviously as you know it was an emotional loss, I'm sure, for your players. Can you just talk about any concern you may have in terms of trying to get them refocused this week?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, it's always a concern. I think when you have a big game like that and you come out on the wrong end, and certainly it's a game that we all wanted to win and take very seriously, but you have to turn the page. We always talk every week, for eight straight weeks, we talked about on Monday, that one is over, water under the bridge, and you move onto to the next one. We talked about it in the locker room last night; you've got to move on. The regular season is over; we're fortunate, we finished 10 and 2. I don't think many people thought we could do that.
Now we have a chance to move on and play for our Conference Championship. There's only two teams that have that chance, and we've earned it, so we've got to go play.

Q. You could probably talk about the midline option and give a tutorial for a matter of hours, but I didn't know if you could sort of summarize what makes the midline so difficult to defend for teams.
COACH JOHNSON: Well, it's just a different kind of option. You're reading a different guy, and it's more of an inside play, although you can take it out and pitch it, as well. Just however you want to do it. But it's really just a change-up and changes the read, who you're reading a lot of times and the angles, where the ball is going and some of the blocks. We run it a little bit, not as much as some of the other options, but last time we played Clemson I think we probably ran it a little more than we have against other people, just simply because we had a hard time blocking their inside guys. It's a good equalizer, change-up.

Q. Getting back to the Clemson game, I was wondering how that can neutralize, like I said, when you're having a hard time blocking the interior guys, how that frees things up to any degree.
COACH JOHNSON: Well, instead of blocking them, you get to read them so you don't have to block them, and hopefully you can cancel them with a guy. If they take a guy, then you cancel them and hopefully you don't have to block them. But they've got a host of good inside guys.
I think the Jenkins kid is one of the better players we've played against; and you know, the kid we certainly tried to recruit, Brandon (Thompson), from Thomasville, No. 98, he's a tremendous player. They roll over guys, and then you've got all these defensive ends that are good players. You can't read them all, you have to block some of them.

Q. In fact just kind of piggy-backing on that last question there, you've talked a lot this year about how good you think Clemson's defensive line is. You've kind of said that you think they're pretty much underrated. Just how good are they to you, and what is it about them that could concern you this week?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think they're the best group we've played. North Carolina is also very talented on the defensive front. But I think that, like I said, they've got more than one or two; they've got several guys, and they roll them. They've got the big, strong, physical guys inside and then the two ends, Sapp and Bowers, are very athletic. They've got other guys that they can put in; they can almost go two deep. A kid whose name slips my mind right now, but No. 24 is also a great player, defensive end. So they've got a lot of good players up there.

Q. Kind of an unrelated follow-up, and I know you don't really want to answer this right now, but of course Jeff Munken I know was hired by Georgia Southern. What will this do for the team going forward this year, and what does it say about Jeff, as well?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I'm excited for Jeff. I think it's a great opportunity and it's one that I'm sure he's excited about, he and his family, and he's worked awfully hard for me through the years. Like I said, I'm happy for him.
I don't think it's going to have an effect on our team. You know, he coaches the slots for us, and he'll coach them at least through the Championship Game, and I think he said he wanted to stay through the Bowl game. It's not going to have a major effect on our football team I don't think. I think they'll be happy for him.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Anthony Allen, who's coming back to play in his hometown. When you were involved in looking at him transferring to your program, what attracted you to him, and how has he fit into your program as his first year playing for you?
COACH JOHNSON: Okay, well, I think that Georgia Tech had actually recruited Anthony before he decided to go to Louisville, and when he called and said he was interested in transferring out, I knew he was a good player from when he was in high school. So basically what I wanted to do was check and make sure why he was transferring. I called Coach Kragthorpe, and he had good things to say. He said it wasn't any off-the-field trouble, never done anything, they just wanted a different kind of back, and he wasn't what they were looking for.
And as soon as I found that out, we set up a meeting with -- I talked to he and his dad and told him what we were doing here and explained it to him, and he decided this is what he wanted to do.
He's played very well. He came in to play the position that Jon Dwyer is playing, but he was such a good player, we found a way to get him on the field at A back. But Anthony has played very well. We're very glad he's here. He's been a good part of our program.

Q. Have you spoken with Bay-Bay today, and if so, what did you say, and also -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
COACH JOHNSON: I haven't talked to him today. I talked to him for a good bit last night. You know, there's not much to say. He's one of the best players on our team, and if it wasn't for him, we certainly wouldn't be 10 and 2 and going to the Championship Game. Like I told him last night, you don't worry about that, pal, you move on. If it hadn't been for him, we wouldn't have been in the game to begin with.
You know, he's made a zillion plays for us, and things happen. Just like we're all disappointed we lost the game, you just have to move on. I think he'll do that. I mean, he's that kind of player, and he's been invaluable to our team.

Q. And also, what advice would you give to Monken about having success in Statesboro based on your experience?
COACH JOHNSON: Just win once a week. That's all they expect.

Q. Well, that sounds easy.
COACH JOHNSON: They got pretty used to that down there. They want to win once a week.

Q. What are some of the things that you believe Clemson has improved since you guys last met earlier in the season?
COACH JOHNSON: Oh, gosh, I think they've improved in a lot of areas. Certainly they're probably a much better offensive football team than they were when we played, although they gashed us pretty good in the second half. You can see their quarterback is a lot better. I think their offensive line is much better. They've moved some personnel around.
As we talked earlier, the tight ends are also good players. I think they get overlooked. But C.J. Spiller is tremendous, and Jacoby Ford has played great. He's had a tremendous senior year, become really consistent and a big weapon. You know, I think they've improved a whole lot offensively since they've played us.
I hope that we've gotten better, too. If we haven't, it's going to be ugly.

Q. I was going to ask you as a follow-up, how do you think you guys have improved since then, too?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, up until last night, I would have said we were a lot smoother and a lot -- playing at a faster pace. Our guys are a little more comfortable. I think our quarterback is playing a lot better than he played early against them hopefully. You know, just with more reps and more experience, you'd hope the overall picture has gotten a little better.
We're pretty beat up, as I'm sure they are after 12 games, and last night was a really physical game for us. We've got a lot of guys beat up and banged up today.

Q. Just curious, the last time you faced the same opponent twice in a season, that opponent getting to see your triple option twice?
COACH JOHNSON: The last time I've done that?

Q. Not sure if it was Georgia Tech or Navy?
COACH JOHNSON: It was probably Georgia Southern in the playoffs. We used to play the same teams twice a lot. When I was there, I think us, Appalachian State and Furman were always usually in the top four or five in the country in 1-AA a lot of years we played them twice; we'd play them in the regular season, and then we'd catch them again in the playoffs. I don't think on the 1-A level we've ever played anybody twice in the same season. That usually doesn't happen.

Q. I was just curious if that recall helped or hindered your opponent in planning to play your triple option.
COACH JOHNSON: Probably, I don't know. It's six of one, half dozen of the other. It probably helps them, but we also know how they lined up the last time. There's no guarantee everybody is going to line up the same way or do the same thing, but at least you have a little bit of familiarity. The first time we played them with a new coordinator, we had no idea what they were going to line up in. Like I said, I'm sure they'll have some tweaks and do a few things differently, but at least you've got some idea. Now, you've got a season of tape on them that we didn't have going into the first game.

Q. Just wondering if -- you and Clemson, as you mentioned earlier, are both in the same situation coming off losses to SEC rivals. Do you think that diminishes on the national scale what this Championship Game is going to be next week because of those defeats?
COACH JOHNSON: I don't know, it might, but I think you can make of it what you want. I think a year ago we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina and nobody made a big deal about the SEC being diminished. So I think you can take whatever you want.
We've played six SEC teams since I've been here, and I think we're 4 and 2. I can tell you Clemson has got players every bit as good as Georgia. Don't think for one minute they don't. It is what it is. Give them credit; we got beat last night. But it wasn't -- I don't think it was a dominating steamroll performance. They played better than we did, and that's what happens. Last year we played better than them.
And if you go back and look, Virginia Tech beat Nebraska; does that diminish the Big-12 Championship Game? Wake Forest beat Stanford; what does that say about the Pac-10? You could go through every league if you wanted to make a case probably.

Q. An unrelated follow-up, how is Josh doing?
COACH JOHNSON: He's doing okay. You know, he should be okay. He tweaked his ankle a little bit, but I think he'll be all right. He came back and finished the game last night.

Q. I was just wondering if you could update any of the other injuries like Steven or any of the other guys.
COACH JOHNSON: I think Dean is getting ready to send that out. I just talked to the trainer, and right now, like I said, we've still got some guys beat up and banged up a little bit, but I think we're going to have most of them available for the game. They might miss a day of practice or so, just like anytime you play a physical game. But I think Steven is going to be okay. I think he's got a mild bruise really is what it is. I think he'll be okay.
The one guy who might be a little more serious injury is Ben Anderson. I think he's a guy that might be doubtful. I think the rest of the guys will be fine.
MIKE FINN: Thanks for being with us today, and good luck this weekend.

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