Remember how you felt late in the evening on October 18th? Georgia Tech, a team that started the season a euphoric 5-0, had just dropped their second game in a row, losing to North Carolina in the final seconds of a crazy shootout in Chapel Hill.
Most Georgia Tech fans could already see this season spiraling into another ho-hum 7-5 season, and that didn’t bode well for Paul Johnson’s future. The Yellow Jackets had just ended long and frustrating droughts to VA Tech and Miami, only to lose the next two to teams in UNC and Duke that Tech had dominated.
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These are the moments when the true character of a team comes to light, and the character of a team in the face of adversity is inherently a direct result of the person in charge. That’d be Head Coach Paul Johnson.
Make no mistake, this year’s Yellow Jackets team has had an incredible ride so far. Johnson, already a two-time ACC Coach of the Year in his first two seasons in 2008-09, has arguably done an even better job in this season than in either of those.
Nov 1, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson talks with Virginia Cavaliers head coach Mike London before their game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Georgia Tech won 35-10. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Picked to finish 5th in the ACC Coastal in the preseason media polls, Tech is sitting at 6-2 in sole possession of first place. That’s for now of course, as Duke still has two conference games remaining and controls its destiny with the head-to-head win over the Jackets in October.
But if Duke slips up against North Carolina this Thursday night (likely), or against Wake Forest on November 29th (unlikely), Tech will win the division outright and advance to Charlotte for a chance at Jameis Winston and Florida State.
Even if Tech’s fate is not to play in Charlotte, the fact that this team is 9-2 (6-2 ACC) is truly amazing. All viewed Tech this past offseason as a program in shambles after QB Vad Lee transferred to James Madison, and multiple players left the team either for violations or academic reasons.
But if you watched Tech last year and you’ve followed Johnson’s teams since his arrival on The Flats in 2008, you would have noticed just how inefficient Lee was at doing what Johnson wants to do. Lee was so slow coming off the line and horrible at reading defenses and making key decisions in Tech’s bread and butter option plays.
Coach Johnson often had Lee in the pistol, as he did even with Tevin Washington the years prior, trying to adapt to their skill sets more; however, it was clear as the team was into conference play last season that Lee was not comfortable unless a substantially larger amount of pass plays were called.
Johnson has the absolute perfect fit this year in QB Justin Thomas. He has the smart, quick, and outstanding decision-making that Josh Nesbitt had in 2008-09, along with even greater speed and a more accurate arm. All of those attributes are the most important ones when it relates to an option QB making Thomas the total package.
Currently, Thomas sits at 6th in the nation in QBR at 83.9, and the team is 7th in the nation in total offense. It leads the nation in several categories, including 3rd down conversions at 59.2%.
Pair this with a defense that finally, FINALLY, is showing signs of life after a miserable 6-year span, and you have a match made in heaven, and a situation that Paul Johnson and his offense can thrive in.
While David Cutcliffe has done an amazing job again this year with the Blue Devils, most experts agreed in the preseason that Duke should at least contend for the division title again, but not so much for the Jackets.
It’s amazing that Johnson was getting so much disrespect, especially since he’s already been to two ACC title games, winning one, and has another share of a division title in 2008. Since the preseason media showed no respect for this team and its coach, maybe now they can repay the Institute by just going ahead and awarding this year’s trophy to Coach Paul Johnson.
Oh, and about that annual matchup with that other school over in Athens…check back later for what impact that will have on this team’s goals, successes, and legacy.