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  • Georgia Tech capped its regular season with a blowout loss to rival Georgia, showing the depth of the difference between the two in-state programs.
By Scooby Axson
November 24, 2018

By any metrics of which college football coaches are judged, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson has more than exceeded expectations in his 11 seasons in Atlanta.

With a record of 83–59 in his tenure at Tech, with eight bowl appearances and one conference title, Johnson took an old-school offense to a Power 5 league and made it work for the most part. It is so hard to prepare for a system that only the service academies consistently run, and the Yellow Jackets elected to use that schematic anomaly to the program's advantage in the shadow of several ACC and SEC powerhouses.

But in the talent rich state of Georgia, it’s Kirby Smart’s program in Athens that has built a full-on powerhouse competing for national titles, and he's only in his third year at the helm of the program.

Smart, a former Nick Saban assistant, brought in the top recruiting class in 2018—including dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields—and will continue to stockpile players for the foreseeable future.

Saturday’s renewal of the rivalry known as “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” got ugly early in a 45–21 Georgia rout that moved the Bulldogs closer to a playoff berth and left the Yellow Jackets wondering how to move forward, despite reaching a ninth bowl game under Johnson.

In the quick moving game that featured only 33 passing attempts, Jake Fromm threw for 175 yards and four touchdowns, while D’Andre Swift ran for 106 yards as Georgia rested its starters in the fourth quarter in preparation for the SEC championship showdown against Alabama next Saturday.

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Georgia Tech’s first score came when Juanyeh Thomas took a kickoff back 100 yards to make the score 14–7. It didn’t reach the end zone again until the middle of the fourth quarter on a Qua Searcy three-yard score.

The Yellow Jackets entered the game with the nation’s leading ground attack, averaging 353 yards a game and almost six yards a carry. They finished with a season-low 128 yards on 2.8 yards a carry.

It got so bad that in the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech called a quarterback throwback pass on three consecutive plays in efforts to move the ball. On the third attempt, the pass was finally completed for 22 yards.

The Jackets end the regular season with seven wins, but that should be considered an obvious disappointment in an an easily winnable ACC Coastal Division.

The school and 61-year-old Johnson finalized a contract extension in April that will keep him in Atlanta through the 2022 season. Firing Johnson before the end of this season would only cost the school $2 million, but Johnson has earned the right to walk away on his own terms, which, given his age and recent inconsistencies, could be sooner rather than later.

The truth is that the Coastal Division has been waiting for a dominant team to take over. Six different teams have made the conference title game in the past six seasons (only Virginia has yet to appear in the game), with two teams from the Atlantic Division, Florida State and Clemson, winning each of the last seven ACC crowns.

Whether the Georgia Tech administration wants to continue the football program's high-variance play for years to come or try to follow in the more traditional mold of the in-state powerhouse a few hours away, the end of the regular season makes it decision time for everyone involved.

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