Georgia Tech running back Tony Zenon (9) makes a catch for big gain as Miami defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins (29) defends in the first half of an NCCA college football game in Atlanta on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA -- Coach Paul Johnson wants Georgia Tech to forget about its Atlantic Coast Conference record and focus solely on Middle Tennessee.
Johnson says the Yellow Jackets really have no other choice.
As poorly as Georgia Tech played in the second half last week against Miami, Johnson wants his team to correct mistakes against a non-conference opponent and move forward.
"We talked a lot about dealing with adversity and how you respond to it and how you react to it," Johnson said. "It helps to define you, so I think they'll come back and play on Saturday. I'd be disappointed if we didn't. I think we will."
Against Middle Tennessee (2-1), the Jackets (2-2) need more consistency from an offense that last week went scoreless in the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime and from a defense that allowed Miami to close the game with 23 unanswered points.
Georgia Tech's defense allowed 609 total yards and an average of 9.4 yards over the Hurricanes' final 23 plays.
The defeat dropped Georgia Tech two losses behind Miami and Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division, so Johnson believes there's no point in dwelling on the past when the Jackets have so many problems to fix.
Even against a Sun Belt Conference opponent in Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech needs to prove it can rush the passer and cover receivers for a full four quarters.
Johnson is counting on defensive leaders such as linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and end Izaan Cross, a newly appointed team captain, to keep their teammates focused.
During some of Miami's last drives, the secondary wore down because it got little help from the pass rush. Georgia Tech had no sacks in the game and rarely disturbed quarterback Stephen Morris while the Hurricanes rallied.
Johnson indicated that the defensive backs weren't the main problem.
"I think that before (last) Saturday, they played fairly well," Johnson said. "Saturday was not a great day for anybody. It's like anything else. When you're playing coverage back there and you're matched up and there's not a lot of pressure, there's going to be some exposure."
Offensively, Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, which has featured one of the nation's top running games since Johnson arrived four seasons ago, gained 287 of its 419 yards on the ground.
But when Tevin Washington needed fourth-and-inches in overtime from the Miami 1-yard line, the quarterback was stuffed. Two plays later, Mike James ran for a 25-yard touchdown, and the Jackets were finished.
"I think they were down a little bit like you would expect," Johnson said of his players. "That was a tough loss, and we've had a couple this year that have been tough."
Johnson went into encouragement mode when the team reconvened for film study and practice early this week.
"We've got a big goal this week -- try to beat Middle Tennessee," Johnson said. "That's our goal. That's what we talked about. Beating Middle Tennessee."
The Blue Raiders are rested after taking an 18-point win two weeks ago at Memphis.
Middle Tennessee has lost to Georgia Tech by a combined 91-35 score over the last two years. Blue Raiders defensive end Omar McClendon knows his team can't afford to blow many assignments against the triple-option.
"The ends and tackles take the dive," McClendon said. "Pitches are on the linebackers, safeties and corners. This week you have to be really disciplined, play with your eyes, play off your keys and we'll be successful."
After the Middle Tennessee game, Johnson will return Georgia Tech's focus to Oct. 6, when the Jackets visit No. 17 Clemson.
Georgia Tech is 1-2 in the ACC, but Johnson sees no reason why his team can't factor in who makes it to the league title game in December.
"I don't think that anybody knows about any goals four games into the season," he said. "We have teams (North Carolina State, Maryland and Duke) in our league that haven't played a conference game, and we're already anointing conference champions? We have to play it and see what happens."