Joey asked that I cover for him while he's off drinking Woodford Reserve on a cruise ship. He said, "Post a review of Paul Johnson's stellar bowl record." That should be easy. At least the stellar part won't take long.
First, the good part. CPJ took the job as head coach at Navy in 2002 and started rebuilding a once sorta proud football program. The Middies won two games that first season, then went bowling in 2003. It was not a pretty game though, as Texas Tech routed Navy 38-14 at the Houston Bowl. He followed up the next season with ten wins and a trip to San Francisco to play New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl. On a cold rainy day the flexbone offense prevailed and Johnson had his first bowl win, 34-19. He followed that in 2005 with another win, this time in the Poinsettia Bowl by destroying Colorado state 51-30. As you can see, the trend toward defensive problems on CPJ cooached teams began at Navy.
In the 2006 season Navy earned a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl where they played Matt Ryan and the Boston College Eagles. Navy was ahead 24-22 when BC got possession on an option pitch to the A-back that was fumbled with 1:43 left. Ryan got the Eagles close and they kicked a FG as time expired to win 25-24. The next season we hired CPJ before Navy made its return trip to the Poinsettia Bowl to play Utah and Johnson surrendered the reins to his offensive line coach. Navy came up short under their new coach when their desperation pass was intercepted with a few seconds remaining. The final score was 35-32.
In Johnson's first season after taking over for Chan Gailey, who had lost three straight bowl games, the Jackets earned a trip downtown to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Tech closed out the regular season playing four straight top 25 teams, beating #15 FSU, #23 Miami, and #11 georgia, then faced un-ranked LSU in the bowl game. Jordan Jefferson and Charles Scott dominated Tech while scoring 28 points in the 2nd quarter. It was never a game as Tech lost 38-3.
The 2009 season saw Tech beat Clemson twice, but lose to un-ranked georgia. The #10 ranked Jackets traveled to Miami to play #11 Iowa in the Orange Bowl, but could not dent the Iowa defense and lost 24-14. Tech had only 155 yards total offense against the 10th best Div I defense. The loss ran Tech's bowl losing streak to five.
The 2010 season began with great hope and a preseason #16 ranking. The air came out of the balloon in Lawrence, Kansas, as a Jayhawk team that lost the previous week to North Dakota State beat Tech 28-25. Midway through the schedule, the season seemed to be back on track, but three consecutive losses, and a season-ending injury to Josh Nesbitt, brought the funk back to the Flats. Tech beat Duke to become bowl eligible, then lost to georgia for the second straight year. Spirits were not high, but Tech earned a trip to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Then the Tech offense turned the ball over four times and the Jackets lost 14-7. Tech lead 7-6 going into the 4th quarter, but could not stop AFA after we muffed a punt at the Tech 14. The 2-point conversion made the final score.
2011 Started beautifully and Tech was ranked #12 going into the black hole know as Scott Stadium. We lost, then lost again the next week to Miami in Coral Gables. #6 ranked Clemson came in to BDS the following week and we kicked butt. Then the Jackets lost to #10 VPI in Atlanta before beating Duke and losing, yet again, to georgia. Our 8-4 record earned us the Sun Bowl in El Paso where we lost to Utah after leading 24-10 in the fourth quarter. The Utes drove 71 yards to pull within a TD. We traded punts and allowed a return to our 24 yard line with just over two minutes remaining. Utah hit a TD pass with 1:32 left to put the game into OT. We licked a FG on our possession after failing to get a first down at the Utah 17. The Utes converted both of their 3rd down plays and won 27-24. This marked the seventh bowl loss in a row for Tech, and the sixth for Paul Johnson.
The 2012 season again opened with high expectations. The Jackets lost to #16 VPI in OT at Blacksburg, then won two lopsided games before losing in OT to Miami in Atlanta. An embarrassing loss to Middle Tennessee and another to #16 Clemson gave us a 2-4 record and the boo birds were heard when Tech returned home to play Boston College. Tech found itself and beat BC by three TDs, then lost to BYU before winning three straight to become bowl eligible again. The wrong end of a route in Athens left us at 6-6. When Miami elected to decline to play in the ACC Championship Game, we faced Atlantic champion FSU in Charlotte. We were within a single play of upsetting the #13 Noles before losing 21-15. The NCAA granted our waiver request that allowed our Jackets, with a 6-7 record, to return to El Paso to face previously #1 ranked Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl. Without their starting QB, the Trojans could not solve the rejuvenated Tech defense and the good guys won 21-7, thus ending what seemed like a bowl losing streak back into the 19th century.
Coach Johnson was 2-4 in bowls at Navy (2-5 if you count the 2007 game after he moved to Tech) and is 1-4 so far at Ga Tech. It's hard to be truly optimistic about the future while looking back at how we lost those four games, or how Navy lost when CPJ was coaching in Annapolis. Games were lost ugly and by collapsing at the end. Games were lost while showing offensive artistry and by futility. Only once did a Johnson defense play well in a loss. The striking similarity between the 2006 and 2007 games at Navy and the Air Force and Utah games at Tech is glaring. Johnson's teams folded at the end of all four of those games that were eminently winnable. This trend does not bode well for a game against an Ole Miss team that lost four games to teams in the top 10, then to their in-state rival in OT.