Opponent Spotlight: Calvin Johnson

With seemingly all the tools of an NFL superstar, Georgia Tech junior Calvin Johnson has helped lead his team this season to the brink of an ACC Coastal Division crown. And keeping him in check will be the Tar Heels' biggest challenge Saturday at Kenan Stadium.

A 6-5, 235-pound wide receiver with 4.3-speed and a 45-inch vertical is still legal in football, and this is clearly Johnson's breakout season, with over 100 yards receiving in five games.

"I've seen zero players that have what he has," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said of Johnson's ability.

Johnson leads the conference in receptions (49), receiving yards (795) and receiving touchdowns (11) – the third highest mark in the nation. His 24 career touchdown catches – a school record – ranks 10th in the ACC all-time.

"I've never had one like him – not in college; not in the NFL," Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "I've never had a receiver that big with that kind of hand-eye coordination."

North Carolina was victimized by another tall wideout last week in Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija, who caught six passes for 177 yards and 46-yard touchdown. John Bunting said following the Tar Heels' 46-25 defeat he opted against double-teaming Samardzija, saying, "We're not going to double cover him. We just need to go make a play on him."

If the UNC coaches exercise a similar philosophy this week, then corner Jacoby Watkins and the rest of the Tar Heels' secondary could be in for a long day versus Johnson, who is accustomed to frequent double and triple teams.

"He's a true weapon," Bunting said. "He's a step better than Samardzija."

The Tar Heels have managed to keep Johnson out of the end zone the past two seasons. Watkins had the primary assignment on him in last years match-up, in which Johnson caught six passes for 114 yards in the Yellow Jackets' 27-21 win in Atlanta.

Carolina may be catching him at the wrong time, though. Johnson is coming off a career-best 168 yards receiving, including touchdown receptions of 25 and 43 yards, in a 31-23 comeback win over N.C. State.

Tech trailed 23-21 in the fourth quarter when Johnson made a diving catch on a 3rd-and-7 that moved the chains. Later in the drive, he ran for eight yards and caught a 10-yard pass that resulted in the go-ahead field goal.

Holding on to a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Johnson made a 33-yard reception down to the 8-yard line. Perhaps more effective as a decoy two plays later, the Jackets put the game out of reach on a touchdown pass from quarterback Reggie Ball to James Johnson from seven yards out.

Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato said of the game-deciding play, "We had double coverage on Calvin, but when you do that, you have to take a man out of the box. We had to decide how to make it tougher on them and we decided to try and take out Calvin."

A consensus prep All-American out of Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga., Johnson was rated the No. 3 wide receiver in the country by Scout.com, after finishing his career with 80 catches, 1,479 yards and 18 touchdowns.

With 48 catches for 837 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman, Johnson was named the ACC's Rookie of the Year in 2004 and was named first-team all-conference.

During his sophomore year, Johnson totaled 54 catches for 888 yards and six touchdowns. He was a unanimous pick for first-team All-ACC honors and a consensus All-American.

"He's a playmaker," Bunting said. "He's fearless. He's a difference-maker. He's big, physical and he can beat the press coverage."

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