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GABRIEL STOVALL: A Georgia Tech win at Notre Dame should silence Paul Johnson doubters, at least for a while

Georgia Tech's offense has been a thing of beauty since junior quarterback Justin Thomas took over the reigns. (PHOTO: Jason Mussell)

Georgia Tech’s offense has been a thing of beauty since junior quarterback Justin Thomas took over the reigns. (PHOTO: Jason Mussell)

 

So this morning I jumped on the internet and, just for fun, decided to put “fire Paul Johnson” into a Google search, simply because firing head coaches has always kind of been what the cool kids of the sports world like to talk about.

It brought up a couple of sites with either a semblance of that URL or content  pertaining to the Googled subject matter. On one site there was a poll where 153 people voted on the question: “Should Coach Paul Johnson be fired as head coach of Georgia Tech football?”

Of the 153 votes, 63 percent (97 people) said “yes.” Only nine percent voted no. The other 27 percent were undecided.

I don’t know if those 14 people out there who voted in this poll back in 2011 — ironically, the last time this site had an updated post — have some how found this article, but if by chance you are a part of that particular poll’s Paul Johnson remnant, I have one word for you.

Congratulations.

You have proven why emotionally charged conjecture, recruiting comparisons with that school over there in Athens and just overall fan impatience with a coach never win the day in big boy college football.

Now to be sure, I understand why the sentiments may have been what they were back in February 2011 when that poll was taken. The Jackets were coming off of a lackluster 6-7 season with a .500 mark in ACC play.

They’d just been beaten 14-7 to Air Force in the Independence Bowl, for God’s sake. But Paul Johnson was only in his third year at the helm. He hadn’t had a chance to see the first set of his own recuruits through yet, and still a wide swath of the Georgia Tech fan base was calling for his coaching head.

But perhaps those 14 brave souls who dared to go against the grain with a resounding vote of confidence for their beleaguered program leader saw something that those with fire in their eyes for Johnson could not see.

First, the fact that comparing Georgia Tech with Georgia — or any other big boy SEC school, or any other college football blue blood is fruitless.

Well, except for maybe one. That is my good old, hometown Nebraska Cornhuskers of 1990s national title lore.

While still a sportswriter at the Henry Daily Herald, a newspaper in the South Metro Atlanta area,  I wrote this column about why Paul Johnson’s boo birds need to pour a cup of patience and simmer down.

I spend a lot of my days trying to help my fellow Nebraska fans understand why comparing themselves to the Alabamas, Auburns, Florida States and even Georgias of the world is not prudent.

Without going too far into the details, it all revolves around the fact that Nebraska has some serious geographical disadvantages that make routinely wooing the four and five star athlete to the cornfields of Lincoln an arduous task.

Here at Georgia Tech, there are no geographical issues. The school is parked in the center of one the biggest hotbeds for blue chip high school football players in the nation.

But we all know — no offense — that it’s a lot easier to get into Georgia or Auburn than it is Georgia Tech. No slight on those other schools. It just is what it is, and that creates some barriers to getting some of these blue-chippers on campus that others don’t have.

Also, the issue of Paul Johnson’s offense. That triple option is the perfect offsetting compliment to Georgia Tech’s natural recruiting challenges. It’s quirky, which makes it effective because it’s hard to prepare for. That’s why the naval academies and Georgia Southern always give folks a legit scare.

But here’s where Tech has come of age and separated themselves from being just another team with a gimmick to a budding national contender.

In the triple option offense, you don’t need five star guys. You need the right guys. Cerebral guys with speed, ball handling ability at quarterback and tailback. You need fast, pulling offensive linemen. And you need receivers just good enough to get open and haul in deep bombs on playaction passes once the defense has been lulled to sleep by the running game.

Contrary to popular belief, even Nebraska when it was in its championship edge never set the recruiting world on fire. Tommie Frazier, the Husker legend who came a missed field goal away from leading Nebraska to three straight titles in the early 90s was a three-star guy at best, and was recruited by most as anything other than a quarterback coming out of Bradenton, Fla.

When coach Hall of Fame Nebraska coach Tom Osborne found his guy at quarterback, the rest was history.

And quite frankly, as it is with this offense, when Paul Johnson found his quarterback in Justin Thomas, he found gold.

Hence the 2014 season. 11-3 finish. Coastal Division Champs. First victory over Georgia between the hedges in who-knows-win. A near-miss ACC title against a Florida State team that came one game from playing for another national championship.

Defeating a good, formerly top-ranked Mississippi State team in the Orange Bowl. A No. 8 national ranking.

And guess what, folks? None of it was a fluke. How do I know? Because with Paul Johnson’s man at quarterback, a very talented corps of A and B-backs and a faster, stingier defense than anything I remember since covering the Jackets, Tech came out this season and did what good and great teams do.

They pummeled lesser opponents. To the tune of 134-16. No big deal, you say? Think about last year how we were all wringing our hands at the fact that Wofford and Tulane made Tech look underwhelming, and Georgia Southern almost came into The Flats and stole a win.

And still, look at what that team was able to do for the rest of the season.

Fast forward to today in South Bend, Ind.

When was the last time Georgia Tech had a chance to burst on the scene in a game like this? When was the last time we looked at the Yellow Jackets on the big stage, playing a top 10 team in an historic college football venue with an almost unmatched home field advantage and legitimately said that Tech should — not just “could” — win this game?

Forget the fact that Malik Zaire, Notre Dame’s starting quarterback is out for the season. If Tech wins this game, don’t put an asterisk by it for that reason. Remember what Ohio State taught us last year about quarterback depth? Most legit top 10 teams have second and even third stringers who can probably start at most other programs in the nation.

Notre Dame won’t be hurting much with DeShone Kizer at the controls.

But let’s dare to dream for a moment. The game is done. Victory for Georgia Tech. They celebrate in front of 100,000-plus on one of the most storied atmospheres in all of football.

If and when that happens, I wonder if those 153 people who took that poll back in 2011 — the 97 who said get rid of Johnson and the 42 who said “We’re on the fence” — had a chance to cast their vote again, would they vote differently?

I wonder if they’d have the pride-swallowing ability to go to those 14 folks who said “give the coach more time,” and say “Thank you” for allowing cooler, more level heads to prevail?

Would this be the biggest regular season win in Tech history? That’s debatable, and something some of you Tech fans who’ve been around the program longer than I have can probably answer with more accuracy.

But this I know. It would definitely be the biggest win in Paul Johnson’s tenure.

And it might cause some bloggers and website owners to decide against renewing the hosting on their “Fire Paul Johnson” sites another year.

Gabriel Stovall is in his third season covering Georgia Tech football, and his first as founding editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. He can be reached at gstovall@thecrescentbuzz.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 and the Southern Crescent Buzz @crescent_buzz. 

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