This we know: Georgia Tech folks obsess over Georgia. (An unkind reference to UGA is included in the song “Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.”) And it’s beyond dispute that the Jackets lost to the Mutts (another unkind reference) in Athens on Saturday. And yet …
Tech people walked away from that game feeling good about themselves, which never happens when Tech loses to Georgia in any sport. But it happened this time. It happened because Techies, who pride themselves on brainpower, were tickled at having outsmarted Big Brother.
OK, I know what you Bulldogs are saying. I’ve read the responses to this little missive from late last night. To paraphrase the stance of (some) Georgia folks: “If Paul Johnson is such a genius, how come he lost to Mark Richt again? Isn’t the name of the game to win?”
Well, yes. But there can be honor in defeat, especially when the defeat is so hard-fought and cleverly wrought. There can be no denying that the Jackets were the aggressor throughout and the stronger side up front. Those 411 yards rushing weren’t wisps of smoke. (Fun fact: The Jackets ran for two more yards against Todd Grantham’s million-dollar defense than they had against the one misguided by Willie Martinez in the epic upset of 2008. And this time they did it, as I’m guessing you’re aware, without Joshua Nesbitt.)
Urban Meyer, my role model in all things, believes the measure of a coach is how his team fares “when the checkers are equal.” The checkers weren’t anywhere close to equal Saturday night — even Tech people fully expected their team to get blown out — and the Jackets were a PAT from a tie inside the final five minutes. Georgia made three mistakes (two turnovers and a botched kickoff) that yielded no Tech points, while three Tech fumbles spawned three Bulldog touchdowns … and still the Jackets kept coming.
Full credit to the Bulldogs for making the requisite plays at the end, but fuller credit must go to Johnson and his Jackets: They got nearly the maximum from their diminished resources on a night when Georgia’s best player, the sublime A.J. Green, could be seen running out of bounds three yards short of a first down when the score was 0-0. (Georgia scored on the next play, Kris Durham’s catch-and-run, but still.)
And when the careening game finally seemed lost, that rascal Johnson conjured up one last way to make it winnable. He ordered cornerback Jerrard Tarrant to tell the other Jacket defenders, “Let ‘em score.” A Tech employee standing on the sideline heard this exchange and was terrified the Bulldogs would catch on to this strategic bit of jujitsu, but they didn’t. Washaun Ealey burst through the line and kept going and everyone in red and black got really excited — for five seconds. Then they realized they’d been snookered.
Said Richt: “We didn’t coach very good there. We got outcoached right there. It was good strategy by Coach Johnson. I thought [when it happened], ‘He got us there. He got me.’ ”
Said Johnson, almost shrugging: “It was the only way we could win the game.”
In the end his team lost, but the same Tech man who’d told me after the Jackets’ uninspiring defeat of Duke that he fully dreaded Saturday night in Athens was positively giddy in this losing aftermath. And another Tech man, the former captain Taz Anderson, sent this e-mail 18 minutes after the final whistle: “Tonight you saw a great football coach take a group that has little talent and keep them in a game where they were clearly overmatched.”
OK, I know what (some of) you Bulldogs are saying to that: “They’re Techies and they lost– who cares what they think?” And under other circumstances I might agree. But after this wild night I’d suggest both sides saw the same game, which is to say an on-paper mismatch that became an on-field white-knuckler. And I’d also ask this: When was the last time Georgia’s coach worked a game that good?