Orange Bowl Loss Shows Georgia Tech Football Still Has a Long Way To Go

Zachary OstermanCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 05:  Head coach Paul Johnson of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets talks with quarterback Josh Nesbitt #9 against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the FedEx Orange Bowl at Land Shark Stadium on January 5, 2010 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

(Josh Nesbitt and Paul Johnson hit the wall with a very loud thud last night.)

Paul Johnson drew plenty of flak before this season's Georgia game when he essentially said he wanted to take Georgia Tech football to a place where one game—at that time, the Georgia game—would not matter so much in the overall judgment of an entire season.

The sentiment, while perhaps misunderstood, was noble. Johnson genuinely wants to build something lasting and steadfast at Georgia Tech: a program that does not so much place stock in winning as it expects it.

Winning an ACC title and playing in the Orange Bowl this year were both part of that building process, surely. But the Jackets' performance Tuesday night needs to be treated like an important lesson, too.

Essentially, Georgia Tech needs to learn that it can't just be happy getting there, because nobody gives out points for the kind of performance losers turn in.

For the second straight year, the execution wasn't there, the energy wasn't there. Last season in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, it was born of cockiness and complacency. Tuesday night, the Jackets just couldn't find their extra gear.

Johnson has talked often of needed improvement along his offensive line, talk that has gone largely ignored as Tech has run up big yards and put its big boys on All-ACC teams consistently over the last two years.

But while Georgia Tech makes no bones about its desire for athletic linemen, games like this make it easy to understand why Johnson is still searching: Right now, the difference between good and great for Georgia Tech is the ability to play physical up front without making mistakes. 

As ESPN's Heather Dinich pointed out on her blog during the game, this was not a top-10 performance from the Jackets.

When they weren't committing penalties, Georgia Tech's blockers were getting manhandled or just plain outhustled along the line of scrimmage, forcing Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer into too many no-win decisions and abetting too many short gains. Without the offensive line, the Jackets never established a rhythm or started to move the ball, (outside of two drives in the third and early-fourth quarters) and it showed plainly.

Let's not take anything away from Iowa. The Hawkeyes were the best defense Tech faced all year, that was obvious. And what they did on defense was a large part of what forced such poor execution from the ACC champions.

Georgia Tech just couldn't handle their physicality in the end, and now the program will again have to suffer another offseason full of questions about the legitimacy of the spread option as an offense that can achieve at the highest level.

Yes, Paul Johnson has done an impressive thing in just two years at Georgia Tech. Absolutely, the Jackets are headed in the right direction, and Johnson's hope of making the program bigger than just one game is still entirely on the table.

But it would also be foolish to ignore the fact that winning the ACC, memorable as it was, was bookended with a loss to an above-average Georgia team and an almost total no-show on one of college football's biggest stages against Iowa.

Georgia Tech is still a program on the rise in college football, but the Jackets have a lot further to go than we all thought.