Tech in 2012: It’s a chance for Paul Johnson to look smart

That's Paul Johnson on the right, in case you wondered. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

That's Paul Johnson on the right, in case you wondered. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

On the morning of Nov. 28, 2009, Paul Johnson was poised to become the unchallenged king of football in a state that takes the sport seriously. He was 19-5 in two seasons as Georgia Tech’s coach. That night his Jackets would play Georgia, whom they’d famously beaten 45-42 in Athens the year before.

Tech was 10-1, ranked No. 7 nationally and champion of the ACC Coastal Division. Georgia was 6-5, having just lost at home to Kentucky. Not since George O’Leary was working against Jim Donnan had Tech beaten the Bulldogs twice in a row – Chan Gailey, O’Leary’s successor, hadn’t done it even once – and now Johnson was roundly favored to make it 2-for-2 against the hated Mutts.

But Georgia won. The Bulldogs pounded the Jackets on the ground, and Tech’s final chance was wasted when Demaryius Thomas dropped a fourth-down pass. For Tech and for Johnson, nothing since has been nearly as good.

From Johnson’s 19-5 start, Tech has gone 15-14. (The sweetest of those 15 on-the-field victories – the 2009 ACC championship game over Clemson – was vacated by NCAA sanctions involving Thomas’ eligibility.) Tech went 6-7 in 2010, 8-5 last season after starting 6-0. Tech hasn’t beaten Georgia since 2008 and hasn’t won a bowl game under Johnson. All of which means …

This is a mighty big year for Tech and its coach.

The first blush of success has faded. The big names Johnson inherited from Gailey are gone. Tech hasn’t fallen to pieces — on Oct. 15, 2011, it was ranked No. 12 in the land, and two weeks later it would beat No. 6 Clemson by two touchdowns – but it hasn’t consolidated the gains of 2008 and 2009.

Which isn’t to say it’s in complete retreat. Tech has been picked to finish second in the ACC Coastal Division, and if the Jackets can beat Virginia Tech on Labor Day night in Blacksburg they’ll become the front-runner. (The Tech-Tech winner has taken the Coastal every year of its existence.)

Speaking at Tech’s media convocation Saturday, Johnson nodded to his opener and also beyond, to early games against Virginia and Miami. “Clearly the month of September is going to be huge,” he said. “We may be the only team in America with three division games in September.” (Actually, it’s not the only team in Georgia that does. Check UGA’s schedule.)

The Jackets have an incumbent quarterback in Tevin Washington, an excellent A-back in Orwin Smith and a defense that has, in two seasons under coordinator Al Groh, made incremental improvement. Johnson called this team the deepest “since I’ve been here,” but depth isn’t to be mistaken for top-end talent.

Going on available manpower, this wouldn’t seem much different than last season’s team, or 2010’s. Once again, Tech isn’t apt to out-talent many ACC opponents. If you handed this roster to another coach, you would hope he could bleed out six wins. But Johnson by himself constitutes a mighty X-factor.

He is, as has been noted, a really good coach. He’s capable of winning games you’d swear he shouldn’t. (Clemson last season is the most recent example, though Clemson offers the flip side of that X: On any given Saturday, it can lose to just about anybody and yield 70 points in the process.) Johnson has always come across as the smartest guy in the room, and through the 2008 season and most of 2009 he seemed the sharpest coach in this state.

But those seasons were a while ago, and the clock’s ticking. Georgia Tech has again assumed also-ran status in the not-exactly-top-heavy ACC and, having lost three consecutive in-state collisions, is again staring up at the Bulldogs. This remains a proud and resourceful program, but it could stand a jolt.

That jolt could arrive Labor Day night. (Full disclosure: I think it will.) Even as Johnson tried to downplay the Virginia Tech game – “Is it the end-all be-all to the season? I would doubt it,” he said Saturday – there’s no doubting the opportunity it presents. It’s a big game on the road against a brand-name opponent, which means it’s a prime-time chance for Paul Johnson to remind us he’s still Paul Johnson.

By Mark Bradley

454 comments Add your comment

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

stevie zero

August 4th, 2012
4:29 pm

clayfield

August 4th, 2012
4:29 pm

This is going to be a very good year for the Jackets. Get by VTech and the sky is the limit.

stevie zero

August 4th, 2012
4:31 pm

mark, i shall predict tech has an average season untill the bulldogs stomp them at the end. as per usual..

Intellectual Ninja

August 4th, 2012
4:34 pm

Funny, how you don’t mention Johnson’s record when teams have more than one week to prepare for his particular brand of “genius.”

Let’s just say, if the Bugs played EVERY team coming off a bye week with their gimmick high school offense, they’d go 0-12 under their “genius” coach.

The Bugs are what they’ve always been. An irritant who just don’t matter much in the big scheme of things, and their coach is nothing but an over-stuffed, puffed-up, bad-mannered, arrogant ass.

jj

August 4th, 2012
4:36 pm

Johnson sure did get a lot of mileage out of a 3 point victory over the Dawgs. Johnson has turned out to be
just another underachieving Tech coach.

Jacket Man

August 4th, 2012
4:36 pm

Excellant observations…outside serious injuries to the already depleted offensive line and then Joshua Nesbibitt getting hurt his final season, those numbers might look a bit different, however. Then add in the fact the team was breaking in a new QB, Wide Receiver(s), & RB, and switching base defenses, I would suggest that we look at the games lost and see how many they were truly “out of” during this stretch. A few plays could have gone another way, without key injuries in place for example, and the record could be much better. Also, where have the Jackets placed in their Division since Paul Johnson has been on campus, and has the team had a chance to win it every year he’s been here in spite of everything? How many other coaches could pull this off?

Hate Those Georgie Boys

August 4th, 2012
4:45 pm

Not only will the 2012 season make Coach Johnson look smart, it will make Mark Bradley look pretty darn smart for writing this piece. I’m one GT fan who thinks we’re in for a great season. I hate making predictions on the blog however. Each time we fans do that the Georgie Boys want to come along and bash us. And, do I EVER LOVE CHICK’FIL’A and what the owner stands for!!!

Mark Bradley

August 4th, 2012
5:00 pm

Kudos, stevie 0.

keyser soze

August 4th, 2012
5:04 pm

@Jacket Man…every team has its own particular set of Ifs-and-buts, and none of them matter. The record is what it is. Doesn’t take away anything from Johnson’s abilities, though.

Looking at the state of Georgia I don’t see any perfect team out there, but I can easily see both Tech and UGA winning their respective divisions, warts and all.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

heeldawg

August 4th, 2012
5:20 pm

CPJ is a great on-the-field coach. Not just good; he’s truly gifted. However, he is not a great recruiter, and the talent deficit (especially on defense) is why he has not been able to beat Georgia on any consistent basis. Ironically, Chan Gailey was a better recruiter, which is why CPJ’s first couple of teams were so good. The 2009 loss to Georgia was one of the few times in recent years when a Mark Richt’s coaching staff actually out-schemed an opponent; by detecting that Tech’s run D was weak, they played ball control and denied the Jackets the offensive opportunities they needed to win that game.

The Dawgs face the Tech offense two weeks in a row this season (they play Georgia Southern as a tuneup for the Tech game, in a stroke of minor scheduling genius), and the Dawg D will be the best defense the Jackets will face this season. These variables do not bode well for the Yellow Jackets in the Clean Old-Fashioned hate contest. I agree that Tech beats VT to win their ACC division this season in a battle of division-winners, as I also feel that the Dawgs will win the SEC East, but Georgia will extend CPJ’s in-state misery another year with a rather convincing Bulldog win.

GT Fan

August 4th, 2012
5:22 pm

“Let’s just say, if the Bugs played EVERY team coming off a bye week with their gimmick high school offense, they’d go 0-12 under their “genius” coach.”

Glad we could get the dumbest possible quote out of the way early. Every team would have trouble if every opponent got an extra week to study every game. Even your beloved Bulldogs.

ToeMeetsLeather

August 4th, 2012
5:24 pm

This is a big year for CPJ. As he has said, now everyone on the team knows what they signed up for and yes, he does not have the four or five star type players he inherited from Gailey, but this is the most talented two deep TECH has been in a long time. His recruits are becoming upper classmen and all of the talent that he has been able to reshirt is about to pay dividends. The true CPJ era begins this year. We will now just have to see how that era plays its self out.

techsux

August 4th, 2012
5:25 pm

Lo clayfield, the sky is the limit? Sorry, for the ACC the limit is the orange bowl

Tech Engineer

August 4th, 2012
5:27 pm

Has anyone noticed UGA’s schedule? Richt has scheduled Ga. Southern the week before playing Tech. Southern uses the same triple option as Tech. This means UGA has two weeks to prepare for Tech. They will play Southern and have a week to make adjustments. Richt is a genuis.He has also recruited big defensive ends to stop the option. He noticed that after every big loss, PJ says, “We couldn’t block their big defensive ends”. I don’t like our chances against the dogs.

Really, don't think so

August 4th, 2012
5:28 pm

Been watching CPJ for 15 years, he runs the same offense that my HS ran in 1975. Probably learned everything he knows from his HS Coach. With the new blocking rules he will struggle even more this year. I predict 6 wins. All you Tech Fans write that number down and put it under your pillow cause it’s better than 5 wins.

Intellectual Ninja

August 4th, 2012
5:28 pm

GT Fan, the Dawgs would have a problem beating every team if they had a bye every week before they faced them, sure, but they wouldn’t lose EVERY game.

But Johnson’s tenure at Bugland shows they would. The facts are the facts. Given more than one week to prepare for that gimmick high school offense, and teams beat the Bugs… EVERY TIME.

The only thing about Johnson that is “genius” is his ability to be a boorish ass. He’s a genius at that.

WnE

August 4th, 2012
5:30 pm

Simple math people.

In 08 & 09 thanks to Gailey’s Recruiting CPJ had 5-6 future NFL Guys on each side of the ball.

Thanks to his own weak Recruiting efforts, GT is lucky to have 1-2 future NFL guys on each side of the ball, this “talent drain” is something that the CPJ boot-licking-toadies refuses to recognize.

It comes down to a talent drain, and all the “X’n & O’n” won’t overcome a serious lack of talent, even in a weak conference like the ACC.

The WR’s are weaker. the RBs overall are weaker even with Orwin, the Defense is much weaker, especially the DL that had 4 future NFL guys when CPJ arrived, whereas now we might end up with zero future NFL guys off of this DL.

The talent drain is everywhere you look, it cannot be denied.

ToeMeetsLeather

August 4th, 2012
5:32 pm

heeldawg, you are correct about the 09′ game. Although It helped the dawgs that we lost our best defensive tackle for the game on the opening possession and Nesbitt went out for three or four series after a twisted knee some how took place in the pile.

GFF

August 4th, 2012
5:32 pm

Paul Johnson’s offense will generally get Tech around 6-8 wins per year in a very average ACC. Very simply put, if a defense can take away Tech’s dive play up the middle, Tech’s offense usually struggles. From a Georgia perspective, I’ve always been surprised/happy when Johnson panicks late in games vs, UGA and starts throwing the ball.

wes

August 4th, 2012
5:47 pm

Tech wasn’t even all that great in 09′ (their offense was but it was one of the WORST defenses..if not the worst..in Tech history).

Having said that, UGA really paid us back big time in 09′.

Everyone keeps saying Paul Johnson hasn’t recruited well. WELL…he’s finally recruited some outstanding talent at quarterback and both are freshmen (one redshirted last year) so I don’t think this year is an end-all be-all year for someone as accomplished as Coach Johnson.

Still, it should be a very interesting year and Tech will find out what it’s made of early on.

wes

August 4th, 2012
5:52 pm

One more thing…the talent Coach Johnson has brought in on defense will definitely show its merits this upcoming season…..and the AJC still probably won’t recognize that fact. Mark mentioned “incremental progress” on defense. Do you think that happened by chance or did CPJ not recruit any of these guys, WNE/Bradley?

1eyedJack

August 4th, 2012
5:52 pm

“Johnson has always come across as the smartest guy in the room….”

And then you actually see him and say, Nah, he’s just a big ol’ goofy galoot.

Supersize that order, mutt

August 4th, 2012
5:58 pm

@ Intellectual Ninja…..you may THINK you are intellectual, but in fact you are pretty damn dumb. Other than the bowl games, how about naming one team who had a week off that beat the Jackets? The dwags had a week off in 2008, and we see what happened there. They haven’t had a week of before the Tech game since then. I’m not going to the trouble of looking it up, but since you made this stupid claim, back it up, bubba

Supersize that order, mutt

August 4th, 2012
5:59 pm

@1eyedJack……have you ever SEEN CPJ in person? He may LOOK sort of down-home or what you call goofy, but you talk to him and you know immediately, he is no dummy

1eyedJack

August 4th, 2012
6:05 pm

“@1eyedJack……have you ever SEEN CPJ in person?”

Can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure. I’ve only been able to admire him from afar. That may be why I can’t tell how smart he is.

Ol'JacketFan

August 4th, 2012
6:09 pm

In my opinion this year year can be a very good one for the Jackets. Experienced and deep O Line, experienced QB and Running Backs(with depth) and size and talent at WR but inexperienced. Between Jeremy Moore, Chris Jackson, Darren Waller and Jeff Green I think one or two will step up and be reliable receivers. As has been demonstrated with all of CPJ’s teams, offense will not be a problem.

Defensively, the Jackets have to have better D line play. I think the pieces are there for a much better line than we’ve seen in the last couple of years. The LBs are talented and experienced as are the DBs. No significant issues there.

Special teams should be better with the hiring of a full time special teams coach and a new emphasis on the 3rd part of a complete football team.

Looking at the schedule I see 8-9 wins as almost a lock. The remaining 3-4 games are going to be the one that will make or break the season. VT, Clemson. Miami and GA are the ones I see as toss up games and only one of those games are at home. VT will be tough but they have almost an entirely new offense debuting, Miami has had our number but it is a program in turmoil and lots of lost talent, Clemson at death valley is always a challenge and GA is GA, talented and at home. If Tech can split these games they are looking at a 10 win season in my opinion and if fate smiles on them an even better season will result.

Go Jackets!

Pulitzer Prediction Prize

August 4th, 2012
6:11 pm

Mark Bradley predicted GT would win 8 games last season,
and GT won 8 games.

big gt fan

August 4th, 2012
6:13 pm

tech may when 7 games but if they play their best players they will win 9 or 10 c.perkins, v.lee,j.days,s.days. another thing move j.c. lanier to nose guard if not going contribute on o line

Intellectual Ninja

August 4th, 2012
6:14 pm

Supersized Dummy…

In 2009, Miami had 10 days to prepare for Man-Boobs… LOSS for Bugland.

In 2010, NC State had 9 days to prepare for the “genius”… LOSS.

In 2010, VA Tech had 12 days to prepare for the gimmick offense… LOSS.

In 2010, Georgia had 14 days to prepare for NATS… LOSS.

In 2011, Virginia had 14 days to prepare for the Bugs… LOSS.

In 2011, VA Tech had 12 days to prepare for I’ve run out of names… LOSS.

Add that up with 4 bowl losses, and Man-Boobs Genius Johnson has lost TEN TIMES since 2009 to teams with more than 7 days to prepare.

So, in his first season, he pretty much caught everyone by surprise with the gimmick.

After that, give even the average DC’s of the ACC more than 7 days to prepare their teams, and it equals and automatic LOSS for the Bugs.

Got anything else to say, Supersize Dummy?

flamboyant fan

August 4th, 2012
6:16 pm

It seems like since after going 9-4 and 11-3,
Al Groh has slowed down the show.

Supersize that order, mutt

August 4th, 2012
6:16 pm

@ 1eyedJack…. CPJ is living proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The CPJ haters like to trash him for just about everything, including his appearance. But to be a head coach at any college in America means you’re no dummy. Hell, even Danny Ford looked and often acted pretty dumb, but he sure as hell wasn’t. The same can be said of Yabba Dabba Sweeney too, although his coaching abilities are still suspect.

Supersize that order, mutt

August 4th, 2012
6:19 pm

Ninja, it’s not worth my time to check the rest but in 2010, Tech ran for 300+ yards against the dwags, scored 34 points and would have won the game except for a missed extra point. Yeah, that week off really helped you, didn’t it?

1eyedJack

August 4th, 2012
6:23 pm

Much of Danny Ford’s brilliance was purchased. After being ejected from Clemson he never seemed quite so bright.

NCAA FAN

August 4th, 2012
6:27 pm

Mark not a Tech fan (Clemson alum) but I love college football and likely follow it far more avidly than yourself. I do not see this season as the year that Johnson has to show his stuff. That is still a year away. My reasoning…Most of the Georgia Tech team returns again next year, the home schedule next year includes GT’s biggest rivals (this year those are all road games), and UGA will likely fall behind South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Yes….even Vanderbilt next year and will likely be ripe for the picking by Tech as well. UGA simply loses too much talent after this season with many of their juniors also likely going to NFL. Biggest hurdles next year…of course will be CLEMSON.

Supersize that order, mutt

August 4th, 2012
6:28 pm

Ninja……yes, we lost those games you listed, and yes, the other teams had off weeks prior to playing us. But except for the 2009 Miami game, it wasn’t the opponents’ defenses that beat Tech, it was Tech’s lack of defense. Nobody, other than Iowa and LSU has stopped Johnson’s offense yet, and certainly not the dwags. Hell, even last year, as poorly as Tech played in the second half, we had just shy of 300 yards offense in the first half.

GTBob

August 4th, 2012
6:28 pm

It is a big year for CPJ and the most important game of the season is the first one. Lose that game and the rest of the season will more then likely be a consolation prize. My prediction is that we lose that game but go 9-3 overall. Not a bad season, but nothing great either. I think we will be better setup for 2013 then this year.

Jacket Dad

August 4th, 2012
6:30 pm

Hope this is a season of upswing for GT. Should be better, but they are going to need to come together and overachieve. I do think Johnson is a good coach, but needs to open things up a bit….but not sure that’s in his plans.

Go Jackets!!!!

Supersize that order, mutt

August 4th, 2012
6:30 pm

Ninja, with the exception of the 2009 Miami game, all those games were lost because of Tech’s BAD defense, not because the other teams stopped Tech’s offense. The only two teams that have actually contained Tech’s running game were Iowa and LSU. As poorly as Tech played against UGA in the second half last year, we still had just shy of 300 yards offense against you in the first half.

Ol'JacketFan

August 4th, 2012
6:31 pm

Not to put too fine a point on things, if one looks back at the losses Tech has since CPJ came on board the vast majority have been due to defensive shortcomings not offensive woes. By no means am I laying every loss on the defense but, by far and away, the losses have comes because Tech could not get a stop when it would make the difference between a W and a L.

lxUn1c0

August 4th, 2012
6:36 pm

Guys, Intellectual Ninja is doing statistical gymnastics to desperately validate his own opinion. He has cherry-picked examples without giving any context or including contradictory data points. The key is equitable preparation time:

http://atlanta.sbnation.com/georgia-tech-yellow-jackets/2011/10/11/2484011/georgia-tech-vs-virginia-bye-week-off

Note the date. The statistics may have changed slightly since mid-October, but they still make the same point.

Eddie

August 4th, 2012
6:41 pm

I don’t understand this ’smartest guy’ line that Bradley has taken since PJ started. Just because PJ is able to dazzle Bradley doesn’t make him smart. He’s a good coach. Most D1 coaches are or they wouldn’t have a job. Funny how the standard and writing approach is so different for the two schools.

Dawg'88

August 4th, 2012
6:42 pm

Dawgs Still Run This State…Mark Richt Owns Yech.

PJ was a genius because he won once vs UGA. And yet CMR gets slammed here often by Yech fans, the ajc, and even UGA fans at times. He is of course 9-1 vs Yech. So that makes him pretty damn smart too. Richt doesn’t need to “look smart”….He is smart. PJ doesn’t “look smart” and he is not the genius he is made out to be.

Can you say Domination!

UGA 89

August 4th, 2012
6:42 pm

Dawg'88

August 4th, 2012
6:46 pm

How smart is he if he loses to UGA again?

Mark it down…Mark Richt will be 10-1 vs Yech after 2012.

But PJ doesn’t care…he has said so. Mark Richt knows how important it is to win the Yech game. PJ: “We have bigger fish to fry”…Really? How good is the ACC if a bad Georgia team can beat Yech in 2009 and yet he has bigger fish to fry?

UGA will enjoy another fish fry in November.

Dawg Bite

August 4th, 2012
6:48 pm

I for one wish Tech well, except for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I do not understand why my UGA friends come on here bashing the Jackets. Yea, I know, GT BOB and a few others do it on UGA blogs as well. But, I live by the code of, “Good, Clean Old Fashion Hate” theory in that I wish all of our state teams well except when we play against each other. GA guys that call CPJ’s offense as being HS, and we may win the games, but they gouge us and everyone else for a ton of yards on the ground. I live 42 miles from the Clemson campus, and to hear all of them talk you would think that they are going to be world beaters this year and years to come. I hope that Tech can shut them up when they travel to “Death Valley ” this fall. Good luck to the Jackets this season, except one!

Dawg'88

August 4th, 2012
6:50 pm

Mistake above…an even better record vs Yech awaits:

Richt will be 11-1 after the 2012 game.
PJ? He will be 1-4 vs UGA. Enjoy.

UGA 89

August 4th, 2012
6:51 pm

Supersize…I’ll trust what you are saying because I don’t watch GT football except when they play my Dawgs but remember, last year’s game CMR and CMB shut our offense down completely at the beginning of the 3rd quarter because we were up big at halftime. We were just playing “keep away”.

4GT

August 4th, 2012
6:53 pm

I like CPJ’s moves this off season.

One way CPJ out-smarted Mark Richt, is he went out and hired a full time Special Teams Coach.

This required eating his pride, something Mark Richt isn’t able to do.

I’d suspect that one move will swing the series back to CPJ.

And the full time Special Team Coach will reult in 2 more wins per season.

Another BRILLIANT move by CPJ.

Go Jackets!