Coach Paul Johnson summed up the Tech loss to Georgia by saying, "Our margin for error was small." He then went on to describe missed opportunities and execution.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution writer, Ken Seguira, gave a similar assessment but in more blunt terms. "Georgia was a better team and Tech had to play a perfect game to win. They did not and they lost."
Both comments resonate with me but not just because I strongly agree with them. I think they also speak to why Tech's future prospects just get rosier and rosier. I will try to explain why after the jump.
To put Tech's loss to Georgia in perspective I would simply invite the reader to reflect on Tech's opus this season. Compare the fist quarter against Georgia with the first quarter against Clemson and you see a Tech offense that is getting stuffed less by the Dogs than by the Tigers. The difference perhaps was that even though Clemson was "manhandling" Tech in ways the Dogs were not, Tech failed to execute against Georgia on several key plays. Perhaps no bigger example was Tech's first offensive play of the game. As one TV announcer pointed out, the passer missed an easy touchdown as "Stephen Hill was open by more than 30 yards." Even as the first half of the Georgia game ended I think any objective observation would say this game was up for grabs.
Allow a digression for a moment about what may appear to be Tech whining. Tech got called for a "chop block" on a play in which frankly I could never find the infraction no matter how many times I watched the replay. Likewise, on two key Georgia possessions a late hit out of bounds was not called against Georgia neither was a flagrant holding call on a pass play. Did these cost Tech the game? Of course not. The point is that a team with a small margin for error cannot afford to have too many opportunities to turn the game around fall by the wayside. Coach Johnson even pointed out that on one Georgia pass for a touchdown, "We had the play called and they still completed it." In other words, Tech's margin for error against a team of Georgia's caliber was so slight that even calling the right defensive assignment still required perfect execution.
Now compare this with the Virginia Tech game and the North Carolina State game. Against Virginia Tech the Jackets were again required to play the perfect game in order to win. I contend that there is a palpable rhythm to every Tech game. If Tech gets a lead and gets into its rhythm long enough the opposing team becomes the one that must play the perfect game. Tech was on the verge of being in that position with the Hokies until a key penalty changed the entire momentum. The difference in the North Carolina State game is quite obvious. State was not good enough at that time to capitalize on all of Tech's miscues and missed opportunities. Every time Tech failed on a play they simply ran it again until they got it right. Teams like Clemson, Georgia and Virginia Tech were far too good to allow Tech to "keep practicing" until they got it right. Some may recall that after the North Carolina State game I was acting a little like chicken-little. The concern that I expressed at that time turned out to be a legitimate one. This team was simply never good enough to overcome self-inflicted wounds against most of the better opponents it would face.
All of this should auger well however for coming seasons under Paul Johnson. This year's small margin for error was due in part to youth and lack of depth at key positions. But at the risk of redundancy, lets go over this again to see now startling in retrospect this year's season was.
Depending on how one counts these things, Tech had at least eight problem areas prior to the start of the season, each of which alone could have produced a losing season:
No nose guard and a suspect defensive line -Most college experts were predicting disaster for Al Groh's system due to a total inability to stop the run. Some predicted at least 6 losses this year based on this factor alone.
No starters returning in the secondary -The old adage used to be that a team will give up one extra touchdown for every new starter in the secondary.
No proven B-back -Many worried that without a star B-back both Tech's time of possession and Tech's total number of possessions would be drastically reduced this year.
An unproven offensive line -Winning teams have good offensive lines and at the start of the season there was no proof that Tech had that. Remember how in spring training our suspect defensive line totally worked over the offensive line?
An unproductive quarterback returning as the starter -What can one say about this? No team can win without a good quarterback but especially a team in which the entire offense requires leadership, precision reads and decision making.
Special Teams in total disarray in every area -Again, the experts say that poor special teams play will create several losses during the course of the season in games which you otherwise should have won.
Tech has the youngest roster of any team in the BCS -Can you say wow?
Before the season started I thought any realistic assessment of Tech had to include the possibility of the team going 6-7 and failing to earn a bowl birth. As we poured over practice reports as if we were divining the entrails of a goat we looked for signs of hope. Many of us said that an 8 win season would be a phenomenal success. I went so far as to say that if Coach Johnson won 8 (or more counting a bowl win) that he should be considered for coach of the year honors. On paper there was no meaningful evidence that this team was not in a total rebuilding year.
The cliche is that "baseball is a game of inches." If this is true then perhaps football is a game of attoparsecs, but perhaps my humor is a tad obscure. Let me put it this way. Coach Paul Johnson consistently beats the margin for error with his teams and as a result we tend to start measuring his success by meaningless standards. To paraphrase something Winfield has already eloquently pointed out, would you rather have your expectations raised by someone like Johnson or would you rather settle for expecting less as we did with someone like Gailey? I remain convinced that the reason we start expecting more with Johnson is because subliminally we know the future is very bright with him. Let's hear it for a season that is already far more than we could or should have hoped for!