Paul Johnson on 4th-and-1: ‘I’ll take the blame for it’

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson stood by his decision to for it on 4th-and-1 in the final two minutes of Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, but allowed that he might have changed the play call.

On 4th-and-1 from the Tech 34, B-back Dedrick Mills was stuffed just shy of the 35-yard line, giving Pittsburgh the ball in a game tied at 34 with 1:47 to play. The Panthers took advantage, driving down to inside the Tech 15-yard line, from where kicker Chris Blewitt banged in the game-winning kick off the right upright as time expired. Pitt won 37-34 on the final play of the game at Heinz Field.

“If I had to do it over again at the end of the game, I probably still would have gone for it, but I’d have called a different play,” he said. “I think the way the game was going, I felt like we could make half a yard and we didn’t do it. So that’s on me. That’s my responsibility and I’ll take the blame for it.”

It was a risk/reward play, a situation where Johnson has repeatedly gambled on his own team and come out ahead. If the Jackets had made the first down, they would have had a fresh set of downs with about 1:45 to play with Pitt holding all three of its timeouts. At the least, Tech could have run down the clock, forced Pitt to use its timeouts and then punted the ball away. At best, the Jackets could have secured the game with a couple first downs and a field goal.

But coming up short would give considerable advantage to Pitt, now starting the drive within field-goal range. Punting would have been safer, although Pitt had scored four touchdowns and two field goals on its first eight possessions.

“My thought process was, we had a chance with – what was there left, two minutes, 2 1/2 minutes – on fourth and six inches to try to get a first down and win the game and (it) backfired,” he said. “Give them credit. They made a play. They stuffed us.”

On the other side, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was less than confident. Asked if he liked his chances, Narduzzi replied, “Heck, no. Who likes a 4th-and-1 chance? But you believe in our guys. The odds are against you.”

On the play, Mills took the handoff from quarterback Justin Thomas and ran behind left guard, but defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett won the matchup. Jarrett stuffed Mills, and linebacker Matt Galambos drove hard into Mills, knocking him back. On the measurement, Mills was inches short.

“It was just man on man and they knocked us back,” Johnson said. “I really felt that Dedrick would get the first down even if we didn’t get a whole lot (of push). He’s a pretty strong runner. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Could have tossed the ball. They had a hard time playing the toss.”