We know not the form that Georgia Tech will take in the future under Geoff Collins, if, that is, he wasn’t scared off from the job by what he witnessed Wednesday.
But with Paul Johnson coaching there was always unwavering certainty. So, once more, with insufficient feeling and ill-prepared for the muscle that Minnesota brought, the Yellow Jackets deployed their alphabet backs and ran out the clock on the Johnson administration.
For one final time, in a bowl game with little more profile than a mob accountant in witness protection, Johnson trotted out his signature triple option.
It failed both him and 5-1/2-point favorite Tech, 34-10 losers to the Minnesota Gophers at the Quick Lane Bowl.
So went Johnson’s final game after 11 seasons at Tech. For the record, the last Tech offensive play of his tenure was a fumbled snap on the Minnesota 9-yard line.
As last acts go, this one was about as uplifting as Romeo and Juliet’s. Didn’t Old Yeller go out something like this?
To the end, Johnson was phlegmatic.
“Certainly I wasn’t expecting that, but that’s life,” he said. “You move on. I’ve played a lot of games, had a lot of games go our way, some that didn’t go our way. That’s part of it. If you’re going to get in the arena, you’re going to have some of those.
“I told the guys (postgame) we don’t get to write our own ending,” he said. “And everybody is disappointed in the way it ended. I told them I was sorry I couldn’t find something better that we could do to help them win the game. And that I would miss them.
“It’s a game. I got a lot of games. I think I won 189 and lost 99, so there’s a lot of them. I’m not going to dwell on one.”
How unfitting that Johnson’s final game would be marked by the failings of offense, by a unit that trademarked the 400-yard rushing day gaining just half that on the ground. Or, at 206 yards, exactly 18 less than Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim gained solely.
“That’s on us sending out coach Johnson in that type of fashion,” defensive end Desmond Branch said. “He does not deserve that. A Hall of Fame coach doesn’t deserve to get hung up with 220 yards by a Minnesota running back, all due respect.”
Wednesday came down to one tepid question: Who wanted the slight consolation of the Quick Lane Bowl trophy most? The underdog Gophers, who came into the game at 6-6 and trying to build upon a freshman-heavy foundation? Or the 7-6 team that supposedly was amped up to send its coach out on a high note?
That was settled early enough, as Tech never looked serious about determining the outcome Wednesday.
From the beginning it was Bad Tech that made the trip north. The Tech that lost three of its first four games, the Tech that could get so little right against Duke. Only, somehow, worse. Ten points were the fewest the Jackets have scored since a year ago October, versus Clemson.
The last act of the head coach and his staff that will all be departing was send out a team that was pushed around on both sides of the ball. You’d like to be kinder than that on Johnson’s farewell, but this was a mess.
“That’s the bottom line,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said, “we didn’t come ready to play and they did and they showed it.”
By the end of the first quarter, the Jackets had amassed (if it is possible to amass so little) three yards of offense. It spent the first half making no serious overtures to the end zone. Something was seriously out of alignment (mandatory auto-repair reference for the Quick Lane Bowl) when Tech’s second-team all-conference punter, Pressley Harvin, kicked one sideways, only 12 yards downrange.
As for Minnesota’s punter, “I don’t even know what the punter’s number is. That’s frustrating,” Branch said. The Gophers never needed to deploy that mystery player.
Before Tech awoke from its offensive stupor midway in the third quarter, it was already down 20-3. And while Marshall largely was ineffective in the first half, Johnson did not, as earlier this season, turn to backup quarterback Tobias Oliver for little change of pace until too late in the fourth quarter. Consider this a little going-away second guess.
Finally, Marshall and Tech made some noise in the third quarter when it consumed 7:23 to drive for its first and only touchdown, A-back Nathan Cottrell taking care of the final 20 yards.
Minnesota required less than four minutes to answer with a 75-yard scoring drive, and regain a 17-point advantage in the fourth quarter. It got only worse from there.
Here it must be noted that one game does not make a legacy. Johnson leaves as Tech’s fourth-winningest coach. The three ahead of him – Heisman, Alexander and Dodd – are pretty big names on campus, though it seems unlikely there will be a building or a statue around the Flats with Johnson’s name on it anytime soon. Maybe a street somewhere nearby can get renamed in honor of his 11 seasons. But to be appropriate it should be one of the lengthier roads on campus considering Johnson’s preference for the long, time-consuming drive.
Johnson occupies an important segment of the Tech football timeline, a coach who established a program’s identity for a younger generation of fans. He defined the look and style, a little out of step with the evolution of the game, but, still, it will be both fascinating and a little disconcerting to see the Jackets running something else next season.
Wednesday was more than just one coach’s last game. It was very much the end of a distinct era of Tech football.
Johnson is off to enjoy some down time in the mountains of North Carolina, where he will beat none of the bushes for the next recruit. There is a lot of opera in his future, that being his daughter’s vocation, so he should catch up on his sleep.
One question on which Johnson bit surprisingly hard was the last one, a frivolous comment from the media gallery, really, about the coach maybe enjoying the fact that this would be his final postgame news conference.
“Contrary to what you guys said, I never had a problem with the media, really, until I came to Atlanta,” he said.
“I got about 8 million congratulatory things from everybody who’s ever covered me from every school I was ever at. That may have been the perception you guys wanted to paint and you painted it, you did a good job with it. I don’t think you ever asked me anything I didn’t answer or you ever asked for an interview I didn’t give you. So write whatever the hell you want. That’s my final press conference.”
And with that, the coach went off into the good night of a hopefully long and happy retirement.
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