Georgia Tech will host Duke on Saturday in what will be a critical game to the Coastal Division race. The Yellow Jackets are still trying to become bowl eligible, and Duke – bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 – is two wins away from winning the division. I spoke with Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson this week for his take on his quarterbacks, the race, and the matchup against Duke. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
What did Vad Lee do so well in that game that allowed him to take charge of it the way he did?
Paul Johnson: I think he made a lot of good plays, and a lot of good individual plays. He broke tackles, and on plays that could’ve gone bad, he made them not so bad if that makes sense. He threw the ball well several times, avoided lost yardage, just kept things alive.
Where has he made the most improvement since his playing time has increased?
PJ: I think he’s been comfortable and able to run more of the overall offense. We don’t have to water it down as much as we did, because he’s more comfortable with it.
Does he bring a different set of skills than Tevin Washington does?
PJ: He’s probably got a stronger arm, maybe a little bigger, physically. That’s probably the biggest difference between them.
Are you going to go with one guy, or is this the way it’s going to be for the rest of the season?
PJ: We’re probably going to play them both.
What about looking into the future of the position?
PJ: Certainly going into the spring Vad will be the No. 1 quarterback after Tevin leaves, but we’ve got a young man named Justin Thomas we think is pretty good. It will be a competition just like there always is.
I also wanted to ask you about the Coastal Division race. Honestly, after the bye week, did you guys think you’d still have a chance to play in Charlotte?
PJ: I really didn’t think anything about it. Honest, we had so much stuff going on during the bye week in trying to get everything done, I was just worried about the next game. That’s where we are. That’s really all we’ve done.
What are you expecting from Duke in terms of what they might be able to do defensively against you guys? They obviously struggled against Florida State and Clemson.
PJ: I’m sure they’re going to come in and play a good game, play hard. It’s not like we’ve killed them the last couple times we’ve played. It’s been tight, close games. They’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of guys who have played. We’re expecting their best game. I’d be disappointed and surprised if we got anything else.
Do you think you’ll ever stop getting asked questions about teams that have a bye week to prepare for you?
PJ: Probably not. As soon as we lose to another one, I’m sure it will be the same thing. It has been for 25 years.
Was that one of the most exhausting offensive games you’ve been involved in?
PJ: It was one of them. We had some games like that at Navy. I remember winning 72-64 one time.
Against Duke, what are the keys for that game?
PJ: We just need to play, focus our energy, build on what we’ve been able to do the last three or four games. Clearly we need to play better defensively.
What has been the biggest difference for you guys over the past few games that you have been more successful?
PJ: We’ve probably scored a few more points, but in the end we just found ways to win the game. Earlier in the year, we were in every game we played. We were in the fourth quarter in every conference game, but we couldn’t find a way to finish them. The last couple of weeks we’ve been far enough ahead and found ways to win the game.
What did you do or say to your team that kept them believing, because I would imagine as a coach it’s real easy to lose your players at a certain point when things aren’t going right and start to add up.
PJ: I think we just talked about continuing to play and keep going. That’s all you can do. You’re not going to quit. I didn’t think they’d quit. I don’t think they’re that way. That’s not the way we coach. So they just kept playing, and we kept trying to get better. We still haven’t accomplished anything, unless we can win Saturday. That will get us bowl eligible and give us a chance. We’re still fighting ourselves out of a hole we dug.