Timeout with Harsha Sridhar

Photo by Casey Gomez

Almost immediately after their matchup against the University of Minnesota in the everything-but-prestigious Quick Lane Bowl was announced, Tech players jumped onto social media to air their disappointment. “I’m baffled at this bowl game,” declared quarterback TaQuon Marshall. “No respect,” complained safety Tariq Carpenter. “Feels like a slap in the face,” added offensive lineman Scott Morgan for good measure.

Baffling, disrespectful, a slap in the face — all of those words  did apply after the game was over, but for a very different reason. The Jackets were shellacked 34-10 at the hands of the Golden Gophers, who had squeaked into bowl eligibility as the result of a rare win over rival Wisconsin.

The Gophers looked hungry, prepared to run the ball and stop the triple option in perhaps the last time the Jackets would ever run it. The Jackets looked like a team that was unhappy to be playing against a 6-6 team in a sparsely attended game in Detroit the day after Christmas. What should have been a warm, fond send-off for Coach Paul Johnson was instead a nightmarish slog. And perhaps more disappointing than the outcome was the reason Tech lost — the team was just outmanned by the Golden Gophers. Minnesota’s offensive line was stronger, its defensive line nastier and its running backs more resistant to contact. Minnesota played the style of football that Tech had made its calling card for more than a decade under Johnson.

Though its ending was unceremonious, it is now time for us to move past the Paul Johnson era. Tech’s offense will look very different under new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, who runs the sort of spread offense that has become popular across the country, even making its way into NFL playbooks. Certainly, fans hope that the defense looks different too; it was consistently the team’s Achilles’ heel under Johnson, and Collins, a defensively minded coach, has a shot to turn that around.

Go on an online message board and you’ll find three types of Tech fans. The first camp remains fiercely loyal to Johnson, and predicts doom and gloom for the program now that it moves away from the triple option attack that made it so formidable for years. In the eyes of these fans, Tech has just lost its strongest asset.

The second camp is jubilant about Johnson’s retirement and the hire of Geoff Collins, who has emphasized recruiting at each of his previous stops. These fans see in Collins the chance for Tech football to gain the sort of curb appeal necessary to sway elite high school recruits away from the myriad powerhouse programs in Tech’s backyard.

The third camp, the one I call home, is cautiously optimistic. The transition from Johnson to Collins will not be easy — although a great deal of credit is due to Johnson’s staff for continuing to work on the recruiting trail even after his retirement was announced. It is clear that the new offense and defense will prioritize new skills and players. And though that may be messy, expect excitement.