(My web readers. I rewrote the top of this blog to run for an early print edition, which will come out before the completion of tonight’s game. So you’ve got bonus warm-up coverage! You know, I didn’t have to worry about this kind of stuff back in the days of paste buckets and my old Royal.)
When Georgia Tech went into Athens last season, clipped the home team and then assaulted the hedges, it ended several years of misery for one fan base and created at least a 12-month headache for another.
But the Yellow Jackets can do so much more than that now.
The Tech program that went into Thursday night’s game against Clemson found itself with a rare opportunity. Georgia probably isn’t as bad as it showed in its opening loss at Oklahoma State. But how strange is it that there suddenly is more grumbling and dissatisfaction around the Bulldogs’ program than at Tech?
Some of that comes naturally. Georgia has more fans, more alumni and garners more attention. It plays in the SEC. It follows that it’s going to have more scrutiny. It always has and likely it always will. But it has been a while since the Dogs were going into their second game of the season with such dissatisfaction about the offense and criticism of the offensive coordinator (Mike Bobo), the quarterback (Joe Cox) and to some degree the head coach (Mark Richt, if for no other reason than he is the boss of both).
But at Tech? Peace reigns.
Johnson (9-4) had the best first season for a Tech head coach since William Alexander (8-1 in 1920) or John Heisman (6-0-1 in 1905). A win over Clemson would have given him a 2-0 record for the second straight season. That might seem like a modest and somewhat obscure achievement. But only one other Jackets coach has ever done that. That would be Alexander — 88 years ago.
Contrast that backdrop with what we’re witnessing at Georgia. Coaches and school officials spent part of Thursday shooting down an Internet report that Cox was injured and/or was going to be benched from the starting lineup against South Carolina Saturday in favor of the freshman, Logan Gray.
A loss Saturday and the Dogs will be 0-2 for the first time since 1996. Angst is at an unusual high for Week 2, certainly in the Richt era.
Tech will never cast as big of a shadow over the area’s sports landscape as Georgia. It’s like the Mets going against the Yankees in New York, or the Angels going against the Dodgers in Southern California, or the History Channel going against MTV in your fried brain. It doesn’t matter when one is so clearly better than the other. The other is always going to be bigger.
But that shouldn’t diminish this opportunity for the Jackets. A strong second season under Johnson combined with a step back by Georgia would enable Tech to grab some attention. Certainly, it needs it. It’s not a good sign that the Jackets opened ACC play Thursday night on national TV and there were expected to be 5,000 empty seats in their 55,000-seat stadium.
To fill those seats in the future, the Jackets need to not only win but play the kind of inspired football Johnson is demanding. He jumped his players after last week’s perceived sloppy win over Jacksonville State. Completely understandable. Wins over Jacksonville State don’t move the meter. It’s about performance and playing to a standard. Johnson’s standard wasn’t met.
As he said earlier this week: “My expectation level is for our guys to go out play hard on each and every play. The wins and losses take care of themselves. I do not care what scheme you run, how talented you are. The one thing I know in all my years coaching is if you do not play hard you are not going to be very successful.”
Play to that standard and they’ll get attention. And the timing couldn’t be better.
I’ll be blogging live before and during tonight’s game. So if you’ve got any thoughts or questions, let me hear (or read) them.
Here’s mine: The Clemson game is pivotal for this season, or at least as pivotal as a Game 2 can be. A victory gets the Jackets out of the gate early in the ACC and gives them a little bit of momentum going into a difficult first half of the schedule (next: at Miami, North Carolina, at Mississippi State, at Florida State, Virgina Tech). A loss and suddenly things become more desperate.
Most are focusing on the game’s two running backs, Jonathan Dwyer vs. C.J. Spiller. I’ll be looking for something else: toughness and resolve. If Tech is going to be a player in the conference this season, it needs to step up in games like these, establish control early and play with an edge. A loud home crowd, a night game, national television — all that can work in their favor with a strong performance.
Back to coach Paul Johnson. Here’s an obscure but interesting statistic: If Tech wins, Johnson will be the first Jackets coach since William Alexander (1920-21) to start at least 2-0 in his first two seasons. That covers several coaches: Bobby Dodd (1-1, 1-1), Bud Carson (2-0, 1-1), Bill Fulcher (1-1, 0-2), Pepper Rodgers (1-1, 1-1), Bill Curry (0-2, 1-1), Bobby Ross (1-1, 1-1), Bill Lewis (1-1, 1-1), George O’Leary (1-1, 2-0), Chan Gailey (2-0, 1-1). Dodd’s predecessor, John Heisman, went 2-0 and 1-0-1 in his first two seasons (1905-06).
That’s it for now. Below I’ve got a chart on how all Georgia Tech coaches have fared in their first two full seasons, listed in order of won-loss percentage. Johnson’s two-year record obviously is incomplete.
Coach (Years) Rec. (Pct) William Alexander (1920-21)16-2 (.889) John Heisman (1906-06) 11-3-2 (.750) Paul Johnson (2008-09) 10-4 (.714) Pepper Rodgers (1974-75) 13-9 (.591) Bill Fulcher (1972-72) 12-10-1 (.543) Bobby Dodd (1945-46) 13-8 (.542) Chan Gailey (2002-03) 14-12 (.538) George O'Leary (1995-96) 11-11 (.500) Bill Lewis (1992-93) 10-12 (.455) Bud Carson (1967-68) 8-12 (.400) Bobby Ross (1987-88) 5-17 (.227) Bill Curry (1980-81) 2-19-1 (.114)