Here are five things to watch for when Alabama A&M plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday:
JACKETS' DEFENSE: Even though they gave up 55 points to Clemson, the Jackets have improved under Ted Roof, back this year for his second stint as the school's defensive coordinator. The Jackets have moved up 30 spots against the run to rank No. 11 nationally. They've allowed 29 touchdowns, 21 less than in 2012, but Johnson wants the number of takeaways to improve, too.
ATTAOCHU, THOMAS LEADING THE WAY: Georgia Tech has gotten another solid season from senior end Jeremiah Attaochu, whose 27 career sacks are second-most among active FBS players. Senior safety Jemea Thomas has 26 tackles, three pass breakups, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble in the last three weeks. Alabama A&M's offense is led by running back Barrington Scott and receiver Montaurius Smith. Jaymason Lee made his fourth start last week and had a season-high 349 yards passing.
BULLDOGS ARE STOUT DEFENSIVELY: Despite giving up 42 points last week, Alabama A&M still ranks No. 18 in FCS rushing defense and 19th in total defense. Free safety Derrick Harris has four interceptions, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. Linebacker Robert Nelson leads the team with 89 tackles. "They're physical," Johnson said. "We've talked to a lot of coaches in that league, and they've said that their front seven is the most physical of anybody in that conference."
TOUGH DRAW: Alabama A&M's run defense will have to contend with Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, which ranks eighth in FBS and is led by senior running backs Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Godhigh is fifth and Sims seventh in Atlantic Coast Conference rushing, but quarterback Vad Lee is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, less than half the production he had last year. Though the score at Clemson was lopsided, Godhigh finished with 229 all-purpose yards. His 13 plays from scrimmage of 30 yards or more this year ranks fourth-best in the nation.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Highlights were few last week. Johnson is particularly concerned about the kicking game, which contributed to 265 lost yards in field position, and it all started when Harrison Butker sent the opening kickoff sailing out of bounds. On the ensuing kickoff, DeAndre Smelter mistakenly picked up a bouncing ball and was tackled instantly. The Jackets began their first possession at the 2-yard line. Johnson said his focus is on "fundamentals and just getting back to basics."
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has spent this week challenging his team to stay focused.
It's been a frustrating season for the Yellow Jackets, whose top achievement is a Sept. 14 win at Duke.
A blowout loss at Clemson last week ended their slim chance of returning to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game for a second straight year.
The performance was so uneven that Johnson has called on his players to use Saturday's game against FCS opponent Alabama A&M has a proverbial measuring stick.
With next week's home game against Georgia looming, Johnson says Georgia Tech (6-4) must clean up the blocking and coverage techniques that broke down at Clemson.
Against Alabama A&M (4-7), Johnson says the individual matchups are "as much about Georgia Tech as it is about who we're playing." He told his players and assistant coaches that the team has yet to play up to its potential.
"Our goal is to get win number seven," Johnson said. "That's the push."
Alabama A&M had lost four of five before winning a Southwestern Athletic Conference home game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.