Wednesday is Paul Johnson’s drop-the-mike game, coming in a setting that hardly does justice to 22 years of head coaching. The Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on the day after Christmas is nobody’s ideal retirement ceremony, but you go 7-5 in a season the ACC was as depressed as buggy whip futures, this is where you land.
Tech is a 5-1/2-point favorite over Minnesota. For those who would employ such information to actually bet the game, that thud you just heard was you hitting rock bottom. Seek help. You have a problem.
Johnson’s legacy is that of the keeper of the triple option, the proud, stubborn purveyor of a way of offense that fell out of fashion with most everyone except service academies and some of the neighboring FCS programs. The opponent’s discomfort at dealing with an offense that was part anachronism, part sleight of hand was Johnson’s delight.
That’s not to say it isn’t effective. Tech and Army were 1-2 in rushing offense this season. Don’t you know one of those teams will be tumbling from the summit of that statistical mount next season?
This being Johnson’s last game – I think retirement will suit him, and he’ll successfully fight off any urge to return – wouldn’t it be a kick to see him indulge every repressed urge, and just chuck the ball downfield 45 times against the Gophers? Rewrite the game plan from foreword to epilogue, and come out slinging. Inside Johnson surely there’s a Don Coryell crying to get out. Where better than the Quick Lane Bowl to go a little nuts?
Go empty backfield, just for the rebel thrill of it.
Play a great practical joke on your own center and watch his wide-eyed terror when you say, “We’re going shotgun.”
Deep down, Paul, you know you want to go for it on fourth down every time, regardless of the situation. This is your last chance. Let your kickers make the bowl trip, so long as they report to the sideline in their street clothes.
Free those receivers who have spent young lifetimes blocking downfield, performing more selfless deeds than a meeting room full of Trappist monks. Let them rediscover the perfect sting of a football striking their hands. Let them hear the words they thought only philosophy majors heard: Go deep.
Especially in the age of the playoff, the fans require some extra incentive to watch the bowls. The number of games has remained at a glut level, even as their importance has lessened. A Georgia Tech aerial assault certainly would make one game outside Detroit memorable.
The fact that the Quick Lane Bowl is Johnson’s final game will have to be reason enough to pay it some attention, just as it should be incentive enough for the Yellow Jacket players to put out a winning effort. One farewell will have to carry the day.
Before leaving for Detroit, Johnson laughed a bit at the idea of him going pass-mad with his last game. For a split second, he was at least amused by the prospect.
But then he dismissed such silliness with six simple words that seem to matter more, even in advance of his last day on the job:
“I want to win the game.”