Athens – There were two snippets of good news for Georgia Tech on an otherwise wretched Saturday: The Jackets still get to play for the ACC Championship, and the Georgia Bulldogs will be occupied elsewhere.
Other than that, this was a wipeout of epic dimensions. It wasn’t quite as bad as the 51-7 loss here in 2002, but at least that drubbing came in Year 1 under a new coach. This one arrived in Year 5 under Paul Johnson, who seemed the anti-Chan Gailey. Meaning: A man who could hold his own against the hated mutts. (Gailey went for 0-for-6.) But now Johnson, after stunning the Bulldogs on his first try, has lost four in a row to Georgia, and the series has again gone lopsided.
And Johnson, who on taking this job ordered that the slogan “Beat Georgia” be displayed on Tech’s practice field, was not pleased. Afterward his voice could be heard — at great volume and great length — railing at his players through the metal door of the visitors’ locker room, and his subsequent press briefing was sardonic even by Johnson’s standards.
When a reporter mentioned that early turnovers might have compromised Tech’s chance of winning, Johnson said: “Were you watching the game? Do you think it mattered where (the Bulldogs) got the ball?”
Speaking of which: “(Georgia) averaged 14 yards a play the first half.” (Actually only 10.6. But it seemed like 14.)
When another reporter noted that Georgia had the ball for only 8 1/2 minutes en route to 28 first-half points, Johnson said: “Good thing, huh?”
This is the same Paul Johnson who said in 2009, when his Jackets were about to play for (and win, at least on the field) the ACC title, who blithely said his program “had bigger fish to fry” than Georgia; the same Paul Johnson who has said repeatedly that he came to Tech “to win championships.” Technically, he still can claim the 2012 championship of his middling league, but the mythical state title is gone yet again. And, given that Tech’s 42-10 loss Saturday was its worst against Georgia under this coach, it wouldn’t appear the gap is narrowing.
Said Tevin Washington, Tech’s senior quarterback: “The only way we’re going to get it going the other way is to beat them.”
Whenever Tech loses — and it has lost half its games this regular season — the knee-jerk reaction is to label Johnson’s stylized offense as high-schoolish. But here again we saw that the option is all that distinguishes Tech as a program of worth. The defense, now on its third coordinator under Johnson, remains terrible. Special teams are again a calamity. If not for the Jackets’ capacity to run the ball, they’d be Vanderbilt before James Franklin. They’d be, in a word, hopeless.
But here’s the thing: The rest of Tech football has grown so feeble that it can no longer prop up the stylized offense, and on a day when the offense gets yards — Tech outgained the Bulldogs 426 yards to 379 — but not points, it has no chance. Said Johnson: “We couldn’t match them score for score,” and that has become the only way the Jackets can hope to beat anyone halfway decent.
This was the sixth time this season the Jackets have yielded 40 or more points. The wonder isn’t that they lost five of those games; the wonder is that they won even one. (At North Carolina 68-50.)
A big-time program cannot long subsist as a one-trick pony, and we’re seeing the limits of Johnson as a program builder. (As opposed to an offensive schemer.) He hasn’t recruited as well as he needs to recruit to sustain the successes achieved with Gailey’s holdovers. That Tech will play Florida State in Charlotte for the ACC title says more about the flimsy state of the conference than it does about Tech. The only time these Jackets look like a real team is when they have the ball.
The Jackets saw early Saturday what a real team looks like when it doesn’t have the ball. Tech back Robert Godhigh burst inside the Georgia 5 on the Jackets’ first series, and for a moment it seemed the game — Georgia had seized a 7-0 lead after 63 seconds — was about to be joined. But no. Safety Bacarri Rambo wrested the ball from Godhigh’s grasp, and that was essentially that.
Asked if it would be difficult to rouse his men to play Florida State after such a beating, Johnson said: “I look at it as another opportunity. We’ll see how they respond.”
It must be noted that Johnson did not give the impression of a coach living in fervent hope. True, a different opponent and a different venue could yield a different result. But it’s hard to imagine any game involving the Bulldogs turning out well for Tech anytime soon.
Further reading: On Paul Johnson’s poor early choice and Tech’s lack of fans.
By Mark Bradley