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Tech remains focused on division-title hunt

ATLANTA - After listening to high preseason expectations from the media and an excited fan base, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is now hearing the other side of the coin.

Despite the early hype, followed by doom and gloom from some camps after the Yellow Jackets' 33-17 loss to No. 9 Miami last Thursday, Johnson says things aren't radically different for his team heading into this Saturday's game with No. 22 North Carolina at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

"We're in the same exact place we were this time last year," Johnson said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "The only thing we can control right now is the Georgia Tech-North Carolina game. If we win that game, we're still alive (in the ACC's Coastal Division race). If we don't, are we out of it? Who knows? I don't know the last time (an ACC) division winner went undefeated. I thought we were out of it two or three times last year (before tying Virginia Tech for the division crown).

"We've played (only) one-fourth of our season so far. It's not time to jump ship just yet."

Tech is, in fact, exactly where it was this time a year ago, standing at 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the ACC coming of a loss to a nationally ranked divisional foe.

Still, Thursday's loss to Miami seems more distressing to everyone involved with the team - players, coaches and fans alike - than the three-point loss to Virginia Tech in Game 3 last season.

Two reasons might be the 454 total yards and 33 points the Jackets allowed the Hurricanes, leaving them ninth in the 12-team ACC in both total defense and scoring defense.

Tech's offense didn't fare much better, putting up only 228 total yards and showing the inconsistency that has showed up at times in all three games so far this season.

"I was disappointed in the way we played Thursday and the way we coached. It was a group effort," Johnson said. "(Miami) did to us what we did to them a year ago. We've got to get better. We created a lot of it on ourselves. I think Miami has an outstanding football team, but they wouldn't have had to (been) the way we played. We didn't do much to help ourselves.

"We could not get them off the field. Offensively, we had very few possessions and we didn't maximize those possessions. ... It was a frustrating game. Hopefully, we can learn from it and move on because we're playing a very talented team this week."

North Carolina does bring a 3-0 record along with its national ranking into Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.

The Tar Heels also bring a defense ranked first in the ACC and No. 7 nationally in stopping the run, having limited their opponents to just 52.3 yards per game, led by junior linebacker Quan Sturdivant (22 tackles).

As stiff a challenge as that unit figures to be, Johnson is more concerned about the efficiency of his offense as much as the opposition.

"If you go back and look at the stats, we're probably better than we were a year ago," Johnson said. "And I think we're a better team, but we're not to where I want to be. ... I thought we'd be more efficient on offense.

"We've played three games, we scored 30 points in two of the three games. So, it's like I tell the team, it's never as good or as bad as it seems."

While execution is the focus of Tech's offense leading up to Saturday's game, Johnson said the defense will needs to slow down a North Carolina offense that put up 186 yards on the ground in a 28-7 win over the Jackets last season.

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack mentioned earlier this week the possibility of moving from a 4-2-5 alignment to a 4-3.

But in the wake of last week's disappointing performance, Johnson said the approach this week will be to try to keep things simple, especially with one starter - Robert Hall - out with an injury and two others - Cooper Taylor and Dominique Reese - listed as questionable.

"It doesn't matter what we play if we don't put our eyes where they belong and play defense," Johnson said. "That is part of our problem. We worry too much about that stuff as opposed to putting our face on somebody and doing our job. We can play a 4-12-9, it won't matter. It is something we have to do. Simplify and play."

SideBar: UNC AT TECH

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Atlanta

TV/Radio: WUPA/790-AM