Won if by land.
That’s the story of Tech’s amazing 45-42 defeat of Georgia Saturday. The Jackets stuck to the ground.
On Tech’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Josh Nesbitt completed a 19-yard pass to Damaryius Thomas. That was Tech’s entire air production for the afternoon.
Nesbitt would throw incomplete on 4th and 2, ending that possession. He would throw incomplete to end Tech’s second possession. He would end the half with two incompletions and an interception.
And that would be enough of that.
On every single other play Tech ran against Georgia. That’s what coach Paul Johnson likes to do. And why not? It’s loads of fun watching your team cavort up and down the field against an opponent powerless to stop the fun.
Tech lined up and ran the ball 56 times against Georgia and amassed 409 yards. That’s more than seven yards a pop — against a defense that knows what’s coming.
At least to a certain extent. Tech basically runs only a few plays. Of course, each one has several options, based upon what the defense does. Now, if the defense doesn’t have a clue what its doing, then you have the third quarter of Saturday’s contest.
Blair Walsh, Georgia’s enigmatic kicker, chose to start the half by shanking his kickoff out of bounds. Jonathan Dwyer then took Nesbitt’s handoff, survived a couple of chest butts, and scampered 60 yards to the end zone.
He added another one-play touchdown drive six minutes later, motoring 23 yards after Richard Samuel fumbled on a kickoff return.
In between, Tech drove 56 yards in 10 plays for another touchdown. All on the ground, assuming you don’t count the single pass play that garnered an interference call.
To recap, in that seven minute stretch, Tech ran off 12 plays for 139 yards and three touchdowns. And don’t forget two conversions on two-point attempts.
While all this was going on, Georgia was running three plays for two measly yards. Total. The score swung from 28-12, Georgia, to 35-28, Tech, and coach Mark Richt had his dazed minions gathered around him for a sideline consolation.
In that seven-minute span, Tech restored this rivalry to even footing, slammed the door on the malaise of the Chan Gailey Era once and for all, secured a signature win and set sights on bigger things for the future.
It also served as a lesson to all naysayers that Paul Johnson can coach some football. Not that he didn’t have a fine track record when athletic director Dan Radakovich hired him last December.
But it’s one thing to run over Division 1-AA opponents running the triple option at Georgia Southern. Or to run it at Navy, where the talent level and schedules don’t compare. Consider: Johnson’s Navy teams went 11-19 against BCS opponents.
So, the question arose: wouldn’t running the triple option attack against an ACC schedule and that rival in Athens surely test the system? Extend it to the breaking point? Not according to Johnson.
“The thing I find funny is people saying, ‘I don’t know if this system will work at this level,’” he told Mark Schlabach of espn.com last winter.
“It’s worked on every level we’ve been. If we can run it against Boston College at Navy, why can’t we run it against Boston College at Georgia Tech? Are we going to get worse players at Georgia Tech?”
Certainly not. And the Yellow Jackets seemed to master his offense much quicker than anticipated. You can’t say Johnson’s offense won’t work after seeing the Jackets lay it on Miami and Georgia.
That Georgia team had an extra week to prepare, mind you. Lots of good it did. Tech’s ability to, in essence, announce what it was running, and then run it with success, was reminiscent of Vince Lombardi’s Packers of the 60s.
Those Packers lived on their power sweep. Remember the film clip of Lombardi diagramming the play? “If you look at this play, what we’re trying to get is a seal here, and a seal here, and we want to run this play in the alley!”
Everyone knew it was coming, but nobody could stop it, because the Packers ran it perfectly.
The Jackets weren’t even perfect on Saturday. Four-of-five first half drives ended with punts, another with that half-ending interception. But they committed nary a fumble during myriad handoffs, the blocking of the offensive line was superb and they racked up 33 points in the first 23 minutes of the second half.
That makes this offense downright scary, and gives Tech a huge upside for the future. As Johnson said upon taking over at Tech, “Does [the system] guarantee we’re going to be really good at Georgia Tech? I don’t know. That’s why they play the games.
“But I know this system will work.”