Georgia Tech has something to prove this season

Paul Johnson needs to rally Georgia Tech back from a 6-7 season. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Paul Johnson needs to rally Georgia Tech back from a 6-7 season. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

(This appears in the AJC’s college football section on Sunday.)

(Click here to read Georgia’s game-by-game prediction and how they’ll finish 9-3.)

In Paul Johnson’s first two seasons at Georgia Tech, he went 20-7, won an ACC championship, beat Georgia, was named national coach of the year once, ACC coach of the year twice and probably even led some to think, “Wow, I guess that goofy offense can work in a BCS conference after all.”

Season 3 wasn’t a reality check. It was a 2-by-4.

“We definitely were walking on air going into last season,” wide receiver Tyler Melton said. “Not now.”

The Jackets went 6-7 in 2010. That punctured their ego. They saw the NCAA slap them with probation and strip them of the 2009 ACC title. That just made them angry. So they’ve gone from cocky and happy to humbled and bitter.

This is an important season for Johnson. He doesn’t need to win the ACC title to prove himself. But if he can get a young team with significant questions to compete, make things interesting in the conference and at the end wind up in a better bowl city than Shreveport, it will comfort the fan base on North Avenue.

Johnson says he likes this team in a way that suggests he wasn’t enamored of last season’s. “They get along, they have a great attitude and they work hard,” he said. “That’s really all a coach can ask for. We had good kids last year, too, but sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there.”

It was clear from the time the Jackets lost at Kansas in Game 2 — and the Jayhawks’ only two other wins came over New Mexico State and Colorado — that something was wrong. Leadership was an issue. So was arrogance. (And how strange does that sound for a Georgia Tech football team?)

“I think we might have had a sense that the Kansas game was a fluke,” running back Roddy Jones said. “We didn’t have enough of a sense of urgency after that game to propel us to more wins.”

Players pulled apart instead of coming together. Running back Embry Peeples suggested the leadership from the older players probably wasn’t as good as it needed to be.

“Some people would listen to certain people last year,” he said, not getting specific. “This year, the older guys speak positive things to the younger guys, as opposed to yelling at them, beating them up, telling them they stink.”

That happened last year?

“Yeah, there were comments. People talking each other down and stuff,” he said.

The running game, led by Jones and Peeples, won’t be an issue. But Johnson needs junior quarterback Tevin Washington’s ability to run the offense with limited mistakes. If the team can just cut back on turnovers — the Jackets’ 20 lost fumbles were tied for most in the nation — and improve the defense in Al Groh’s second season as coordinator, it will go a long way.

The ACC is not a wrecking ball of a conference. Things fall off significantly after Florida State and Virginia Tech. So while some project the Jackets to finish only fourth in the Coastal Division, an eight- or nine-win regular season is hardly a stretch.

Motivation certainly shouldn’t be an issue. There is the sting of last season. The NCAA’s punishment for Tech’s actions in a recent investigation. The low expectations.

“What people are saying about our entire team — we’re using all of that as motivation,” Jones said.

That pleases Johnson.

“Competitors want to win, and they realized how fragile that is last year,” he said. “You don’t just roll your helmet out. They got a good understanding of that.”

Nobody is walking on air anymore.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

57 comments Add your comment

Joe Schmoe

August 27th, 2011
6:31 pm

Joe Schmoe

August 27th, 2011
6:33 pm

Of course these guys have something to prove… I think this will be a suprise season, kinda like 2008. I would like to see one of the other QB emerge though, no that I dont like TW, I just dont think he takes us to the next level. Days or Lee do that.

Sam Snead

August 27th, 2011
6:40 pm

I love how someone can say “Days or Lee will take us to the next level” when they’ve never seen Days or Lee play a single down.

UGABugKiller

August 27th, 2011
6:44 pm

I don’t know about anyone else, but come Saturday, 26 November, I know about 30,000 members of Bulldog Nation who’ll be invading that architecture disaster, The Joke by the Coke, who would love to personally punch Paul Johnson in the face.

But we’ll let Aaron Murray, Orson Charles, Kwame Geathers, and the Brandons do it for us.

I know MANY Dawg fans as well who are just as mad that the NCAA erased the 2009 NATS season, because in a year where we could barely muster 8 wins and had the pedestrian Joe Cox at QB and Soft Willie in his death rattle game as DC, we beat the best (best ’cause they cheated) NATS team in decades.

It doesn’t matter what year, or what decade, or even if our team sucks after our SEC schedule has been played… it’s always nice to know we can finish the year on a almost automatic win…

… WE RUN THIS STATE.

Joe Schmoe

August 27th, 2011
6:45 pm

Yes, I said it Sam… Do you need me to say it again? I have seen both play, and while Washington has been here, he is in the same boat as Jaybo. Good number 2, but not a #1 on D1 level. You can stick with the usual, the real fan wants more.

Melissa

August 27th, 2011
6:46 pm

I am just thrilled that I will be at every home game this year. I love my Jackets, no matter what. I think this will be a great season.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
6:49 pm

The myth about system’s like Johnson’s is that you dont need high level talent to compete. As last year showed, as well as the bowl games have shown, that just isnt true. Everyone knows the blue print to stopping Tech. The defenses with talent have been shutting them down. If Tech is ever going to get back to where it was a year or two ago under Johnson, they have to get the same level of talent. Those players were NFL caliber recruited by Gailey and highly recruited by other top schools. Johnson has not been able to do the same.

The big question in my mind is…what happens if UGA struggles this year and still beats Tech? Gailey got run out because he couldn’t beat the best UGA teams since the Hershel Walker era. How long does Johnson have losing to the worse UGA teams in over a decade?

GTDawgKiller

August 27th, 2011
6:53 pm

Don’t you love the arrogance of some UGA fans when they are coming off the same lousy 6-7 season that GT is. Maybe after Boise St smacks them around they will come off there pedestal.

Ray Rodson

August 27th, 2011
6:55 pm

Mike -

You’re still a UGA idiot.

Howard

August 27th, 2011
7:00 pm

Wasn’t UGA as bad as Tech last year? And now they are winning hte SEC east? LOL

GT/Fl football fan

August 27th, 2011
7:09 pm

Mike, Georgia Tech has much better talent now than the Gailey players that Paul Johnson had. Although we had good Gailey players like jarrad tarrant, and Nesbitt, Gailey couldn’t win with them. He’s like a Florida version of Ron Zook, he consistently underachieves. Plus we went 6-7 with Gailey’s talent last year.

Delbert D.

August 27th, 2011
7:16 pm

A yo-yo with 2 strings…I’ve got to get me one of those!

Civilized Society

August 27th, 2011
7:18 pm

UGABugKiller-

You know I’m down for trash-talking like every sports fan but using a murder as the punchline of a joke when some innocent person has just lost there life is pretty childish and classless. Grow Up.

Yours Truly

Civilized Society

@Mike

August 27th, 2011
7:27 pm

Mike, please keep that blueprint confidential. We do not want everyone knowing how to beat the Johnson system. Thanks.

Outside Observer

August 27th, 2011
7:30 pm

Civilized, no point even acknowledging the presence of someone like that. Jeff and the other writers do a solid job of monitoring these posts. His pathetic comments will surely be pulled. Let him continue to enjoy other’s misery because he himself lives a pathetic life and can only get enjoyment when he sees others suffering more than he does on a daily basis. It is a sad case, really, and I wish him the best. Maybe one day he will grow up and realize that there are bigger issues than college rivalries. Until then, he will continue to embarrass himself, his family, and the rest of the UGA fanbase.

Brent

August 27th, 2011
7:33 pm

Sorry Jeff, read Bradley’s blog first. If it’s any consolation I liked yours better. Welcome back.

Supersize that order, mutt

August 27th, 2011
7:36 pm

UBABugKiller has is a clueless, classless POS

Supersize that order, mutt

August 27th, 2011
7:37 pm

Bradley had to close the comments on his blog because of the classless jerks like Bugkiller

Mike

August 27th, 2011
7:39 pm

@GT/Fl Football Fan – Johnson only had a small fraction of Gailey’s talent last year…basically just Nesbitt, Jones and a few others. Dwyer’s impact was not replaced. Allen isnt as good an inside runner. Thomas’ impact was not replaced. Tech never had that home-run threat on the outside. The playmakers on defense like Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett were never replaced either. Gailey’s talent has been leaving and it shows.

How bout them BEES!!!

August 27th, 2011
7:41 pm

I wish I could grind this blog up and put it on my lawn. There’s enough Bulls**t here to grow hair on a cue ball. Everybody that thinks they know more than CPJ, should get a coaching job and win something,then we could put some weight in your opinion. People who talk about teams that have figured out the TO offense makes me laugh. You could say that about any offense. The key is to execute. It really don’t matter what offense you run, if you execute better than the defense, it will work.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
7:46 pm

Anyone want to tell me the top quality teams Johnson has beaten that Gailey wasn’t able to? He beat Clemson for the ACC title..a team Gailey owned. He beat a UGA team sporting a non-existent defense…the worst UGA defense since the Goff era. Gailey got fired cause he couldn’t beat a UGA team which was killing everyone. Gailey’s teams actually played Richt’s teams (the ten win, SEC championship caliber ones) closer than most schools. Gailey just occasionally would lose a head scratcher game. He needed a better OC than Patrick Nix who incidentally washed out of Miami soon after.

Im a Tech grad, people. So dont start tossing UGA insults this way. I told everyone that Johnson would peak with Gailey’s players and then struggle after a few years. In a very down ACC without FSU on the scedule and UGA struggling, how is an 8 win prediction supposed to be any good?

Give me a break

August 27th, 2011
8:01 pm

First of all, for the idiots saying Tech won with Gailey’ recruits, give me a break. Gailey had 1 good recruiting season. Just one. 07. Johnson actually has recruited better than Gailey overall. Just go look at Rivals or Scout or ESPN. Second, Johnson is a better coach, period. Third, keep making fun of the offense but it works. It doesn’t matter what offense you play, you got to get prepared for it. Georgia runs a pro style offense, so what do you do? You study for it and get prepared. Stop with the gimmick offense please. Go say the same about Oregon, Auburn. Look at them! Thank you and shut please. Oh and UGA Bugkiller, that’s pretty low son. Grow up.

Savjacket

August 27th, 2011
8:02 pm

Bugkiller, please, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeease be back on here Sunday morning so we can discuss the beatdown that Georgia absorbed from Boise State. Virtually a home game and Boise State is favored? Wow.

wes

August 27th, 2011
8:03 pm

pretty good comments.

I’ll add some more:

fart

poop piss

diarrhea

Mike

August 27th, 2011
8:05 pm

Also, I like Johnson. I think he’s a class act and have nothing against his person. I say the same about Gailey. What I’m saying is, neither of them are/were going to take Tech to the next level as a program. Gailey could recruit and had the D with Tenuta, but his OC was terrible and blew too many games. IMO he was Tech’s version of Jim Donnan over at UGA. Johnson has already proven not to be Tech’s version of Richt…it took Richt nine years before his program regressed. He also has not been able to recruit the Dwyer’s, Nesbitt’s, Thomas’, that Gailey left him because top recruits don’t want to run the option offense. The danger is that recruits will get used to tuning Tech out, and all the recruiting momentum built by Gailey would be lost.

If it were me, i would have hung onto Gailey until I found a Pro-style coach to replace him with who could recruit as well, but coach them better on the field.

UGABugKiller

August 27th, 2011
8:07 pm

Sav,

I’ll always be around. Win or lose. That’s what separates Bulldog Nation from idiots like St. Simons.

As for Boise “being favored,” I remember a time when the college football “experts” like SI’s moronically Stew Mandel picked Boise to beat is in 2005, too.

Seem to remember y’all were “favored” to beat us in the Year That No Longer Exists.

Sunday Morning, all of the ESPN Boise Lovers will be shaking their heads, wondering where it all went wrong.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
8:08 pm

@Gimme a break – Gailey’s recruiting class was projected top 15 the year he got fired. Many of those fled the scene. He also was recruiting under sanctions for much of his first few season. Think Calvin Johnson would have come to play for Tech instead of UGA if they were running the option then?

How else do you explain a 6 win season right after most of Gailey’s recruits leave? It took Richt 10 years to regress to the same point…Johnson on year 3. That’s not a coincidence.

GTJeff

August 27th, 2011
8:09 pm

Tech grad my ass Mike. ANYONE that things Gailey did anything but embarrass the school is no Tech fan. Go back to the trailer park blogs please.

Melissa

August 27th, 2011
8:13 pm

As juvenile as some of these comments are – God, I’ve missed y’all.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
8:18 pm

@GTJeff – so how is losing to the last two UGA teams not an embarrassment? If Gailey is an embarrassment for losing to loaded SEC Champion, BCS level Bulldog teams (which in the end is exactly why he got fired), why isnt Johnson under fire for losing to the last two terrible ones? These UGA teams have been getting smoked by SEC contenders, but still beating Johnson. His one win was against a paper thin UGA defense that gave up 40+ points more times in one season than it had in the previous 7. Where is the Kool Aid coming from that I’m apparently missing out on?

Mike

August 27th, 2011
8:20 pm

Correction, that 2008 defense gave up 30+ points for UGA more times that year than in the previous 7 under Richt…it was a worse defense than I originally commented on LOL

Delbert D.

August 27th, 2011
8:26 pm

The Georgia Tech defense didn’t look very good last year.

Give me a break

August 27th, 2011
8:32 pm

Mike, Calvin was the one shining star in the six years Gailey was there. Heck, Tech never had a player like him, ever! But you look at 02,03, 04 ( Calvin only 5 star), 05, 06, and then the great 07 class, and then compare to Johnson’s and you will see it’s day and night. And Gailey was not in the top 15 in 08. I pay attention very well thank you. Johnson is not going to sing Tech. Give him some time. Calm down son. It’s not the end. Trust me :)

Mike

August 27th, 2011
8:55 pm

@Give me a break – no offense, but im class of ‘94 so “son” might be stretching it when referring to me. And yes Gailey’s 08 recruiting class was projected to be top 15. When he got fired, the best offensive recruits bailed on it, so it didnt finish well at all…thats not even adding several skill position transfers. Its called recruiting momentum.

When Gailey started, top recruits did not have Tech on the map vs other schools. He also inherited sanctions from O’Leary. Calvin Johnson was huge in turning that around because recruits saw you could come to Tech, be in the national spotlight, and get to the NFL in top draft form. They started coming to Tech instead of UGA, Clemson, FSU, and the usual suspects (on both sides of the ball). Gailey turned things around and his 07 and projected 08 classes were evidence of the forward momentum.

Paul Johnson has been able to continue to recruit defensively, but not offensively. Top recruits do not want to run a system that has no translation to the NFL. Nesbitt and Dwyer are both on record as saying they would not have come here if Johnson was recruiting them. His classes arent finishing any better than Gailey’s early ones, so I’m not sure where the night and day reference comes from.

I like Johnson as a person. I would like to have him succeed here, but you’ve got to start looking at facts and not wishful thinking at some point. The Fact is, Tech’s offense (even with Dwyer and Nesbitt) has been getting shut down by the better defenses…especially in bowl games. If he is going to take this program above the Gailey level consistently like you say, he will have to likely swallow his pride and change things up offensively.

Paul in NH (formerly RDU)

August 27th, 2011
8:58 pm

Mike

August 27th, 2011
6:49 pm
How long does Johnson have losing to the worse UGA teams in over a decade?

I am SHOCKED to read a post by a UGA fan who thinks that they have their worst team in over a decade. I thought that the Dream Team was going develop into UGA’s best team in over a decade.

Paul in NH (formerly RDU)

August 27th, 2011
9:01 pm

Mike

August 27th, 2011
7:46 pm
Anyone want to tell me the top quality teams Johnson has beaten that Gailey wasn’t able to?

Gailey was 0-1 vs FSU, CPJ is 2-0
Gailey was 0-7 vs UGA, CPJ is 1-2
Gailey was 3-4 vs Clemson (and how the heck that is “owning” someone is beyond me, CPJ is 3-1

Tech86

August 27th, 2011
9:20 pm

Bailey should have been fired after the 51-7 debacle in year one, especially after his stupid comment “I guess I did not have them ready to play” , not ready to play UGA! Give me a break! That’s the one game to be ready for! At least for the last 3 games, we have been ready to play, one or two plays go our way, coach is 3-0, and yes he could be 0-3′ but we have not been outclassed in those three games. Gailey coached as if he was playing a 16 game season, he never embraced the college game!!!!

Mike

August 27th, 2011
9:21 pm

I think I should explain my position of what a contender means for Tech. A contending team should look at this years schedule and expect no less than 11 wins. No FSU, UGA down ( dont buy the East hype until their defense shows they can play at a championship level again…until then they are beatable by anyone), NC St lost their top QB, Clemson is average, Miami is average…that leaves Va Tech. That is where Tech should be if Johnson has truly elevated this past Gailey. Even under Gailey, an 8 win season on this schedule should be a disappointment. Im not playing favorites here…this is a light schedule compared to past years.

Mike

August 27th, 2011
9:31 pm

@Paul – Gailey won three of his last four meeting with Clemson..that’s owning them. He also won 3 of 4 on Miami including an upset win over them before they crashed and burned, Johnson is 1-2. Gailey also played top 10, BCS level UGA teams, not ones that give up 40 points on a regular basis and finish with 6-7 win seasons. Gailey also had a couple of bowl wins which Johnson has yet to get even against his old Commander in Chief trophy nemesis Air Force. Gailey was also 2-0 against a good Auburn program, and the ACC was tougher overall than it has been the last few years.

Gailey competed well, it just wasnt consistent enough. He would beat Miami then lose to Duke or someone like that. Thats the one thing Johnson did not do until last year.

GT/Fl football fan

August 27th, 2011
9:32 pm

Still though he’s gotten 4 stars like louis young, roderick sweeting, stephen hill, and guys like david sims who’s the starter now that had offers like florida, oregon, south carolina, michigan, florida st, and tennesee at runningback,

GT/Fl football fan

August 27th, 2011
9:39 pm

Not to mention izzan cross who’s going to have a breakout year had offers from oklahoma, north carolina, clemson, florida st, and south carolina. We also stole isiah johnson from georgia. Many people compare him to norgan burnett, and mock drafts have him going into the first round in 2013. Plus we have 4 stars like bj. bostic, vad lee, jabari hunt days, and anthony williams.

GT/Fl football fan

August 27th, 2011
9:41 pm

Gailey only had 1 good recruiting year, and that was 2007. Other than that his other classes were mediocre, he got way more 2 stars than 3, and 4 stars.

Akeem Zanzabar

August 27th, 2011
11:29 pm

What is this game football we play here at Tech? All of the students here don’t understand this game football. My Chinese girlfriend likes to see the big boys bend over but she no understand this game football.

Arob

August 28th, 2011
12:15 am

Mike,

You forgot to mention the most incomprehensible of Gailey’s errors….. 4 years of the worst starting QB in major college football history. REGGIE!
I’ll take Johnson’s competitive fire and energy, even if his offense has its limitations.

barbie

August 28th, 2011
12:26 am

JOE SCHOMOE, YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT, SHOULD HAVE GIVEN DAVID SIMS A CHANCE AFTER ALL THE OPPORTUNITIES GIVEN TO TW THAT PRODUCED ZILCH

Old Tech & Mountaineer fan in NC

August 28th, 2011
8:31 am

I doubt Mike is a Tech fan.

David

August 28th, 2011
10:37 am

Mike,
I get your opinion, and thank God yours is in the minority of Tech fans. Since you seem to “know” so much then you would certainly understand that the biggest issue we’ve had in the Gailey to Johnson transition is the offensive line. First, we hadn’t recruited the numbers on the line at the end of the Gailey tenure. Now, you may be able to say something about whatever recruits were lined up to come to us during that fictional “top 15″ class but the fact was the numbes and depth weren’t there. We had a converted tight end starting at tackle in year 1, a walk-on DL playing center for 2 years, and we’ve had early departures (not just to the NFL) in the first two seasons. The key is getting some continuity up front and depth. If you know football, and I’ll assume you do, then stop and look at the building of the offensive line before completely establishing this view. It may not be this year, but if the line stablilizes (combination of injuries and eligibility staying within reason) that’s where you’ll start to see the consistency of this offense.

The other areas are easy (to say, proof will be on the field): Defense has some more playmakers in the system now and we need to see if they produce; turnovers (the great unknown, but HUGE with our system). And by the way, nobody knew/thought D. Thomas was going to be a first round NFL WR when he came to Tech. Don’t make Gailey more than he was, but please continue with one theme about him: thank God he’s gone from the Institute.

Freddy Blassie

August 28th, 2011
10:54 am

Just saw where Nesbit and Dwyer said they would not have come to Tech if Johnson had recruited them. Nesbit is a football player but no matter where Nesbit played in college (if he was a starting QB) would he ever be an NFL quarterback. Regarding Dwyer, Tech was the best thing that ever happened to that guy. I am not sure anyone would have ever heard of him if it hadn’t been for Johnson at Tech.

Ramblnwrek

August 28th, 2011
10:56 am

with regards the recruiting class rank/star level: its like talking about the weather. Either they are right in their prediction: Great recruits = Great performance, and then everyone nods their heads and thinks “well we need to get better recruits” or something similar. But when the opposite happens, Great recruits = poor performance, no body talks about it. Example (all sources from ESPN) Texas has had a consistent top 5 recruiting classes since 2006 (except ‘08 ranked only 10th) and yet in 2010, the season after going to the National Chanpionship, they FAIL to even get to a bowl game. Coincidentally U(sic)GA has is very similar since ‘06 with a class rank of 4 in the nation and going ‘07-13, ‘08-5, ‘09-6, ‘10-10.and finally ‘11-6. Yet somehow, this past year was the “Dream Team”…. eat me.

I believe CPJ is good coach with a proven track record of making players play at or exceed their potential. While CMR has let complacency set in when you are sitting on top. This happens as Texas has shown…..hell GT showed it last season after just one conference championship. I believe the talent level has more to do with how sloppy you can play/coach and still get away with winning. I believe CPJ did exactly what the D-Rad brought him into do. Excite the fan base, i felt it. I no longer think “how are we going to lose this game” which happened a lot under Gailey near the end. Our attitude has changed for the better. Do I think CPJ can take GT to next level? Maybe, I hope so. But I do know is that he will definitely set us up for the next guy if he does not.

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