ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Tech has a tough opening month with consecutive games at South Florida and Pittsburgh before No. 2 Clemson visits Bobby Dodd Stadium in three weeks.
Oh yeah, the Yellow Jackets also begin the season Saturday against Alcorn State.
Don't count coach Paul Johnson among those dismissing the FCS Braves. He hasn't forgotten that Georgia Tech was upset six years ago by Middle Tennessee State, another opponent that was supposed to roll over early in the game.
The Jackets, like most FBC schools, usually win these kinds of games easily. Matchups during the last five Septembers against Elon, Wofford, Alcorn State, Mercer were lopsided. But Johnson knows Georgia Tech can't afford to make mistakes in the first half and give Alcorn State hope.
"To me, it's no turnovers, no penalties, special teams — all those things that will lose you a game early in the season," Johnson said. "We've got to go out there and take care of that and play with some fire and some enthusiasm."
After another tough August camp in sweltering Georgia heat, Johnson wants the Jackets to soak in the game atmosphere and make the most of their chance to hit someone from another team.
"I mean you spend an awful lot of time getting ready to play football for 12 games or 13 games or whichever that you get," he said. "Well, you better enjoy it while you're out there. It don't last long."
Regardless of the score late in the first half, team captains TaQuon Marshall, a senior quarterback, and Brant Mitchell, a senior inside linebacker, want to see urgency in the closing minutes of the second quarter.
The Jackets went 5-6 last season and missed a bowl for the second time in the last three years after falling apart at the end of the second and fourth quarters against Tennessee and Miami.
The game Saturday is the first chance for Georgia Tech to show how hard it has practiced this month to correct the issue.
"No doubt we could've won another two or three games last year if we had just finished out the first and second half right," Marshall said. "It's on us to stay locked in when we get the lead. The offense needs to keep scoring, but we have to get off the field as quickly as possible. No dumb penalties and no extended drives."
Shawn Davis beat out Brenton King to win the kicking job, but Johnson wants to see Davis seize the opportunity in games.
Johnson said several times during spring and summer practice that he wasn't pleased with either kicker or special teams in general.
Davis, who won the job last year but suffered a season-ending injury in early October at Miami, needs to be nearly perfect to keep Johnson happy.
The game will debut Georgia Tech's new 3-4 defense under coordinator Nate Woody.
Woody keeps the number of calls limited and simple to maximize speed, quickness and ball pursuit.
Woody spent the last five years as coordinator at Appalachian State, where his teams led the Sun Belt Conference in defense three times and ranked in the top 30 nationally in each of the last four seasons.
Marshall completed just 25 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and five interceptions, a span of 65 attempts, in his last five games in 2017. It marked a huge drop off from the numbers he put up in the first six games.
He has worked particularly on throwing better deep balls that don't sail way past his targets.
The Braves are accustomed to success in FCS, and they're picked to win the East Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference for the fifth straight year.
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