To give you a look at Maryland and this week's opponent, Georgia Tech, I traded five question-and-answers with Ken Sugiura, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Georgia Tech beat writer. Here are Ken's responses to my Georgia Tech-themed questions.
1) Does Paul Johnson ever refer back to his Navy days? Can you even find crabs in Atlanta?
He mentions his teams at Navy occasionally, usually, not surprisingly, in response to questions about his background or experiences in coaching. This isn't going to be a riveting example, but I asked him prior to the N.C. State game about what he does with players on the team who want to play baseball, referring to the Russell Wilson/Tom O'Brien situation, and he'd mentioned he'd had a player at Navy who also played on the baseball team and was fine with it. You're asking the wrong guy about crabs. There are a couple nice seafood places here, but I've never tried looking for crab. I am quite sure wherever they are, they pale in comparison to what Johnson left behind in Annapolis.
2) Has the Georgia Tech offense looked this good before?
Under Johnson, definitely not. As Sun readers (or at least Navy fans) know, the offense can be explosive, and this team has a number of players capable of breaking big plays, starting with wide receiver Stephen Hill and slotback (A-back) Orwin Smith. The Yellow Jackets have had 40 plays of 20 yards or more in their first five games. They scored on their first play of scrimmage in their first three games, including a 95-yard run by Smith against Kansas on a simple counter play. Johnson's teams have been able to run effectively from his first season in 2008, but the point and yardage production has never been this consistently high.
3) What changed this season to make the option so effective? I remember Nesbitt did it pretty well several years ago.
The big difference in the offense is the development of the passing game. Last year, the Jackets had the lowest completion percentage in FBS, 38.1 percent. Until last week, when he had his first off game of the season, quarterback Tevin Washington was tracking with the single-season school record for completion percentage (Joe Hamilton, 1999, 66.6 percent). Another big difference is the offensive line. It's a thin and relatively inexperienced group - no seniors - but it's all guys that Johnson has recruited to play in this offense. I think that has a good bit to do with it. And one more is the breadth of options. Johnson doesn't feel like he has to get the ball to certain players like he has in the past, which opens things up.
4) What kind of crowd is expected? Big? Loud?
Not very big, probably about 44,000 at 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium. Johnson used his news conference this week to call on students to show up and be loud after there were a lot of no-shows in the student section for the last home game against North Carolina. It can get loud, but I don't think of Bobby Dodd Stadium as a terribly intimidating environment. There's a lot of older alumni who aren't exactly the type to paint their chest.
5) Who's a player with an interesting story/background?
Fullback (B-back) David Sims came to Georgia Tech as a quarterback and, after finding himself deep on the depth chart in his first year, considered transferring. After backing up Joshua Nesbitt and Tevin Washington last year, he switched positions before spring practice and then, once preseason camp started, moved from fourth string to first in a month's time at the deepest and most competitive position on the team, not to mention the one that has produced All-ACC first-team players in each of Johnson's first three years.
As a high school senior, offensive tackle Tyler Kidney tore his ACL before the season, which dried up all of his options, including Navy. Through a recommendation from a colleague of Johnson's, he walked on to Georgia Tech and two years later is now part of the team's three-tackle rotation.