Georgia Tech and Georgia saw their football fortunes slide in opposite directions over the weekend. The results begged a question: Is it time for Tech to make a coaching change?
Both teams entered the weekend with 3-2 records, with both lugging two-game losing streaks. Tech was mauled by Clemson before giving away a game to Miami last week.
Quarterback Justin Thomas fumbled twice within 46 seconds, and Miami returned both gifts for touchdowns. After crawling out of a 28-7 hole to make it a one-score game, Tech promptly surrendered a 4-play, 75-yard drive to end the scoring. And the game.
Georgia, destroyed at Ole Miss, took Tennessee to the bitter end last week, losing on an inconceivable Hail Mary pass that answered the Vols’ prayers.
Just how close were these two teams? Last week’s Sagarin ratings had Tech at 75.66, Georgia at 74.13
Georgia drew the more feeble opponent for its weekend encounter (Sagarins again: Pitt 77.07, South Carolina 68.81) and turned in the more dominant performance.
Well, as dominant as you can be when your freshman quarterback goes 5 for 17 for 29 yards passing. Georgia learned how to run the ball again against Tennessee, and pounded the Gamecocks for 326 yards on 50 rushes.
Most of those yards were accumulated after Carolina moved extra defenders into the box to slow the onrushing Dogs. To no avail.
And with Carolina’s pitiful offense generally falling all over itself, Georgia’s lead never seemed seriously threatened.
Tech faced a Pitt offense as proficient as Carolina’s was inept. The Panthers came in averaging 37 points per game. They left with the exact same average.
Pitt had surrendered 31 points per game, and Tech got ‘em for 34. All of which makes Tech, as far as Pitt is concerned, slightly above average.
That also seems to be where Tech ranks in the overall scheme of things. Is a little above average good enough? Will that satisfy new director of athletics Todd Stansbury?
No one admittedly settles for average, of course. But Stansbury at least appreciates the unique difficulties inherent in the Tech program.
Stansbury played at Tech under coach Bill Curry in the early ‘80s. Since Bobby Dodd retired after the 1966 season, Curry compiled the worst winning percentage of any Tech coach who lasted longer than three seasons. That is, except for Bill Lewis.
Johnson has compiled a 65-47 record at Tech, for a .580 winning percentage. He’s dead even with his predecessor, Chan Gailey. Dismissed after losing to Georgia in 2007, Gailey went 44-32, a .579 percentage.
The only record better than Johnson’s at Tech since Dodd retired was compiled by George O’Leary. From ’94 through 2001, O’Leary went 52-33 for a .612 winning percentage.
In the 50 years post-Dodd, Tech has gone 308-269, .534, excluding 8 ties.
That makes Johnson about as good as it gets at Tech. Now in his ninth season, he’s won big twice and lost big once. Then there’s 9-4, 6-7, 8-5, 7-7, 7-6, and 3-3 so far this year.
Now let’s put the Pitt game to the eye test.
This game came after Tech’s midterm week. This plays havoc with Tech’s performance annually. “You can kind of tell when it’s going on,” Johnson said at his weekly press conference last week. “Sometimes they walk around like zombies where they have a couple of presentations in a week, or an exam.”
The game also followed a week in which Johnson declared that the Tech administration needed to ratchet up its commitment to the program in order to meet expectations. In essence, he was telling his team they were entering play at a competitive disadvantage.
Against this backdrop, Tech twice erased 11-point deficits against Pitt, and actually took a 34-27 lead with 5:22 left in the game.
Whereupon Tech safety Corey Griffin tipped an underthrown pass on third and nine—right into the hands of tight end Scott Orndoff, who lumbered 74 yards for the tying score.
Whereupon Johnson, on fourth and inches from Tech’s own 34-yard-line, went for the first down, and saw his best back, Dedrick Mills, stuffed for no gain.
Whereupon Pitt’s Chris Blewitt banked a field goal off the right upright, and through, as time expired.
Both Tech and Georgia overcame their recent setbacks with spirited efforts. Both played hard. Both fought through adversity.
But Georgia won. After being dissatisfied with the status quo a year ago, Georgia now embraces the excitement of a new regime building a championship foundation.
Could Tech use similar excitement? History doesn’t lie. The past 50 years tell us that Paul Johnson is about as good as it gets at Tech.
Johnson may be right. If Tech wants to win big consistently, it’s going to take a bigger commitment.