Late on Friday, I told you that a new era in Athens needed to mean a new era in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate for Georgia Tech.
After Saturday’s win by the Yellow Jackets, it certainly appears that a new era has arrived.
Georgia Tech entered the fourth quarter in Athens with a 13-point deficit, and things started to look exceptionally bleak when the offense failed to convert a 4th-and-4 with 12 minutes left. It was the defense that then came up with a huge three-and-out to force a punt — one that would back the Jackets up all the way to their own 6-yard line with under 10 minutes to go.
Needing to go 94 yards for a touchdown to keep the game alive, they did so. It only took 7 plays, and featured a pair of huge passes from Justin Thomas to Brad Stewart (23 yards) and Qua Searcy (39 yards). Four plays later, Dedrick Mills barreled into the end zone to pull the Jackets to within six points.
On the ensuing possession, it was again the defense coming up huge, as Lance Austin came down with a tipped georgia pass, giving the offense one last chance to win the game for Georgia Tech.
Never ones to give up, they did just that. A 16-yard pass to Clinton Lynch, a 13-yard run from Marcus Marshall, a 9-yard run by Searcy, and a 4-yard run by Mills had the Jackets inside the 10-yard line. On third down, they needed someone to make a play to win the game.
Searcy made that play.
The play that he made was what really made this game unique for Georgia Tech in the context of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. All too often, it seems like the Yellow Jackets come up one or two plays short of knocking off big, bad georgia. That wouldn’t be the case on this day.
Georgia Tech has now won 2 of 3 against georgia (and both in Athens to boot), something that hasn’t been done since they won three in a row from 1998-2000. They’ve now finished the regular season 5-1 — including wins over two of their biggest rivals — after starting the year 3-3. They’ve officially improved by 5 wins over last year, which puts them among the best in the country in terms of win differential from a year ago. As much as we’ve discussed the varied level of happiness that we have with 6- and 7-win seasons, a bounce-back year for Georgia Tech that turns into an 8-win regular season is an unequivocally successful year for this team.
The next steps for Coach Johnson, now, are as follows:
- Turn this win and season into recruiting success, between now and Signing Day in February (and beyond). With only 14 commitments thus far, the Jackets still sport a top-50 recruiting class. They should be able to take about 20 commitments in the class, so there’s work still to be done for the coaching staff here.
- Go win the bowl game to send the seniors off right. The Jackets will bid farewell to several of their senior leaders after the bowl game (including Justin Thomas, Freddie Burden, Pat Gamble, P.J. Davis, Harrison Butker, among others) and they deserve a proper send-off after some illustrious careers. We’ll learn more about which bowl they’ll play in, and who the opponent will be, in the next 10 days.
- Use bowl practice to get a head start on figuring out the quarterback situation for 2017. As mentioned, the bowl game will be the last in the career of three-year starter Justin Thomas. When Georgia Tech kicks off the 2017 season in Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Tennessee, they’ll have a new face to guide the offense. Bowl practice is especially helpful in developing younger players for future seasons, and the QB position is the only real position of concern looking to next year. Whether it’s rising junior Matthew Jordan, rising junior TaQuon Marshall, or one of the freshmen (Jay Jones or Lucas Johnson), Paul Johnson’s staff would be well-served to use the bowl game and its practices to spend a lot of time working on grooming the new signal-caller.
It should also be noted that new athletic director Todd Stansbury officially takes office on Monday morning — a good time to be starting in his new role, no doubt. One of the first things on his agenda should be to reach out to some of the athletic association’s top boosters to try and leverage a strong win and a strong season in his fundraising efforts.
The win over georgia is a good one for Georgia Tech, and the eighth win (and second over a rival) solidifies the season as a whole as a good one. If Paul Johnson and his staff can take this season and build on it, it could, indeed, be a new era — not only in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, but for Georgia Tech football in general.