When Johnson arrived in Atlanta, critics had a field day. His new team was picked to finish fourth in its own division by ACC experts. Similarly, Navy was expected to struggle under Johnson’s protégé, Ken Niumatalolo. One computer analysis predicted the Midshipmen and Yellow Jackets would both finish 4-8 this year.
Currently the two teams are a combined 13-5; both are ranked in the top ten in rushing yards; both are headed to a bowl game; both have beaten Top 20 teams; and both have accomplished these feats while overcoming injuries to their starting and back-up quarterbacks. The last point is especially noteworthy when one considers the extraordinary role a quarterback plays in the triple option attack.
However, neither team would be sitting as pretty as they are now if not for a remarkable and really unimaginable turn of events this past Saturday. If you were like me, and unable to attend either game, you were left to flip back-and-forth between the Navy-Temple contest on one network and the Georgia Tech-Florida State game on another. And in a matter of seconds (in real time – not football time) both Navy and Georgia Tech went from almost certain defeat to eventual and improbable victories.
First, in the Georgia Tech game, with left to play, back-up quarterback Jaybo Shaw was intercepted by Florida State’s Patrick Robinson, giving the Seminoles the ball at their own 41-yard line. Shaw was playing because the Yellow Jackets starting quarterback, Josh Nesbitt left the game with a leg injury. Florida State, trailing 31-28 at the time, took just under five minutes to drive to Georgia Tech’s three-yard line where it faced a second and goal with under a minute to play.
Meanwhile in Annapolis, Navy had just failed to prevent Temple from converting a first down with less than two minutes to play. With the score 27-20 in favor of the Owls, the Mids were forced to call its final timeout leaving Temple with only three kneel downs and a punt away from winning the game.
At exactly the same time on the East Coast, Florida State needed three yards to beat Georgia Tech; or no yards and a 20-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. While Temple needed even less to beat Navy outright.
If you were watching the Navy game and figured it was over except for the details, you probably turned the channel to see the outcome of the Georgia Tech-Florida State thriller.
That’s when the first mini-miracle occurred. Florida State’s Marcus Sims took a hand-off from teammate Christian Ponder and was on the brink of breaking the goal line to win the game when he fumbled the ball into the end zone. Georgia Tech’s Rashaad Reid was there to try to pick it up at first, and then eventually emerge from a pile, that included twice as many Seminoles, with the ball. With 45 seconds to play, Georgia Tech had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.
If you thought that was a thrilling ending and you decided to soak it all in for about five seconds, then you missed the unthinkable in Annapolis. Because 30 seconds earlier, a fumble changed the fortunes of the Midshipmen, who were the recipients of some questionable tactics by the Temple coaching staff.
With less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter and on a third down, Temple’s head coach Al Golden decided to have quarterback Adam DiMichele hand the ball off to Kee-ay Griffin instead of just taking a knee. Had he decided to do the later, Temple would probably have punted the ball, which would have left Navy with less than ten seconds to go the length of the field for a game-tying touchdown.
However, Golden decided to call a running play and as a result the ball was stripped from Griffin by Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil. And just like Georgia Tech’s Reid, Navy’s Clint Sovie was in the right place at the right time to pick-up the fumbled ball. Sovie would rumble 42 yards for a touchdown. And as they say, the rest is history. The Mids went on to win the game on a one-yard touchdown run by back-up quarterback Ricky Dobbs in the first overtime. Dobbs, like Tech’s Shaw, had entered the game in the third quarter due to an injury to the team’s starting quarterback.
Even with all the success both Navy and Georgia Tech have enjoyed this season, you will probably not find too much celebrating going on in either locker room just yet. Both teams have three difficult games remaining on their schedules including a match-up with their archrivals. Navy, who still has to play Notre Dame, at Northern Illinois and Army, will probably be content to go 1-2; thrilled to go 2-1; and ecstatic if they finish with three wins. Of course beating Army will take precedence over all else.
Georgia Tech also has a difficult road ahead with games at North Carolina, Miami, and at Georgia. As Coach Johnson recently remarked, the bandwagon is probably getting pretty full in Atlanta, so I’m not too sure how content Tech fans would be if they only manage to win one of those three games. Unless of course it comes against Georgia – that would probably be an acceptable finish to the regular season.
Meanwhile, the college football universe is paying a ton of attention to the top of the polls with another year of controversy regarding the national championship game probably inevitable. However, if Navy and Georgia Tech both finish the season strong (Navy 8-4 or 9-4 with a bowl win) and (Georgia Tech 9-3 or better with a BCS bid) then the success of an offense once considered outdated may just become a hot topic in January and beyond.
And in an off-season when there will once again be plenty of coaching vacancies, don’t be surprised if phone calls are made to Annapolis and Atlanta regarding the availability of their football coaches. There is probably very little chance (less than 1%) that either Niumatalolo or Johnson would go anywhere; however their staffs may start to receive interest.
Two names that come to mind who could garner interest are Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and Georgia Tech co-offensive line coach Mike Sewak. Either one could be considered legitimate head coaching prospects by lower-tier Division I schools or upper-echelon Division I-AA colleges. Sewak has already proven he can win at the Division I-AA level having amassed a 35-14 record as the head coach at Georgia Southern. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if a newly installed head coach at a BCS school like Tennessee, Washington, Syracuse, or Auburn sees if Jasper may be interested in bringing the triple option to a bigger stage.
There is still plenty of football to play this season, but the secret about Paul Johnson’s offense, which was once safe in Annapolis, has spread to Atlanta. And if both Navy and Georgia Tech keep winning, it could become the worst kept secret in college football.
David Ausiello is a senior writer at GoMids.com. He enjoys reading your comments and can be reached via email at Offtheyard@gmail.com