JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – Before we make the unseemly belly flop into recruiting season/signing day, a couple lingering thoughts about 2016 in the aftermath of Georgia Tech’s Taxslayer Bowl victory over Kentucky:
The two sides of daring. Life with Paul Johnson is never dull, contrary to what the critics of his offense may claim. This season we have seen him crawl out on the narrowest of fourth-down limbs.
Once, he took a big fall – Dedrick Mills being stuffed on fourth down late against Pitt, enabling the Panthers a short field for a game-winning field goal.
And he grabbed the fruit – Johnson calling on Mills again to gain a fraction of a yard on fourth down with Tech on its own 15 late in the first half against Kentucky. Converting Saturday, Tech did more than run out time in the half, it completed a crushing 94-yard touchdown drive.
Who goes for it on their own 15? Johnson does. And he’ll continue to. Buckle up and live with it.
How to categorize 2016? A nice season, really. Any one that ends with four consecutive victories – including the all-important one over Georgia - can’t be completely dismissed, even by the many trolls who roam the land.
Tech needed this 9-4 season in the wake of 2015’s 3-9 debacle. A fat 10 wins would have taken it to another level (see, again, the loss at Pitt),
Generally, it was a season of no great surprise – losing to three ranked teams (at the time it played), Miami, North Carolina and Clemson. And one victory over a ranked opponent, Virginia Tech. And otherwise taking care of business.
Johnson, though, found a clever way to put it all in perspective while zinging the conference he loves to zing.
“Three-and-oh in the SEC East,” he said, counting his 2016 victories against Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky.
“And got Tennessee next (in 2017’s opener in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
“Hopefully we can take this and build on it.”
The defense makes some noise. Ted Roof’s group hasn’t always been pretty to watch, but it can make itself useful at times.
We refer you to Tech’s first score Saturday, a strip fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker P.J. Davis, putting the Yellow Jackets on the scoreboard before viewers had time to wipe the sleep from their eyes.
Kentucky had chosen to make a statement by opting to take the opening kickoff rather than defer to the second half. It was saying it: We can victimize this Tech D. Instead, it was the D that accounted for the day’s first points.
Preserve that play in amber, and put it on display the first team meeting of 2017.
Justin Thomas’ legacy. The Tech quarterback did not have a huge game Saturday, but he departs with a victory. For more on his parting, see my post-game column.
This much we know: He loses the name game to those early 20th Century quarterbacks like Froggie Morrison, Red Barron and Shorty Guill.
He can’t match the historical heft of Eddie McAshan (first African-American quarterback at a major southeastern university).
He doesn’t have the near-Heisman experience of a Joe Hamilton or a Billy Lothridge, or the championship chops of a Shawn Jones.
But in the pantheon of 21st century Tech quarterbacks – the likes of George Godsey, Reggie Ball, Tevin Washington, Josh Nesbett – Thomas looks pretty darn good.
Kentucky likes football, too? Who knew that the Wildcats could get worked up about a game in which players actually stay on campus for four years?
Their blue dominated the color scheme of EverBank Field Saturday, reflective of their happiness over finally making it to a bowl game of any kind. It has been a six-year drought.
Perhaps it is a good sign that it will take more than an 11 a.m. bowl game to excite the Tech fan base.