Paul Johnson’s offense isn’t hurting Tech; his approach is

Paul Johnson on Saturday: Another close game, another rough loss. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Paul Johnson on Saturday: Another close game, another loss. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Because Paul Johnson’s stylized offense has become the public image of Georgia Tech football, it’s tempting to blame his creation whenever Tech loses. (Which, not incidentally, it has done seven times in its past 11 games.) But here’s where numbers rear their pesky head. The Jackets scored 36 points and gained 419 yards against Miami on Saturday. And we pin this loss on the offense?

Right about here, you’re probably expecting some Al-Groh-has-to-go screed. If so, you’ll be disappointed. Has this coordinator elevated Tech’s defense? Those 42 points and 609 yards yielded Saturday are all the answers we need, but to finger Groh and the D is to miss the bigger picture. What’s dragging Tech back to mediocrity is …

Paul Johnson.

Yes, he’s the same coach who went 20-7 his first two seasons here, beating Georgia in Year 1 and winning the ACC title (since vacated) in Year 2. That’s the trouble: He’s still the same coach, and he’s coaching the same way.

Whenever you’d see Johnson’s teams at Georgia Southern or Navy, your first thought was, “What it would look like if you ran that offense with real Division I-A talent?” For two years we saw. We saw Joshua Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas and this offense score 45 points in Athens and 49 in Tallahassee and 39 against Clemson in the ACC championship game, and we hailed Johnson for taking Chan Gailey’s players and winning bigger than Gailey ever had.

Then Gailey’s players began to leave, as college players will. From the 20-7 of those two giddy seasons, Tech has since gone 16-14 overall, 10-9 in ACC play. An even more salient stat: With Nesbitt as starting quarterback, Tech was 23-11; since Nesbitt broke his arm at Virginia Tech in November 2010, Tech is 11-10.

That sounds like an indictment of Tevin Washington, who succeeded Nesbitt. It’s really not. Washington isn’t the player Nesbitt was, but that isn’t his fault. The greater issue is that Tech football functions less as a total program and more as a front for Johnson’s stylized offense. In 2008 and 2009, that offense had so many good players it could overcome most any failing anywhere else. Without those players, the whole operation has suffered.

Oh, the offense still functions. Tech ranks 19th nationally in total yardage, 13th in scoring, third in rushing yards. But the offense couldn’t kill the clock — you’d think a running team would be able to kill the clock — with a 17-point lead against Miami, and by the final frantic minutes the Jackets’ defenders, who aren’t to be confused with Alabama on their best day, were covering nobody and missing every tackle. For the third time in five games, Tech couldn’t hold a late lead and was forced to overtime. For the third time in those three overtimes, the offense couldn’t score a touchdown.

We flash back to Nov. 7, 2009. Tech had seen Wake Forest score late to force OT. The Deacons took the ball first and kicked a field goal. Tech faced fourth-and-1 at the 3. After considerable lobbying from Nesbitt, Johnson chose to go for the first down. Nesbitt converted. He scored the winning touchdown on the next snap. He did those sort of things.

On Saturday, Johnson eschewed an overtime field goal and saw Washington stopped on fourth-and-inches. Same coach, same bold choice. Different players, different result.

Those who criticize the scheme have it backwards. If you took these same players and put them in a pro-style offense, Tech might finish next-to-last in its division. Johnson’s offense is the only thing that makes Tech worth mentioning. (Lest we forget, that offense stacked 56 points and 594 yards on Virginia only nine days ago.) But Johnson is not just some scheming offensive coordinator: He’s the head coach of a proud and distinguished program, and too often it seems the program exists only to prop up his offense.

Johnson might think recruiting rankings don’t matter — he has said as much — but we’re seeing now the limits of a team that has talent closer to Georgia Southern’s than, say, Georgia’s. So long as Johnson can outsmart somebody and his offense can run free, Tech can win. But you can’t outsmart everybody, and the better teams won’t let that offense go unchecked. So then it’s down to execution, and Tech has lost five of its past six games decided by 10 or fewer points. The exception came against Duke.

Johnson might say his team is two plays away from being 4-0 and leading its division, and he’d be correct. But plays must be made by players, and Tech doesn’t have enough of those. What it does have is a stylized offense. And that’s about all.

By Mark Bradley

515 comments Add your comment

Man Boobs

September 24th, 2012
3:32 pm

The Paul Johnson experiment may be over

Dawglasville

September 24th, 2012
3:34 pm

Wow. You are going to get blog punched.

GTGrad

September 24th, 2012
3:35 pm

Wonderlicker

September 24th, 2012
3:35 pm

Tech just ain’t no gooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

sidslid

September 24th, 2012
3:36 pm

First time for first?

tommy

September 24th, 2012
3:37 pm

I disagree somewhat

Dawglasville

September 24th, 2012
3:38 pm

I’ve said the same thing. As the head coach he has to be responsible for everything that goes on. It seems as long as the offense is putting up great stats he doesn’t feel like anything else falls on his shoulders. Now that you have put this down in black and white, you may not be allowed around him again with a microphone. I think the man is an incredible offensive coach. Imagine how good his offenses would be if all he had to do was coach and recruit kids to run that system.

Al Groh a set

September 24th, 2012
3:38 pm

Defense is bad

Stinger 2

September 24th, 2012
3:38 pm

Mark: I won`t disagree with what you wrote. However, what is the solution? Better recruiting is what it seems like you were getting to or is it the 3-4 defense that does not work? Or is it both?

JF McNamara

September 24th, 2012
3:39 pm

Pretty good assessment. We need a QB like Tommie Frazier and some backs like Ahman Green or Lawrence Phllips (without the drama) and some top grade defensive players, but those guys don’t seem to be in the offing. Average talent is yielding slightly better than average results.

paulyJ

September 24th, 2012
3:39 pm

Nothing wrong with the offense in my opinion, they can put up numbers. It’s the defense that’s the problem. Teams shouldn’t be able to score on you in less than a minute…

Go Jackets

September 24th, 2012
3:40 pm

He’s a .500 coach with an outdated offense. He hasnt won a bowl game, and he is 1-4 gainst VT, Miami, and soon to be Ugag……..stick a fork in the Fish fry and lets move on. Hes had 5 years…..

Dawglasville

September 24th, 2012
3:40 pm

That said I would not be shocked if they beat Clemson and run the rest of their ACC games.

GTBob

September 24th, 2012
3:42 pm

I disagree that CPJ is the same coach. If he was then we would have gone for it on 4th and 1 in regulation. He probably didn’t even want to go for it in OT but really had no choice. His biggest problem is that he has no idea what to do with a lead. He starts running B-Back dives every play and then forces the defense to get a stop which it never can. If he had the same fire he used to have then he would put a team away, not run and hide when he has a lead.

tooltime234

September 24th, 2012
3:42 pm

Agreed Dawglassville. One of the most schizophrenic teams i’ve ever seen for the last few years

Wonderlicker

September 24th, 2012
3:44 pm

There has to be a quarterback out there that can run and pass.

Dawglasville

September 24th, 2012
3:45 pm

tooltime234 – I would say the Clemson with Dabo may take that trophy.

wes

September 24th, 2012
3:45 pm

Overeact much, Mark?

Last 3 losses were in overtime. Geeze. Tech is 2 tackles away from being undefeated right now. You make it sound like the program is in shambles.

Paul Johnson’s problem was that he hasn’t recruited an awesome quarterback in his first 2 seasons. He now has two 4 star guys (one’s a R-Fr and the other is a true freshman) at quarterback.

Blame him all you want for the slow start recruiting quarterbacks, but you can’t say he cannot land them because he has.

Always a Jacket

September 24th, 2012
3:45 pm

Recruiting ratings are up under Johnson. But no playmakers or QB. No QB was the end of Chan. Not only lack of recruiting, but offense is predictable and stale as conference foes are familiar with his system. Al Groh is too easy of a target. It’s Johnson’s program and it has reached its potential.

BW

September 24th, 2012
3:45 pm

I don’t disagree at all Mark.

GStateBen

September 24th, 2012
3:46 pm

And out of those 16 wins post Nesbitt, 5 have come against Presbyterian, Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee State (twice) and South Carolina State.

Those are not BCS schools. His recruiting tactics are laughable and have set his program back.

Time for Tech to make a decision if Johnson is the “Perfect Option.”

Willie Coyote

September 24th, 2012
3:47 pm

PJ is an offensive coordinator, not a head coach.

I always said, his offense isn’t what will cause him to fail, it is his stubbornness. They continue to put up points and yards but they fail to make plays when they need to. We have had too many games won over the past two – three years only to lose. Players take some blame too but players have changed here and there; the constant is PJ.

Our defense was a total fail and has been for a while but it doesn’t help when you won’t substitute some defensive linemen in here and there. There are constant breakdowns in coverage and terrible tackling. Even worse than the tackling is the fact that we don’t substitute in fresh defensive linemen so our guys are exhausted in the 4th quarter. Also, Al Groh’s 3-4 is the most passive version I have ever seen. When we attack, we do well; too bad we sit back most of the time instead.

That performance Saturday was damn embarrassing.

gbal

September 24th, 2012
3:49 pm

irrelevent gt

wes

September 24th, 2012
3:49 pm

“talent closer to Georgia Southern’s than Georgia’s”

That’s just ridiculous. We’ve got several players that will end up in the NFL. Georgia Southern doesn’t.

This is easily your worst article of the year and I usually like your stuff.

Go home and take a nap.

Dawglasville

September 24th, 2012
3:52 pm

From the outside looking in I think he ditches the run too quick. It is like he out smarts himself. Since he has been there I can only remember one game that Tech was whipped so bad on the line of scrimmage that they had to pass. That was the LSU game in the Chic fil a bowl. LSU got way too much penetration. He gave up on the run that final drive in the second game against UGA. I think you guys would have won that game. Instead, he throws 4 deep balls that were all covered.

GTBob

September 24th, 2012
3:52 pm

Time for Tech to make a decision if Johnson is the “Perfect Option.”

Now is not the time at all. We just finished paying Gailey, and we are still paying Hewitt. We can’t afford to add another former coach to the payroll with a huge salary and expect to sign even a decent new coach.

Kevin

September 24th, 2012
3:52 pm

The Genius wants mediocre players so that he can take the credit when GT wins. Now, if GT would only win…

tommy

September 24th, 2012
3:53 pm

They said the same thing about UGA when they struggled after Donnans players were gone. They also wanted Richt fired. What are they saying now? Johnson will bounce back. His defensive problems are nothing new. As far as players: Josh Nesbitt is to Vad Lee as Tevin Washington is to Jaybo Shaw. Tevin would be great at Georgia Southern just like Jaybo. The Associated Press highschool player of the year at North Carolina would get a forth and short in overtime at Tech(Referring to Vad Lee). Vad has a big body like Nesbitt not to mention his speed and arm strength. The guy behind him Justin Thomas only runs a 4-2-40. Johnson is a qb away. He dont trust Washington in late games. That is why he punted at the end of the 4th qtr. Johnson needs to bring on Vad if he wants butts in seats. I am tired of Reggie Ball part two. I know the defense sucks but that is not new. We use to have a qb that could play keep away so we didnt have to depend on the horrid 3-4. Vad is the answer sooner than later. Start him Saturday and 40,000 show up. Start Tevin and 10,000 show up. Presbyterian nearly had as many fans at Bobby Dodd as Virginia. It wasnt because Presbyterian was a night game….it was because we knew we would see Vad.

GT in CT

September 24th, 2012
3:53 pm

Mark, I’m not sure what the diagnosis is here. Are you saying that CPJ is not trying hard enough to recruit better players because he thinks he can win by outsmarting opponents? Do we just need a greater emphasis on recruiting?

yessir

September 24th, 2012
3:55 pm

Mark – very nice article. Pride cometh before a fall. Paul Johnson is a very proud man; too proud, in most people’s opinion, to do some serious self-evaluation and criticism and mend what’s truly broken. He treats every criticism of Tech as a criticism of his offensive scheme – and mostly it’s not about his offense. He’s proven his offense can gain yards and put up points. The point is, you have to play offense, defense, and special teams, and someone has to LEAD all of that, and it’s supposed to be HIM. The true leader takes ALL of the responsibility on his shoulders – says it was my mistake that we didn’t go for it at midfield, my mistake for calling the wrong play when we did go for it – and protects his players (regardless of whether he truly believes that or not). The players, in turn, would respect that and play their hearts out for him.

Very, very shaky leadership, and the defensiveness of his attitude (sniping at any criticism and laying blame on his players) reveal a very insecure man. Can’t be insecure and be a successful head coach.

FS

September 24th, 2012
3:56 pm

I agree Mark and am disappointed in our Tech team. CPJ is the head coach of the team and what he should measured on at this point is Wins/Losses. Who cares if we are only a couple of plays away from being 4-0. Every team in the nation could make that arguement. If we had only executed-well you don’t and you lost. So what are you going to do about it. We may have 4 star freshman recruits, but they aren’t playing.

At the game when we went conservative again trying not to score too quick, we couldn’t get a 1st down and let Miami back in the game. If Miami hadn’t a missed a chip field goal, they probably would have won it in regulation. They didn’t execute and still won.

Our record w/o Chan’s recruites is appalling for GT. It’s okay to be arrogant as a head coach when you are winning but not when you are losing. We are 2-2, haven’t won a bowl game and have 1 victory against Georgia. The apathy is sinking in again and like Paul Hewitt we want make a change until it drops further.

Really disappointed in our program.

TomB

September 24th, 2012
3:57 pm

Mark, you’re absolutely correct, and what you didn’t say is also correct. Big time recruits do not want to play in this so called stylized offense. Johnson needs to go to a hybrid offense like he did at Hawaii if he’s going to attract the best players.

mdcc

September 24th, 2012
4:01 pm

its CPJ..he thinks he is smarter than everybody.. he is stubborn and arrogant and still sticks to the plan without making adjustments……the 3-4 is used by alot of teams now. yea may not have the athletes but the head coach is the face of the franchise but he is a tool in that area as well its a big picture thing here and he is not it….

Bender Bending Rodriguez

September 24th, 2012
4:02 pm

Gosh, I wonder who BW could be? Wow! What an E. Nigma!

dawgfan

September 24th, 2012
4:05 pm

Tech fans should have been alarmed when Paul Johnson told his players that he would start calling more pass plays if they taught themselves how to throw a football better. I kid you not. I read it right here on this very website. This guy is getting paid 7 figures and he expects his players to figure out how to develop a passing game on their own time? Tech fans should have been absolutely outraged, but they just giggled at Paul Johnson’s “straight shooter” style and went back to worshiping the Paul Johnson shrines that they all have in the homes and offices. All it will take is a few witty one liners on his radio call in show and they’ll be back on the bandwagon.

Thanks.

Blue Ridge Dawg

September 24th, 2012
4:05 pm

Hmmm..? Here’s my question to Mark Bradley: Have you ever coached? Are you a coach? Sounds like you are an expert. So glad the AJC have coaching experts. Maybe CPJ will read your lame article and the light bulbs will go off. I wish all I had to is sit around the house and come up with ways to bash good coaches and get paid for it. I hate GT, but, you sir are no expert! If you dont recruit good players, your not going to win. No matter who the coach is.

JoeFan

September 24th, 2012
4:07 pm

Johnson is the CEO of the football program and has been for for the last five years. On his watch each year has produced diminishing returns. In the real world that will get one terminated. Now its up to DRad as to how long he is willing to let the value of the program decline.

Technically Correct

September 24th, 2012
4:07 pm

GTT

September 24th, 2012
4:07 pm

Gailey could recruit good, even great personnel on the defensive side of the ball. This staff has not to date.

WOW!

September 24th, 2012
4:08 pm

Gosh, I wonder who BW could be??? What a mystery!!!

GT

September 24th, 2012
4:09 pm

on average Gaileys recruiting rankes were worse than PJ

JAdams

September 24th, 2012
4:10 pm

And UGA and Richt are perfect right Mark?

duckafawg

September 24th, 2012
4:10 pm

there really isn’t much difference in the demeanors of Johnson and Saban but Saban proves that if you’re winning, no one cares that you’re a a-hole

Go Jackets

September 24th, 2012
4:12 pm

I don’t understand the urge to swtich coaches after every loss. Where does that get us? It guarantees 2 to 4 more years of mediocrity as we rebuild yet again. I’d like to see Lee and Days get some time at QB so that we’re not playing inexperienced in that position next year. At the very least some competition at the QB spot might light a fire under Washington. And if the D doesn’t step up, Groh needs to go. PJ needs to run up the score on every team left on the schedule, we get too complacent once up by one or two touchdowns. We took our foot off the gas on Saturday and it bit us. That can’t happen again, offense and defense need to keep the pedal to the floor for the full 4 quarters.

GTT

September 24th, 2012
4:12 pm

I’ve banged on you in the past for running the stylized offense term into the ground. Today running it into the ground achieves your desired effect. Kudos sir.

fayncdawg

September 24th, 2012
4:13 pm

Anybody seen Bobby Petrino lately? GT may need to locate him and locate him quick!! Heck, I was expecting a one loss GT team to roll into Athens this year (and get their butts kicked of course). Way they played Saturday against a Miami team that isn’t any better than what the Dawgs have left on the schedule should concern everybody in Yellerbacket Nation (or anybody in Georgia who want them to win except when they play UGA). GT, get a clue! Fielding teams like this don’t make the rivalry worth watching! If the Dawgs are going to when by 2+ touchdown every year, I won’t be watching any of the games! GT: are y’all better than Vandy??

AtlantaDude

September 24th, 2012
4:13 pm

5 stages of a GT fan’s attitude toward FB or BB coach
1. Impressed with outside-the-box hiring decision by the AD
2. Infatuation with earlier than expected success
3. Gnawing concern at lack of further progress
4. Sting of losses mitigated by silver lining of potentially speeding a coaching change
5. Actively rooting for losses so we can move on and get a new coach

The needle was pinned on 5 for the last three years of Paul Hewitt. I am somewhere between a 4 and a 5 right now with Paul Johnson

KG

September 24th, 2012
4:14 pm

He let off of the gas Saturday…. We should have continued to “attempt” to throw the ball over their heads as we did opening the second half….. We could have kept scoring but chose to continue running the ball/running out the clock. As Chan always did, CPJ chose to “play not to lose” as opposed to “playing to win.” He’s too arrogant to allow his offense to stray away from his triple option. Every time we’ve lined up in the “pistol” , the opposing defense had no clue what was coming and as soon as things start to work for the better, he puts the QB back under center……

steve brown

September 24th, 2012
4:16 pm

This is supposed to be entertainment. I do not find it entertaining cheering for a team that plays with one arm tied behind its back – its throwing arm.

GTBob

September 24th, 2012
4:18 pm

I don’t understand the urge to swtich coaches after every loss. Where does that get us?

It is pretty silly. Football fans tend to overreact though. Saturday was bad but its not the end of the world. The only way to really salvage anything this season now though is to win 2 of 3 against UGA, Clemson, and the Bowl Game. He has is work cut out for him to quiet the critics.