For college coaches, the process of preparing a team to play a football game is long and arduous.
Video study of your team and the opponent.
Grading video of practice.
Meetings with coaches and players.
Fielding and making recruiting calls.
And, of course, practice.
Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem put it in perspective:
“Right now, I wish I’d give my wife a kiss because I haven’t kissed her for I don’t know how long,” he said. “That’s what it is. You don’t see them. Thank God, we have great wives.
“(Football) is a great sport, but you better love it. And if you love it, then good things happen.”
Pitt linebackers coach Rob Harley described the week of preparation as “painstaking … 16-17 hours (a day), trying to get ready to go win a game.”
At least first-year Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins, whose team welcomes Pitt to Atlanta on Saturday, did his opposing coaches a favor. He scrapped former coach Paul Johnson’s flexbone triple-option offense for a more conventional spread attack.
“We don’t have to go through the unique task of preparing for the triple option,” Harley said. “We don’t have to go off the reservation to find a triple option defense.”
But that doesn’t make the task easy.
During the transition, Georgia Tech (2-5, 1-3) lost four in row, including an overtime decision to The Citadel, an FCS team that is only fourth in its conference.
But Collins’ system is taking hold. Georgia Tech beat Miami in overtime Oct. 19 and was off last week while preparing for Pitt.
“They’re getting better and better and better. They’re finding their way as they transition to that new scheme,” Harley said. “What we need to do is keep it simple and play fast.”
Speed has been the key element in Pitt’s defense this season, helping it improve to 14th in the nation, third in the ACC, in yards allowed (382.3).
Although Pitt is deficient in turnovers with only nine in eight games, Pitt’s linebackers are making a variety of plays. Only three start in Pitt’s 4-3 scheme, but four — Saleem Brightwell, Kylan Johnson, Cam Bright and Phil Campbell — are regulars, contributing a total of 17 ½ tackles for a loss, eight sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles.
“We’re fortunate to have a number of guys who can really run,” Harley said, “and they’re executing at a high level.”
Johnson, a graduate senior who transferred this year from Florida, has five sacks among his eight TFLs and leads Pitt’s linebackers with 34 tackles. He is attracting attention from NFL scouts.
“We knew (the talent) was there,” Harley said. “He’s got a great frame (6-foot-2, 230 pounds). He’s got great tools.
“He’s an older guy (two months short of 23). He brings kind of an elder statesman to the room in terms of poise and consistency and really trying to do his job. The biggest thing he’s brought is maturity.”
Johnson said he is not surprised by his success with his new team because he still is not satisfied with his play.
“I probably have been playing good, but I’ve always held myself to a higher standard,” he said. “So I’m trying to reach that maximum standard whenever I can, if I can.
“Do what I’m supposed to do when the ball doesn’t come to my side. If the ball is on the other side of the field, I feel like I need to be running my fastest 40 time to the ball, no matter where it’s at.”
He credits the coaches for helping him learn the defense. Classroom lessons began before training camp when he arrived this summer.
“They really broke the defense down for me so I can understand it and really play fast,” he said. “It took time. I was in hours trying to learn the defense.”
And he’s still learning.
“As much as I might think I know, I really don’t,” he said. “That’s why we have film so I can make up for my mistakes.”
Johnson is thankful he doesn’t need to worry about the triple-option offense or the nasty cut-blocking techniques that were a staple of Georgia Tech offenses under Paul Johnson. They haven’t disappeared, but they are not as prevalent.
“I think I played one or two teams in my career that had the triple option, and I hated it,” he said. “Too much going on. I don’t think that’s real football, also.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .