Tech’s Paul Johnson: A coach who dares to be great

Josh Nesbitt after scoring the game-winner in overtime. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Josh Nesbitt after scoring the game-winner in overtime. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The surprise wasn’t that Paul Johnson went for it on fourth-and-inches with Tampa on the line. The surprise was that, for half a minute, it seemed Paul Johnson wasn’t going for it on fourth-and-1 with Tampa on the line.

Down three points in overtime, ball nuzzling the 5:  What else would PJ do? “If we can’t get half a yard,” he said, “we don’t deserve to win.”

First Georgia Tech faked everyone out. The Jackets lined up as if to run a play but did the ol’ draw-’em-offside bit to no avail. They called timeout and trotted to the sideline, and your first thought was, “PJ just chickened out.” But PJ doesn’t chicken out. He talks the talk and goes on fourth down.

“If you ask the kids to play to win,” he said, “you’ve got to play to win.”

He’d asked his quarterback what he thought, and Josh Nesbitt, who’s as bold as his coach, said: “I can make it.” And PJ said: “I know you can.” And then Nesbitt did, and one play later he was in the end zone and Tech had climbed a couple of  rungs up the BCS standings and drawn within one win of the ACC title game. So you can’t say there was nothing at stake. But PJ’s way is to play to win no matter the consequences, no matter the history.

Four times Tech had gone on fourth down already, and four times it had failed. Nesbitt had fumbled the snap and slipped in the backfield and gotten stopped at the line and thrown a pass Anthony Allen dropped. One more slip and Tech would lose. But this time nobody slipped. This time Nesbitt ducked his head and got the yard.

Tech wobbled Saturday. It started nicely but began to commit penalties at a Georgia-esque rate, and a quick 10-point lead became a 17-10 halftime deficit. It could have been worse, but Dave Wommack’s underwhelming defenders stopped Wake Forest at the end of the first half and then limited the Deacs to one first down over the next 25 minutes.

And then, even after Wake tied it, the D made a stand near the end of regulation to force overtime, and once beyond 60 minutes, PJ and Nesbitt weren’t going to let the Jackets lose. “You just will your way to win,” Johnson would say, and that’s what happened here.

Derrick Morgan had three sacks, all essential. Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 189 yards, 59 coming on Tech’s first snap of the second half when he burst up the middle on a tweaked play for the tying touchdown. (”Something I saw,” said Johnson, the archduke of adjustments.) Wake being Wake, it would never simply slink away into the gathering dusk, but Tech matched the Deacs in heart and trumped them in skill and gall.

Into overtime. Tech held Wake to a field goal and the game was the Jackets’ to win or lose, which meant it was PJ’s and Nesbitt’s, and was there ever any doubt how it would end? Said Johnson: “I don’t think [his players] expected anything else [than going for it on fourth down]. Our defensive guys knew we were going for it.”

Said Dwyer: “Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach like that?”

Before the game, Johnson had given his men an impassioned speech. He told them “not to put the horse before the cart” and ponder what might be waiting down the road. This prompted someone to ask: Doesn’t the horse generally go before the cart?

“Horse before the cart, cart before the horse,” Johnson said. “Maybe that’s why we came out flat.”

No matter. It all worked out in the end. PJ dared and Nesbitt made it work and Tech’s cart and horse, in whichever order you prefer, drew another hundred miles closer to a title game in Tampa.

552 comments Add your comment

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:37 pm

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:37 pm

Now, See there that wasn’t so hard!

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:41 pm

Good read, Mark. That was one tense moment at the end, but I knew CPJ was determined to end it right then and there. That one set of plays will go really far in estbalishing the confidence to keep winning the rest of the way. In a way, I am glad it wasn’t easy. It will bring everybody back to that reality that it is one game, one set of downs, one play at a time to get to the top. Go Jackets!

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:42 pm

Establishing Spelled correctly!

Mark Bradley

November 7th, 2009
8:42 pm

Kudos, U-no. Maybe the quickest “first” ever.

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:44 pm

i KNEW it. nothing about me in the coumn.

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:44 pm

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:44 pm

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:45 pm

George

November 7th, 2009
8:46 pm

Mark – do you think the lack of style points will hurt us in the rankings?

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:46 pm

LOL! That’s Ok Willie! Getting the spelling right is almost as hard as getting the defense right! LOL!

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:47 pm

Mark, as i said earlier, be sure to catch me on the CMR show tomorrow. I’ll call you about a few column ideas after that.

dagnabit

November 7th, 2009
8:47 pm

Could you investigate the rumor that bulldog boosters are offering to buy ,for Urban, a really nice house in South Bend.

Metal Jacket

November 7th, 2009
8:47 pm

Overtime, Down by 3, Gain 1 yard or lose the game, The most gutsy call Iv’e ever seen. What a game. GO JACKETS!!!!!

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:47 pm

u-no: just remember cover 2. so easy to remember and spell.

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:48 pm

Mark Bradley

November 7th, 2009
8:48 pm

I don’t think it will help, George. I figure Tech is No. 7 tomorrow. Still behind Florida, Bama, Texas, Boise, TCU and the Bearcats.

John G.

November 7th, 2009
8:49 pm

CPJ knew Tech wasn’t getting any breaks- so he decided they had to make their own. Dude’s got a pair.

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:49 pm

uno- if i could only remember those linebacker names: sam, mike and will. dont know who richt’s talking about when he asks about them.

Jimbo Muschamp

November 7th, 2009
8:49 pm

Georgia Tech does not need a “coach in waiting”.

KB81

November 7th, 2009
8:50 pm

No guts, no glory. Go Jackets!

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:50 pm

Mark, you think CMR’s hair do counts as style points?

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:51 pm

I thought that was what was on that laminated card you carried!

KSEE

November 7th, 2009
8:51 pm

Great win…good article (not taking shots @ MB)
…I think we got something special brewing in the ATL !!! :)

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:52 pm

style points is something i say to mrs martinez

By Dodd

November 7th, 2009
8:52 pm

Nesbitt is gonna get us killed when it is really important one day. Of the fourth down tries that failed, he was responsible for three. Everyone also knows that PJ was never going to kick. He does not trust our Defense or Special Teams.

45ACP

November 7th, 2009
8:53 pm

commit penalties at a Georgia-esque rate.

Like we didn’t know. Just rub it in….

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:54 pm

boise state?

U-no

November 7th, 2009
8:54 pm

I don’t think CPJ was thinking about his defense or special teams. He wanted to end it. He knew they could and kney they would make it and get a TD. You don’t make that kind of a call on doubts, you make it on confidence.

Papa

November 7th, 2009
8:55 pm

Now I know how my Mom has been watching these games all these years … peeking through fingers covering the eyes. May need an ambulance to bring Dad home from the West Stands … he should be fine for the final home win of the season. THWG

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:55 pm

never seen such sloppy defense in my life.

snapshot

November 7th, 2009
8:56 pm

You do what you got to do to win!!!!!!! and win we did!!!!!!!!

AllBald

November 7th, 2009
8:56 pm

I am proud of the Jackets. I am a native Atlantan and I hope that GT runs over the Dogs. First, we got to beat the Deacons. But do not think that there will not be some fight in the dogs. The Jackets can win and win big but they must play smart and boldly. Go Jackets and PJ.

Smart Jay

November 7th, 2009
8:56 pm

Nice quote Mark, “Tech wobbled Saturday. It started nicely but began to commit penalties at a Georgia-esque rate.”

CPJ is the man. I realize our conference schedule is not SEC stuff, but you win the games you play, and Tech has done that.

Gordon

November 7th, 2009
8:56 pm

CPJ has beaten UGA and all 9 ACC teams he has faced in less than 2 years. He is 6-0 against the Atlantic, and hopefully will be 7-0 on December 5th.

Wesley W.

November 7th, 2009
8:57 pm

pilgrim

November 7th, 2009
8:57 pm

A lot of comments about CPJ’s guts, determination, etc. but when you look at what he says, it’s all about letting his team play.

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:57 pm

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
8:59 pm

Mark, i hope i dont read about how great tech’s defense is in the sunday paper. i dissed schultz at a party just now and he said i would pay for that.

Gerald Ball

November 7th, 2009
9:00 pm

The lack of “style points” won’t hurt at all. Iowa, Penn State and Oregon lost. The former lost to Northwestern, the latter lost by double digits, one at home and the other to Stanford. The polls have basically run out of 1 loss teams to put over Georgia Tech. What are they going to do? Leapfrog Utah, Houston or Pitt over Georgia Tech? As if the Big East, Mountain West or Conference USA are tougher than the ACC? When Tech’s only loss is to 7-2 Miami and they have a win over #22 Virginia Tech plus 2 SEC teams out of conference?

Georgia Tech is going to be ranked #7, period. And if Texas and Cincinnati lose, running the table gets them into the national title game. Of course, Texas and Cincinnati won’t both lose, but still …

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
9:01 pm

Panty raid at russell hall at 10pm.

Jason

November 7th, 2009
9:01 pm

That game just about gave me a heart attack. Thats the game that Tech usually trips up in and in years past this would be the game that Tech would lay an egg in. Theres still a long way to go, but I really do feel Tech has the momemtum and motivation to push them the rest of the way to a bowl game without another loss.

DMWC

November 7th, 2009
9:01 pm

I know the point spread was big, but style points should be irrelevant. Wake is a decent team with a very good QB and coach. They took Miami to the wire too. They’ve had a bunch of hard luck losses. Plus, our closest one loss competitors – Penn St. and Oregon – both lost.

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
9:02 pm

scratch that last post. i meant brumby.

Seattle Jacket

November 7th, 2009
9:02 pm

I was in The United Arab Emerites for Desert Storm 1 when Tech played as passionate a game as this one today. JD, JN, and the O line put the team on their backs and refused to lose! I have officiated high school and college football for the past 10 years. That was one of the most one sided officiated games I have ever witnessed. 3 chop blocks, one of which was legit. The umpire in this game broke a cardinal rule of officiating. If you do not see the entire block, don’t make a call. The last chop call was bogus due to the fact that Bedford initiated the contact above the waist, Howard came in on the double team, Bedford slid down the defender and then the umpire threw the flag. If you start above the waist and slide low, IT’S NOT A FOUL!!. The ACC should look at this carefully. Ever since Beamer started crying, Tech has been over-scrutanized. Now it seems every double team block is a chop.
Great job to our Defense. One quarter we were shakey, but stepped it up when we had to. Kudos to Butler, Griffen, and the new starter at corner, Edwards. Great adjustments this week in practice.
1-0 this week. Get ready for a good Duke team. I think they were looking past UNC today, thinking about the possibilities for next week. Now they have nothing to lose. Get ready Boys.
“I’m a Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech, and a Helluva Engineer…” THWG!!

Papa

November 7th, 2009
9:02 pm

BTW … didn’t J-School teach parallel structure? (”Florida, Bama, Texas, Boise, TCU and the Bearcats” should read in part … “Alabama … and Cincinnati”) … just asking.

Wesley W.

November 7th, 2009
9:02 pm

So if you are the quickest first ever, does that mean that Mark has a stalker?

willie martinez

November 7th, 2009
9:03 pm

ROCK PERDONI

November 7th, 2009
9:03 pm

………….NESBITT is gonna get
GT a 13-1 record…………..

Not Disappointed!

November 7th, 2009
9:04 pm

Home sweet Home!

Mark, my feeling are hurt. I got first twice today on your blog. No certificate! No Snapple regular lemonade! What gives?

Another fine read. I told you earlier that I was nervous about this game. Great win. Maybe better Florida State win. Although, I didn’t attend that one live. Ramblin Wreck!