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LB Johnson played well vs. Maryland

Last week, Virginia Tech linebacker Jake Johnson was noticeably down; he spoke softly and often had his eyes fixed toward the ground. But on Saturday, he wore a smile after the Hokies’ 36-9 win over Maryland.

A week after not playing a snap as a recently demoted backup, Johnson led Virginia Tech with seven tackles and two sacks in perhaps his finest performance of the season.

“Life has its setbacks,” Johnson said. “Every great athlete goes through stuff at one point in their life. I feel like this is my time that I fell back but I now I just need to rise up against it all.”

Johnson played 26 snaps on Saturday, while starter Lyndell Gibson played 40 snaps and had five tackles. Gibson made his first career start a week earlier, playing 65 snaps in the Hokies’ 16-3 win over East Carolina on Nov. 5.

“It was tough, but it’s all a learning experience,” Johnson said last week when asked how he was handling the demotion. “Just live by the day. Don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. Just go day by day.”

Johnson said he leaned on family and friends supported him through the difficult time when he was dealing losing his starting job.

For Johnson, the biggest problem was his inexperience. Coaches had said Johnson did not perform consistently and that he has had trouble making in-game adjustments, citing how his productivity had leveled off as the season has gone on.

Johnson, a sophomore, has learned a lot since coming to Blacksburg. In high school, he said, his responsibly as a linebacker was simply: “Go tackle the ball carrier.”

“I didn’t really have to drop back in coverage,” Johnson said last week. “This is just a whole new experience.”

Coach Frank Beamer said Johnson is “made out of the right stuff.”

“He just needs to continue to get experience,” Beamer said. “I think that’ll help Jake a lot. Adjusting to things and so forth, I think experience is going to be a wonderful thing for him.”

After Saturday’s game, Johnson said if “felt awesome” to get back on the field and to make plays. He did not waste time against the Terrapins.

He sacked Maryland’s active running quarterback, Jamarr Robinson, starting in place of the injured Chris Turner, on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. He dropped Robinson for a loss of 4 yards on the first, and then a 1-yard loss on the second sack.

After the first sack, he stood up and pumped his fists wildly. It was his moment of release.

“After that, I was just like, ‘I’ve still got it,’ ” Johnson said of the first sack. “I know what I can do when I actually play to my level.”

By Mark Viera  |  November 17, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
 
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