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Johnson, Jackets Thinking Win at BYU

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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For Georgia Tech, visions of last season and the last two weeks are fresh in the rear-view. Sentiments aside, they need a victory.

You remember the losses more than the wins sometimes.
~Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson

In a span of a just ten days, Georgia Tech has gone from undefeated on the year to suddenly on a two-game losing streak instead. Before jumping back into ACC competition, the Yellow Jackets will first go 1,900 miles west for a non-conference pairing with BYU. In traveling more than halfway across the country, a group of players in need some reflection will have a very real chance to go back. Their coach has his own opportunity all the same.  

It was late October of last season and, with a 3-4 record, Georgia Tech was struggling. Prior to beating Boston College, the Yellow Jackets had lost consecutive games to Miami, Middle Tennessee and Clemson. Facing the visiting Cougars at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in Atlanta, Georgia Tech's already disappointing season took a turn for the worse. The Yellow Jackets fell 41-17 in a performance that, for many, is easily one of the most forgettable of the Paul Johnson era.  

With all of Georgia Tech's points coming on defense and special teams, the 2012 BYU game stands as the only regular season outing of Johnson's Yellow Jacket career where his team did not score an offensive touchdown. That afternoon, Georgia Tech was also held to the fewest plays (47) and the lowest time of possession total (21:01) of the Johnson era. The Yellow Jackets, for the first time since 1980, did not convert a single third down, going 0-for-10 with a total net of negative three yards on those plays.   

Georgia Tech enters this weekend having lost back-to-back contests with division rivals Virginia Tech and Miami. Dropping games to the Hokies and Hurricanes seems reasonable, though the losses have forced an expectation adjustment. The Yellow Jackets are now on the absolute outside looking in regarding the race to the ACC Championship Game. They are another poor performance away from finishing the first half of the year at .500.

Both offensively and defensively, Georgia Tech is still searching for efficiency. They will look to find it in a place where they have never won before, the Yellow Jackets' lone trip to the Beehive State resulting in a 24-13 loss back in 2003. In a key game in terms of mid-season momentum, Georgia Tech will take on a BYU program that hasn't lost a game by more than a touchdown in a year. Johnson knows his squad is in for a fight.

"Well we’ve got a huge challenge this week, I think, traveling to Provo, coming back off a road trip to Miami," he acknowledged. "We did not play very well against them a year ago here. They kind of physically got after us and took us to the woodshed probably as good as any time since I’ve been here, so it’ll be a challenge to see if we can play well in Provo."            

Johnson's triple-option will be paired against a defense led by top NFL Draft prospect Kyle Van Noy, a senior linebacker with 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries, four pass breakups and an interception return for a touchdown this season. The BYU defense is allowing just 16.8 points per game. The Cougars rank fourth nationally, having surrendered just eleven runs of ten yards or more through five games. For point of reference, Miami has given up 26.  

"I think BYU has developed quite an identity on defense the last few seasons. They’re physical, sound and you can always count on them being in the top 20 it seems like these last few years," Johnson added.

This Saturday's pairing is an important one for Georgia Tech and a nostalgic one for Johnson. The offensive coordinator at Hawaii from 1987-1994, Johnson played the Cougars each year during his time in Honolulu. In a pair of trips to BYU, he was 0-2. This week, for him, has offered a flashback to a different era. Some of them remain vivid to this day. 

"We had some great games with them. You know, 35 years starts to run together but I think the one game I remember out there, we actually lost. It was 39-36 or 36-33 or something. We had a 20-yard field-goal to win the game and we had the ball on their three yard line, lined up to kick a 20-yard field goal. We hit the upright and they threw two passes and beat us in the last play of the game," Johnson recalled.  "Those are the ones you remember. You remember the losses more than the wins sometimes."

For the Yellow Jackets, visions of last season and the last two weeks are fresh in the rear-view. Sentiments aside, they need a victory.

Georgia Tech, far out west, has reached a crossroads. This time, they must come home with more than memories.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports