It was the night of Oct. 3. Georgia Tech was playing Mississippi State in Starkville. With 9:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Jackets punted.
I mention this for a reason. That was more than a calendar month ago, and the Jackets haven’t punted in a second half since. Not at Florida State. Not against Virginia Tech. Not at Virginia. Not at Vandy.
Eight quarters of football. Not one second-half punt. And you know what this says?
Paul Johnson is the archduke of adjustments.
We hear announcers talking about them all the time. We hear Erin Andrews and her sideline-reporting ilk ask, “Coach, what adjustments will you make at halftime?” Ninety-five percent of the time coaches wind up doing the same thing in the second half as they did in the first.
Not PJ. He tweaks. He brings a guy in motion from a different angle. He splits a guy a tad wider. He runs the same stuff, only slightly differently. And Tech’s offense goes from powerful in the first half to unstoppable in the second.
You might ask Willie Martinez about this. Last November Georgia went from leading 28-12 at halftime to trailing 35-28 — in the span of seven minutes and five seconds. The Bulldogs had the game in hand, and suddenly they were chasing it. (And once PJ gets ahead, forget it. Tech is 8-1 the past two seasons in games decided by five or fewer points.)
“He’s not really coaching,” says Wayne Hogan, the pithy Tech associate AD. “He’s playing a video game!”
And that’s it exactly. Johnson figures stuff out on the fly. Even if the opponent seems to havee a handle on his stylized offense, he performs his little ju jitsu. He wears a headset on the sideline, but it’s just for show. He could make the same mid-course corrections wearing earmuffs.
We’ve known for a while he’s an outstanding head coach, but what sometimes gets lost is that he’s the best playcaller in the business. Hogan again: “Our coach is pretty cool.” And that’s it, too. To borrow Bob Greene’s description of Frank Gifford, PJ of GT is always the coolest guy in the room — even if the room holds 80,000.