ATLANTA — Paul Johnson has heard Georgia Tech fans say the Yellow Jackets’ record doesn’t matter as long as they beat in-state rival Georgia.
“We’ll see if that’s true,” Johnson said Monday.
Georgia Tech (3-8), which opened its season with two straight wins, has since lost eight of nine to end the program’s streak of 18 consecutive bowl appearances. It’s an especially painful fall from last year’s 11-3 finish which included the team’s first win over Georgia since 2008.
The Yellow Jackets have collapsed under a deluge of injuries to key offensive players, turnovers and other mistakes. Johnson said beating Georgia (8-3) on Saturday would make for a good finish, but it wouldn’t salvage the season for him.
“No. This season has been miserable, it has been miserable for everybody involved,” Johnson said. “Players, coaches, everybody. There’s nothing fun about losing.”
The problems continued to mount in last week’s 38-21 loss at Miami, which capped a 1-7 Atlantic Coast Conference record. Quarterback Justin Thomas left the game with a first-quarter injury, leaving his status for this week uncertain.
Georgia Tech didn’t release details of the injury. He hit his head but didn’t suffer a concussion, according to Johnson.
Thomas appeared to be testing his right shoulder or arm on the sideline.
Georgia Tech is expected to release an update on Thomas on Thursday.
“I’m hopeful he’s going to play but I can’t sit here right now and tell you he’s going to play for sure or that he’s not going to play for sure,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how the week unfolds.”
The loss of Thomas was devastating against Miami. Freshman Matthew Jordan, who became the top backup after Tim Byerly’s season-ending knee injury in September, had six fumbles and an interception. Overall, Georgia Tech lost two of nine fumbles.
Jordan had 28 carries for 60 yards. Johnson said Jordan should have pitched the ball to running backs more often but was too hesitant after fumbling on an early pitch.
Thomas was left as the only experienced skill position player after Georgia Tech lost wide receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller and running backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey, among others, from last year’s team.
Then the Yellow Jackets were hit with a wave of injuries at running back. Quaide Weimerskirch, C.J. Leggett and Nate Cottrell missed the full season. Qua Searcy played in only three games.
“Hard to play,” Johnson said after referencing the injuries. “Sounds like an excuse and I don’t mean it to be an excuse, but it’s the truth.”
This is Johnson’s first losing season since a 6-7 mark in 2010. His only other losing record as a head coach was when he was 2-10 in 2002, his first of six seasons at Navy.
He said he knew even before the season the Yellow Jackets would have to overcome concerns on their offensive line, but he said he never suspected a 3-8 record could be possible.
“No. Like I said, this is new territory for me,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of been a situation where every game for the most part we’ve been in and we find a way to self-implode. I don’t know if that’s just playing young guys or if it’s just our turn. I’ve been doing it a long time. Maybe it’s just my turn.”
A win over Georgia would make for a big finish to a lost season.
“While nothing could make the challenges and the results go away totally, it would be a good way to try to end the season on a positive note,” Johnson said.