Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson wary of Elon

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerAugust 28, 2013 

ATLANTA -- Coach Paul Johnson doesn't want Elon to become a four-letter word for his Georgia Tech football program.

The small North Carolina school will serve as the opening-game opponent for the Yellow Jackets on Saturday when they start the 2013 season. It's a game that looks like an easy win on paper.

But Johnson doesn't want his guys to take anything for granted. After all, can anyone spell Middle Tennessee State?

"They'll have their share of good players -- every team does," Johnson said. "I'm sure they'll come in here and play hard. It's really as much about Georgia Tech as it is about Elon. It's about going out and playing hard and taking care of business and cleaning up and playing fast."

This will be the first meeting between the two schools. Tech holds a 42-1-3 record against teams from the Southern Conference. The only loss was the 17-13 defeat to Furman in 1983.

"Our No. 1 goal for Saturday is to make sure we win the game," Johnson said. "I know from coaching at Georgia Southern, those kids will come in here excited and wanting to win."

Tech can't afford to stumble in a game like this. It would be worse than last year's embarrassing 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee. But Johnson said the team has approached the season with a workmanlike attitude.

"They worked hard in the off-season," he said. "They set high goals and right now they're working toward achieving them. We're as anxious as the fans are to see our guys hit someone in a different colored uniform."

The new-look Tech defense may get a test from an Elon offense that has ranked among the top 15 in the FCS in passing for each of the last four years. With safety Isaiah Johnson still out from off-season knee surgery and with linebackers Quayshawn Nealy and Jabari Hunt-Days still trying to catch up from missing time in the preseason, the defense still isn't up to speed. But new defensive coordinator Ted Roof said the defense has gotten comfortable with the schemes.

The offense got some good news and bad news on Monday. Center Jay Finch was back at center and is expected to start on Saturday. But receivers Darren Waller and Travin Henry were ruled out because of a one-game suspension for violating team rules.

"We've had a really good camp," Johnson said. "You try to walk a fine line between being as physical as you can and keeping everyone healthy. Other than a couple of players, we were able to do that."

Notes: The final depth chart showed no real surprises. True freshman Harrison Butker won the starting job as placekicker. The two question marks are at one wide receiver spot, where DeAndre Smelter will start unless prevented by an injury. Smelter didn't practice last week but was expected back by mid-week. That could mean Corey Dennis will get the start. The strong safety spot also remains a toss-up between a pair of redshirt sophomores: Chris Milton, who excelled on special teams in2012, and Demond Smith.

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