How three points and one man changed football in Georgia

Paul Johnson exulted as Georgia fell and the tides turned. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson exulted as UGA fell and the tides turned. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Three points on a rainy day when 87 were scored. Three points that halted a seven-year run of losing for one side and induced an abject reversal for the other. Three points that changed the state of college football in a state that lives for college football.

Georgia Tech beat Georgia 45-42 on Nov. 29, 2008, and never has one skinny victory assumed such heft. Tech is now the champion of the ACC Coastal Division and has been ensconced among the nation’s top 10 teams for a month. Georgia has had its worst season under Mark Richt and could be bound for  Shreveport. You can argue that a different result 12 months ago wouldn’t have affected anything that has occurred in 2009, but you’d be wrong.

We stopped seeing Tech as hopeless during the first seven minutes of that famous third quarter. The Jackets went from 28-12 behind to 35-28 ahead in the time it took you to say, “There goes Dwyer!” And when it ended, Tech having won for the first time since George O’Leary was coaching against Jim Donnan, this much was clear: Mark Richt wasn’t coaching against Chan Gailey anymore.

Gailey tried six times against Richt, lost six times. In 2006 he even had the better team. Didn’t matter. There was something about Gailey that made you believe he could go 0-for-100 against the Bulldogs.  Paul Johnson needed only one swing. Paul Johnson, as we now know, is different.

The Tech booster (and former co-captain under Bobby Dodd) Taz Anderson tells the story: Not long after Johnson was hired, he and Anderson were playing golf. The format was alternate shot. Johnson stood over the second shot on a par-5 hole. Anderson said, “Might want to lay up, Coach.” Johnson said, “Oh, I don’t know.” And knocked the darn thing on the green.

Just as faint heart never won fair maiden (really old saying), a timid Tech wasn’t going to unhorse Georgia. Tech stopped being timid the day Johnson strode — PJ doesn’t so much walk as he strides — through the door. Here’s a man secure enough to use an offense that supposedly ran its course decades ago, secure enough to run an actual play on any fourth-and-you-name-it. Johnson doesn’t care what you think of him. He’s so secure in himself and his methods that he needs no endorsement.

Nor, to hear him tell it, does he necessarily need to beat Georgia. “I’m not making it out to be the Super Bowl the way you guys are,” he said at his media briefing Tuesday. “I’m not going to let one game define our season.”

And then: “I don’t want to leave the impression that it’s not important. It is important. But I’m going to get Georgia Tech to the point where our program is bigger than one game.”

It helped that PJ won that one game on his first try. (”Been there, done that,” he said Tuesday.)  Richt was no longer the scourge of the heated series but the guy who’d lost to the guy with the high school offense. Willie Martinez was the coordinator who couldn’t stop an offense that completed one pass (that on the game’s first snap).  Georgia was no longer mighty, Tech no longer meek.

Had Georgia won on Nov. 29, 2008 — the 2009 Georgia media guide, perhaps inadvertently, lists the score of the game as 42-42 — the Bulldogs would have rounded off a disappointing season by at least reasserting their in-state dominance. Instead they laid themselves open to question, and in the succeeding Richt has seemed to have no answers. The guy who works at North and Techwood has hijacked every answer.

And now PJ and his program move from strength to strength, while Richt is under heavy pressure to change something, anything. Johnson’s team could play in the Orange Bowl. Richt’s just lost at home to Kentucky. Johnson’s team is the rising power, Richt’s the fading light. Three points did all that. Three points and one cocksure coach.

577 comments Add your comment

Ramblinwreck83

November 24th, 2009
10:52 am

joe

November 24th, 2009
10:52 am

LOL! You truly are an idiot. Yech didn’t do a damn thing. They didn’t cause this downfall you fool. Mark Richt, Willie Martinez, and Mike Bobo caused this downfall. Actually, Willie Martinez caused this downfall All Yech did was beat a football team with an atrocious defense.

Davis

November 24th, 2009
10:52 am

joe

November 24th, 2009
10:53 am

I find it hard to believe that this moron gets a paycheck for writing crap like this.

Shane

November 24th, 2009
10:53 am

Whats changed? UGA is still going to get all the best players in the state and win 8 out of 10 times.

Yawn!!

EW

November 24th, 2009
10:53 am

EW

November 24th, 2009
10:53 am

Not even close, I read slow

jacketbacker

November 24th, 2009
10:53 am

first!?….its a great time to be a yellow jacket!!…..

PonPJ

November 24th, 2009
10:56 am

Piss on Paul Johnson. God bless Chris Hatcher! Go Eagles!

cdub

November 24th, 2009
10:56 am

Frustrated Dawg

November 24th, 2009
10:56 am

Phil Fulmer is available.

richard smallwood

November 24th, 2009
10:57 am

Bradley, I have to hand it to you. You are good at what you do, which is stir the drink.

It is going to be ugly on Sat night.

In the stands, on the field, heck, even in the john’s.

Not for the children or faint of heart.

Go Jackets!

GrantP Dawg

November 24th, 2009
10:57 am

Surely things are better at Tech then they are in Athens. But it really is one season, so I think the showering of love all over CPJ and the Tech program is a little premature. Then again, the same love came CMR way pretty quickly, so I guess that is just the way the AJC rolls.

I don’t expect a good outcome for the Dawgs this weekend, but we aren’t in some ten year swoon as some would love to think.

Just remember…things are never as bad or as good as they seem.

Who's #1

November 24th, 2009
10:58 am

What’s so great about being first?

Just Sayin'

November 24th, 2009
10:58 am

I give thanks for this article and our great ball coach. Thanks Mark. Go Tech!

EW

November 24th, 2009
10:59 am

What happens if UGA beats Tech this year MB? I will concede that beating UGA last year may have given Tech the confidence it needed to get over the hump, but I think football changed in Georgia when CMR endorsed his little endzone dance on the Gators. That was the top of the mountain for this staff and it’s been in decline since. Yes, there have been highlights along the way since then but that display just goes to show you CMR is more comfortable being the likable, loyal, players’ coach and I fear it will be his ultimate downfall.

Can’t wait for Saturday, Dogs have nothing to lose. Hopefully Tech will falter under the pressure of being a big favorite. For once the pressure will be on the Jackets not to lose this rivalry, we’ll see how it goes, but I’m not that optimistic.

Delay Any Coronation

November 24th, 2009
10:59 am

What has truly changed? To be sure, Coach Johnson seems to have changed an abject mindset of failure at Georgia Tech. To imply that Georgia’s poor season this year (and, by unspoken implication, future seasons) is directly related to one GT victory requires a leap in logic too large to contemplate seriously

1eyedJack

November 24th, 2009
10:59 am

Coach Paul Johnson wears pink panties and breathes through his eyelids.

RAMBLE ON!!!

November 24th, 2009
11:00 am

I really says something to get 1st on Bradley’s blog.

One day, it will be mine!!!

Cuz

November 24th, 2009
11:01 am

first, Is that what you have to write when you reply to a Bradley Blog?

In the here and now I will not argue with the proposition that Johnson is the better coach. The key word is now. Coach Richt will make some changes in the off season and we will see if the Bulldawg machine gets a new engine or just a new coat of paint.

Shane

November 24th, 2009
11:02 am

I think Paul Johnson wont be able to recruit well either. I mean who is going to let their son go play for a guy who is going to cuss them out on the sidelines the whole game.

It takes a real big man to cuss out an 18 year old kid. Your a real big man Paul Johnson.

Mike

November 24th, 2009
11:03 am

“Three points on a rainy day when 88 were scored”

Um…45 + 42 = 87

swimdawg68

November 24th, 2009
11:03 am

Three points and one poorly coached defense by UGA. How does UGA stop Tech on offense? Plan your defensive schemes like LSU last year and Miami this year. If your players will not play defense as it should be designed UGA will lose badly. You must play assignment defense to defeat the triple option, LSU last year did just that. If UGA comes out in the standard 4-3 defense with corners 10 yards off receivers and saftey’s 20 yards off the line of scrimage it will be ugly for UGA. Sadly, our tackling skills have regressed to a deplorable level. This is the first time in many many years that upon entering this game I do not expext to win. Do I want us to win? Of course! Do I expect Martinez to have our defense prepared to play NO! That is what makes me sad. Does Tech have better athletes than UGA? No way! The difference is called coaching!!

John

November 24th, 2009
11:04 am

Good article. GT will win again and state recruits will start looking at tech. Winning will do that and losing will have the opposite effect.

Johnson Dreams about Being Like Coach Richt....

November 24th, 2009
11:04 am

Mark Richt?
80 wins in 8 years. SEC Coach of the year. Twice. 48 NFL Drafts. .768 winning %. Finished #2 (many say #1) in 2007.

End of story. Goodbye.

Nick Papagorgio

November 24th, 2009
11:05 am

Shane, time will tell. And we’re not scared.
THWG!

Buzz Belle

November 24th, 2009
11:06 am

Thank you Mark! I send links like these to my son in Afghanistan who is almost as big a Tech fan as me! Hate he can’t be here to go to the game with me this year but my dauther-in-law will be so it’s close. As an “old” Tech fan, it is so good to see us where we knew we should be in the state and the nation in football. Our rich history and pride of our legendary football coaches can once again smile at those in the east when they speak about this game. To us, the world has been righted. We proudly take back our bragging rights within the state and will hang on to them for many years to come. You just gotta love Paul Johnson!

Anna

November 24th, 2009
11:06 am

45 + 42 = 88???

charles hudson

November 24th, 2009
11:07 am

Enter your comments here

Frustrated Dawg

November 24th, 2009
11:08 am

Tommy Bowden and Tommy West are available.

charles hudson

November 24th, 2009
11:10 am

jeez just everybody calm down it’s just a game, even though it may not be much of a game Sat when the BEE’s run all over the dead dawgs (sorry UGA) you Ga guys will win again, but nobody knows when as long as you keep you current staff. We Tech fans hope Richt stays forever.

Gordon

November 24th, 2009
11:11 am

I’m a Tech fan, but I have to agree with Joe above. And if you asked CPJ, he would agree. I’ve heard him say many times “We haven’t won anything yet.”

The one thing that Joe and other UGA fans do have to realize, and that Mark stated very well, is this: the fear is gone. That feeling that something will always go wrong and in the end we have no conrol over the outcome when we play UGA has been with Tech for decades now. CPJ knows he will not win every game, but he expects to win every game. There is a difference. Do you think Mark Richt believes that in his heart with Florida? And even if UGA wasn’t having the problems they are now, he would feel exactly the same way. He just isn’t afraid to win.

Ramblinwreck83

November 24th, 2009
11:11 am

I won’t go as far as to say that UGA is in a complete decline, but this was a bad season for them on all accounts by players not making plays and coaches failing their players. I fully expect UGA to be much better next season and this rivalry to be a good one for years to come.

Oh Yeah, Joe. You should down grade the victory from last year because the shoe has been on the other foot before. Tech beat a team by all accounts should’ve won that game and probably had the better team especially with a preseason #1 ranking. Offense and Defense are all part of the game, whether one plays bad or not. If you remember, Tech’s defense gave up 42 points in that game.

Buzz Belle

November 24th, 2009
11:11 am

Shane – If an 18 year old can’t take a cuss word from a coach (and Paul didn’t cuss out the guy), then why do we allow 18 year olds to fight in wars? With guns?

RAMBLE ON!!!

November 24th, 2009
11:12 am

Shane, thanks for the dumbest post I”ve read all week.

Denver Dawg

November 24th, 2009
11:13 am

not sure about this. I’m old enough to remember when Pepper Rodgers supposedly had Dooley’s number. The end result? We throw the Bumbles a win or two every decade, and the overall series record continues to grow in our favor. CPJ = flavor of the month. YAWN.

Heath

November 24th, 2009
11:13 am

PJ doesn’t walk so much as stries? Good Lord, Mark, you sound like my daughters talking about the boys in the Twilight movies. Do you have his poster on your bedroom wall and practice kissing it at night?

Pathetic.

Johnson Dreams about Being Like Coach Richt....

November 24th, 2009
11:15 am

Here’s why the 3 points Ga Tech won’t change anything, Georgia staff: Bob, Matrtinez, Richt, they’re stout Bro:
http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2009/11/23/a-very-short-post-about-a-very-big-topic-ugas-coaching/comment-page-6/

Shane

November 24th, 2009
11:15 am

Your welcome

GaTech87

November 24th, 2009
11:15 am

It really must be that obvious to everyone. The worm has turned. The golden years of UGAy football are over. Every year, from now on, UGAy will start out knowing they have 2 losses.

GT will not lose on Saturday…

Anna

November 24th, 2009
11:15 am

Shane, parents aren’t going to let their kids go play football for someone who will yell at them? Seriously?

go tech

November 24th, 2009
11:16 am

Great article Mark. Somehow winning changes everything.

Alpharetta Dawg

November 24th, 2009
11:16 am

MB…what an idiot! Last year UGA will be national champs and now this year GT and PJ are the next coming? Does UGA suck this year…YES! Is GT having a good year…YES! Is this a sign of the future…NO! I guess USC and Pete Carroll are now are losers and soon will go winless too.

GT & PJ were awesome for beating UGA last year…same team same coach so what were they after the LSU game????

The bottom line is CMR and PJ are proven winners and will have great years and not so great years. To take a single year or two or few games and draw broad conculsions shows your ignorance.

Will GT beat UGA soundly Saturday…probably but it means absolutely nothing for the future except that Martinez will get a one way ticket out of town!

Heath

November 24th, 2009
11:17 am

Wonder if CPJ will be offered a job at a real school if the NATS win a BCS game this year?

Darrell

November 24th, 2009
11:17 am

Paul Johnson knows more about football than Mark Richt and Willie combined. It will show Saturday.

1 Loss = Bad Coach for Future?

November 24th, 2009
11:18 am

Did the La Tech change anything for Saban’s Bama? 41-0 loss change anything for Meyer’s Gators? Did the 35-7 Texas Tech loss change anything for Bear Bryant?

GatorinGrenada

November 24th, 2009
11:18 am

Reminds me a lot of the crap Bradley wrote after Georgia beat the Gators in 2007. About how the Bulldogs had changed the dynamics of the series with that win and how he expected the series to shift towards UGA dominance.

As the Gators proved, Bradley is not a very good prognosticator of things to come. How could he be when he attended Kentucky, a school that is lost on the football field?

I’m a Gator but I’m going to throw Georgia a bone here. Last years score means nothing. When Georgia loses this year its because Tech has a better team. It will not be an indicator of things to come. When Tech has actually begun to dominate Georgia like the Gators have, you write this article.

Shane

November 24th, 2009
11:18 am

All im saying is its a matter of time before Paul Johnson pulls a Bobby Knight and chokes or slaps a kid. Its not a matter of if its when.

EW

November 24th, 2009
11:19 am

Not really liking the fact that the Dogs will be prepping their Defense (or whatever you call what Slick Willie does during the week) over the Thanksgiving holiday. Lord knows we need every minute of practice and prep for the option attack. I see no reason why we won’t be down two scores in the first quarter.

Cuz

November 24th, 2009
11:19 am

Just in case I have not said it enough in the previous 51 weeks, Tech won last year.

On paper it looks like the Dawgs have no chance, maybe, maybe not. As a member in good standing of the Sightless Dead Greek Poets Society, I believe my team can win any game. That ball bounces funny.

It will be fun to finnally just play the game and let the chips fall where they may. I just pray for a good game, no personal foul late hits and no career ending injuries for the players.

Tech you have a good man in PJ. I hope you can keep him. If you want to be the best you have to play the best and right now, PJ is one of the best. I will be pulling for you in Tampa, this weekend, not so much.