GEORGIA TECH: Johnson Brings Pleasant Surprise for Jackets
First-year coach Paul Johnson brings new look offense, new beginning to Georgia Tech Football
by Matt Reynolds
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
To say that the Georgia Tech fan base was somewhat wary of the off-season hire of Paul Johnson is an understatement.
Most were just down right disappointed.
After a rash of turnovers in the spring game and summer scrimmages, most that follow the program were expressing concern of how well his offense would do.
The flex bone option attack that helped Johnson’s success at Navy was a hard sell for fans that were use to the offenses of the ACC.
After a 9-3 season that consisted of the ending of Georgia’s dominance in the Peach State, it may be safe to say that the Yellow Jackets athletic administrative staff made the correct hire.
The option attack was ranked 2nd in the country in rushing yardage at the end of the season, averaging 282.3 yards per game.
The Yellow Jackets fans are now overflowed with excitement for the program as they have bought every ticket they can get their hands on for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Let’s recap Georgia Tech’s sizzling season.
Ironically, LSU is connected in both Tech’s season opener, as well as its final game of the season.
Johnson’s debut of the option attack was a hit on opening night as he faceed former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and Jacksonville State.
Yellow Jacket running back Jonathan Dwyer and quarterback Josh Nesbitt each ran for two touchdowns, Morgan Burnett intercepted two first-half passes from Perrilloux and Georgia Tech beat Jacksonville State 41-14 on Thursday night.
Dwyer had 10 carries for 113 yards.
Perrilloux went 22-for-37 passing for 136 yards, including two touchdown. The Laplace native also led the Gamecocks with 18 carries for 67 yards.
The second scoring pass from Perrilloux to Dupree, covering 16 yards, came with 37 seconds left.
Johnson had his triple-option offense ready after much concern based on a rash of turnovers in the spring game and summer scrimmages. Georgia Tech ran for 349 yards and had 484 total yards.
The Rambling Wreck would pass its first test in week two when they upset the defending Atlantic Division ACC champions, Boston College, 19-16 in Boston.
Georgia Tech’s option attack was in disarray in the first half, losing three fumbles, but Dwyer scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 43-yard, fourth-quarter run, to bring the Yellow Jackets back for the win.
Nesbitt ran for 50 yards, including a 30-yard scramble for a first down that helped Tech run out the clock and a 1-yard sneak on fourth-and-inches to clinch it.
Dwyer, who would eventually claim a spot on the All-ACC team by years end, would pick up 108 yards in the contest.
The Yellow Jackets would suffer their first loss of the season the next week when the Virginia Tech defense forced three turnovers to help beat Georgia Tech 20-17 in an early season conference showdown.
The Yellow Jackets gained 387 yards, with 278 coming on the ground.
Georgia Tech got the ball back one more time with a chance to score at its own 5 with 25 seconds left, and two long completions by Nesbitt moved them to the Hokies’ 46, but time ran out on the Yellow Jackets.
Nesbitt was the star of the game for Tech, as he finished with 151 rushing yards on 28 attempts. He attempted just eight passes, completing five for 109 yards, with a touchdown and third-quarter interception.
The Rambling Wreck would vent some frustration against SEC opponent Mississippi State the following week. Tech ran for 438 yards in a 38-7 beat down of the Bulldogs.
Dwyer had 141 yards rushing on nine carries. Greg Smith, Embry Peeples and backup quarterback Jaybo Shaw also ran for touchdowns.
Shaw, a freshman who also threw a touchdown pass, took over after Nesbitt suffered a hamstring injury early in the first quarter.
With Nesbitt still recovering from the injury, Shaw continued to impress in Georgia Tech’s 27-0 whipping of conference foe Duke a week later.
The backup quarterback had 230 yards passing and Dwyer ran for a career-best 159 yards.
The next game Tech played could have possibly resulted in the derailment of a progressive season.
The potent offensive attack of Georgia Tech was limited to just 79 yards, nearly 210 under their average as third-string quarterback Calvin Booker struggled running the offense.
Nesbitt was still recovering from the hamstring injury and Shaw didn’t play because of a mild concussion he suffered a week before.
The lumbering quarterback ran a team-high 19 times for just 35 yards, and his difficulty pitching on the perimeter seemed to affect the timing of Jonathan Dwyer, who had only 27 yards on 16 carries despite leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 109.6 average.
A tipped 43-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Gates with three seconds left in the game would help Georgia Tech squeak out a 10-7 win over the mighty Gardner-Webb.
Luckily for Tech, Nesbitt would return just in time for a conference game against Clemson the following week. Nesbitt threw for one touchdown and rushed for another to lead Georgia Tech to a 21-17 win in Clemson.
A week earlier, Clemson had fired head coach Tommy Bowden, so the Tigers were playing on pure emotion.
Dwyer went over the century mark for the fifth time on the year, clocking 108 yards on the ground.
The next game would be letdown on homecoming week against Virginia that shocked Atlanta.
A disappointed Johnson said after the loss, “I’m really disappointed…We made enough mistakes in about every area to lose the game twice over.”
Virginia rallied to topple the No. 21 Yellow Jackets 24-17, in a game where the Yellow Jackets had three costly turnovers.
Tech would derail any talk of Florida State returning to the top of the national polls, when the Rambling Wreck upset the Noles’ 31-28 in week ten of the season.
The win was the first time Georgia Tech beat Florida State since 1975, after going 0-12 against Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles in the ACC.
Georgia Tech fans poured onto the field after the final seconds ticked away.
Dwyer rushed for 145 yards and scored on runs of 36 and 66 yards for Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jacket were unfortunate to run into a red-hot North Carolina team the next week that would cruise over Tech in runaway fashion, 28-7, in Chapel Hill.
Dwyer was his normal self, with 157 yards and a touchdown, but Tech was unable to stop Tar Heel quarterback Ryan Houston, who ran for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The loss to UNC all but assured a second place divisional spot for Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets still turned up the heat in their final two games.
The option attack embarrassed a confused Miami squad, as Tech took care of the Canes’ by the score of 41-23.
Dwyer had 128 yards in the first half alone, as Tech went on to roll up the fifth-most rushing yards in school history — 472 yards.
But the season finale was without-a-doubt the sweetest victory for the Rambling Wreck and Paul Johnson.
On a cold and rainy day in Athens, the Yellow Jackets dropped the hammer on their bitter rival.
Georgia Tech ended a streak of seven straight losses to Georgia by running for 409 yards. Roddy Jones, a redshirt freshman, averaged more than 16 yards per carry and scored twice while pilling up 214 rushing yards. Dwyer added 144 yards rushing and two TDs of his own.
Tech overcame a 16-point halftime deficit to beat 13th-ranked Georgia for the first time since 2000, stunning the Bulldogs 45-42 to end its regular season.