It’s time we salute the Georgia Tech coach who has, despite an apparent lack of institutional commitment to the sport, generated results of comparative high caliber. So here’s to you, Ted Roof. Your defense ranks 32nd nationally in yards against. Kudos.
This makes two seasons running that Roof’s oft-criticized defenders have been the better part of Tech football. Last year’s Yellow Jackets ranked 42nd nationally in total defense, 80th in offense. This year the defense is even better. The offense is worse. In total yards, Paul Johnson’s option-based spread ranks 107th among 128 FBS programs.
To be fair, this offense has faced some stiff opposition: Boston College, Clemson and Miami rank among the nation’s top 14 in yards against. But that’s a quibble, not a true defense (as it were). Among the many warning signs flashing at the Flats, here’s the most glaring: The stylized offense has become nothing special. Once a cure-all, it’s now a curio.
Which brings us to this: If his precious offense isn’t doing the business, what’s the point of having Johnson as head coach? It’s not as if the Jackets are filling Bobby Dodd Stadium for every home game. (Only when opposing fans congregate does that happen.) It’s not as if they’ve been big and consistent winners: Even with the 11-3 of 2014 included, Tech is 46-40 over the past 6 1/2 seasons — 32-36 against Power Five opponents plus Notre Dame, 27-27 against ACC competition.
Some who saw Johnson wrong-foot opponents great and small in 2008 and 2009 hold out hope that those golden days can return, but that’s more wish than faith. In the grand scheme, Tech has become a mediocrity. Chan Gailey’s holdovers are long gone, and the ACC has been forever changed.
When Tech won the 2009 ACC championship, Dabo Swinney was in his first full season as Clemson’s head coach and Bobby Bowden in his final days at Florida State. The league has since added Louisville and Bobby Petrino and Pittsburgh and Pat Narduzzi, and Mark Richt is coaching Miami and Justin Fuente is in Blacksburg and Bronco Mendenhall is in Charlottesville. The Coastal is no longer the place where the winner of Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech is automatically division champ. The ACC has gotten good at football.
Georgia Tech has gotten less good. Last season was the Jackets’ worst since 1994, when Bill Lewis quit midway. This year Tech has beaten the teams it figured to beat — slight extra credit for subduing Vanderbilt, which is more than another local school can say — and lost to the better ones. It can become bowl-eligible by handling Duke and Virginia, but to break .500 it must win a true road game, which hasn’t happened since Nov. 29, 2014, the day of Richt’s squib kick and Harrison Butker’s 53-yarder in Athens.
Not-so-fun fact: The Jackets have won two of their past 12 conference games, one coming against FSU on a return of a blocked field-goal attempt as time expired, the other requiring a fourth-quarter rally to subdue a BC team since outscored 107-10 by league opponents.
For today, I waive my boilerplate criticism of Tech’s recruiting and ask this: If Johnson is indeed getting the players he wants for his system, how do we explain an offense ranking 107th? (It ranked 26th in 2009, 19th in 2014.) And with quarterback Justin Thomas being a senior, will next year be any better? Will any year?
This offense was once the great equalizer, the scheme that could cut down talented opponents by being different and clever. Those days, sad to say, seem blasts from a distant past. Johnson is under contract through 2020, but has a new boss in Todd Stansbury, an athletic director who’s both a Tech man and a football man. Unless Johnson can find a way to call back the years, there’s trouble around the bend.