Georgia Tech vs. No. 9 Florida State
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta
ATLANTA — For Paul Johnson, this is a new low.
And it doesn’t get any easier for Georgia Tech.
Touted as one of the favorites in the Atlantic Coast Conference and even a possible playoff contender, the Yellow Jackets are mired in a five-game losing streak — their longest since 1994 — as they prepare to face No. 9 Florida State on Saturday night.
Johnson, who’s had only two losing records in his 19 years as a head coach, called this the worst season of his career.
“It’s a killer. You hate it,” he said after practice Wednesday. “I can’t stand losing. It gnaws at me. It eats at me. It’s like I tell our guys: It’s not enough to want to win; you’ve got to hate losing. And I do. So it eats at you.”
Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4 ACC) started the season with blowout wins against Alcorn State and Tulane, scoring more than 60 points in each game. That merely provided false hope to a team that has been plagued by injuries, keeps losing close games and hasn’t gotten the lift it expected from an experienced defense and offensive line.
Never lacking for confidence, Johnson figures the Yellow Jackets should have beaten Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh, which would’ve given this season a totally different look.
Instead, they need to win at least four of their last five games to keep alive an 18-year streak of bowl appearances, tied for the second-longest active run in the country behind Virginia Tech’s 22 in a row.
“We’re just trying to win a game,” Johnson said. “The schedule doesn’t get any easier.”
Indeed, the game against Florida State (6-0, 4-0) wraps a six-game stretch in which Georgia Tech has played teams with a combined record of 33-4.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in my lifetime,” the coach said.
But the Yellow Jackets can’t attribute their disappointing season solely to a brutal schedule. A miserable performance on special teams led to the 34-20 loss at No. 23 Duke. There’s no excuse for squandering an early 21-0 lead at home against North Carolina, leading to a 38-31 setback. Last week, No. 25 Pittsburgh got a school-record field goal from 56 yards with 1:04 remaining to knock off the Jackets 31-28.
In its two biggest games so far, Johnson’s team wasn’t nearly as competitive. Georgia Tech fell behind 30-7 at No. 11 Notre Dame before two touchdowns in the final minute made the score deceptively close. The Yellow Jackets got dismantled in Death Valley by No. 6 Clemson, losing 43-24.
“We shouldn’t be 2-5. I’ll be the first to say that’s disappointing,” Johnson said. “There are reasons for everything, but no one wants to hear them. You are what your record says you are.”
Johnson won two NCAA Division I-AA championships while going 62-10 during a brilliant five-year run at Georgia Southern. Moving to Navy in 2002, he endured his first losing season (2-10) while rebuilding a miserable program, bouncing back to go 43-19 with five straight bowl appearances for the Midshipmen. At Georgia Tech, he’s guided the Yellow Jackets to three ACC championship games and an 11-win season in 2014, which included a rout of Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
With his trademark triple-option offense, Johnson has usually excelled at getting more out of his teams than was expected.
Now he’s on the opposite side, leading an underachieving team that is one of the biggest disappointments in the nation.
“We don’t have a 90,000-seat stadium. We don’t have this and that,” Johnson said, referring to some of the financial limitations that face Georgia Tech. “That doesn’t mean we can’t win. We won last year. We’ve been in the ACC championship game three times. So that’s not an excuse.”
An upset of the Seminoles would sure make things a lot better.
“We try to look at it like an opportunity,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to find a way a way to get them over the top, over the hill. But it doesn’t get any easier when you keep playing really good teams.”