Scouting Report: A Chat With GT Coach Paul Johnson

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket head coach Paul Johnson to discuss the state of GT football, the parity in the ACC, the triple-option offense and his matchup with the Tar Heels this weekend in Chapel Hill.

***Listen to the conversation***

Gentle Giants

I’m going to take this week’s column from a different angle mostly because I don’t really feel like addressing the onslaught of giving up 68 points to Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech this past weekend.  On top of that, I can’t believe we have lost 13 of the last 15 matchups with the Yellow Jackets — it’s just mind boggling that this dominance is occurring and the tide must stop now (well at least next year)!

With that out of the way, the purpose of this week’s article is to address the great work that our student-athletes do out in the community, much of which goes unnoticed and underappreciated.  Unless you’ve been a player in a big time college program, it’s hard to really understand what the rigors of being a college athlete are — long weeks of practice with hours of film study, coaches on your back critiquing and always judging you, keeping up with your academic progress and just having a normal social life in general (keeping up with friends and trying to date.) 

And on top of all that, our Tar Heel football players find extra time to take part in community service efforts of all kinds.  Anything from hospital visits at UNC Children’s Hospital or the UNC Hospital Burn Center to speaking to our local youth football programs about the importance of an education, our past, current and future football players make us proud by doing the right thing.  One of many examples where a difference is being made was this year’s UNC Blood Drive where we spearheaded the collection of 784 productive units of blood.  The impact is significant when you realize that each unit of blood can help three different patients so if my math is correct, 2,352 sick or injured human beings just got a helping hand that they might not have otherwise received.  That’s the kind of outcome that transcends first downs and three-and-outs.

In a recent visit to the Burn Center that was covered by Megan Morketter from, she really captures the influence our guys had in their recent visit and how they can lift the spirits of the center’s patients, and give them untapped strength to continue on in their recovery:

The recurring theme of the visit was one of lasting impressions. Throughout the Tar Heels’ stay, medical staff reiterated the increased motivation they see in their patients after meeting the athletes.

“The patients may take a few more steps during physical therapy; they might eat a little more. Their (the athletes’) presence here lasts so much longer… just look in the room, look at that,” Dr. Cairns said pointing to a mother beginning to decorate her 15-year-old son’s hospital room with a football helmet and poster gifted to the boy by Cooper, Williams, Johnson and company.

“I know that there are people who are thinking about Carolina athletics and what it really stands for,” Dr. Caims said. “Well I wish they could see this, and then they would know.”

One of those players Dr. Cairns is referring to is offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper who was a midseason All-American selection by,, Phil Steele and the Sporting News.  Additionally, Cooper is one of 117 college football players nationally to be recognized for community service contributions by the American Football Coaches Association “Good Works Team.” 

Among Cooper’s community service highlights are offering golf lessons to underprivileged youth, actively participating in the “Share Your Holiday” campaign which fundraises to provide assistance for local families in need, and building a home for Habitat for Humanity.  Many of you Tar Heel fans know about Jonathan’s accolades on the field, but this fellow O lineman is just as impressed with how he handles his business off the field.  But, hey, that’s how we lineman roll.  An offensive lineman is smart, nasty and violent on the field but off it, caring, compassionate, community oriented and are labeled by many (just ask my Mom and wife) that know us best as “Gentle Giants.” 

As much as the O line loves to pancake an opponent or make a block on the final play against NC State to score the winning touchdown, nothing compares to the feeling you get when you can put a smile on the face of a sick young child or helping a complete stranger in need.  I know these young men understand the honor and privilege of giving back because I felt the same way when I was in their shoes at Carolina six years ago.  These are the moments that help shape you as a man and make your fans truly proud of what the University of North Carolina stands for.


Smart. Fast. Physical

To This Place As To No Other

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?”

At every home game, Charles Kuralt’s iconic quote is played from the speakers as the band walks out onto the field at Kenan Satdium, but on no other day is it as moving as on Homecoming. Returning alumni wear their emotions proudly on their sleeves, as the thrill of cheering for one’s school and seeing old pals overtakes all else. Nothing is as important to me as the interpersonal connections that I have made here at Chapel Hill, and in that respect, UNC will always be the “University of the People” to me. Many others probably feel the same way.

It is appropriate, however, that Kuralt did not mention football in explaining the mystique of the University of North Carolina given the performance of the Tar Heels on Saturday. Coming off a bye week and a huge win over NC State, many UNC fans were expecting an easy victory over a Georgia Tech squad that has struggled this season. Instead of a happy Homecoming, they were treated to “the most boring 68-50 game in the history of college football,” to quote the guy standing beside me in the Tar Pit.

What happened? Basically, the Yellow Jackets executed their high school triple-option offense to near perfection, and the UNC defense failed miserably in its efforts to stop the run. The poor tackling that has plagued the Tar Heels all season long was particularly evident, as GT piled up 380 rushing yards. Fans loudly booed the dangerous chop-block tactics of Tech’s offensive line, but to no avail. This was all really a new verse of the same song; the Heels haven’t beaten Georgia Tech since 2008, when Paul Johnson was first installing his offensive system in Atlanta. Boring but effective, the Jackets pounded away per usual and ultimately made the Heels pay with seven rushing touchdowns.

As bad as the rush defense was, the pass defense wasn’t much better. The defensive backs, particularly Tre Boston and Gene Robinson, gave up several deep completions on play-action fakes that ultimately led to Yellow Jacket scores. Not to be outdone, the special teams allowed a 100-yard kick return touchdown and were stopped on a botched fake where punter Tommy Hibbard decided to try to run for a first down on 4th and 10 from the Tar Heels’ 25 yard line. Giving up 380 rushing yards makes it hard to win, and playing poorly in other phases of the game certainly doesn’t help.

There were bright spots for the offense, though, as might be expected in such a shootout. Gio Bernard continued his dark-horse Heisman campaign with two touchdowns, including a dazzling 78-yard reception where he broke several tackles and threw some wicked stiff arms on his way to the end zone. Romar Morris and AJ Blue looked like capable replacements should Bernard declare for the NFL draft, with three touchdowns between the two. There were several nice grabs made by Quinshad Davis, who has displayed flashes of brilliance that suggest he could be a serious downfield threat for the Heels for next season. In short, not all was bad.

Then again, Georgia Tech lost to Middle Tennessee State by the score of 49-28 earlier this year.



In a season that will be defined by Gio’s punt return to claim an emphatic victory over the Wolfpack, most Tar Heel fans will probably forget the 2012 Homecoming Game. As the seasons turn and basketball begins, the annual ritual of neglecting football is upon us. With no chance at an ACC title or a bowl game, it’s not hard to see why the excitement is gone. There are still some positive elements on which to build, some sparks that could ignite the team going forward, though. And thus the refrain of a Cleveland childhood echoes through my mind: Things will be different next year.