Getting fooled by Georgia Tech’s triple option is a given. Play the Yellow Jackets and you can pretty much bank on a 300-yard ground gouging.
The wild card is Georgia Tech’s passing. That’s what has separated merely good teams from the excellent in coach Paul Johnson’s four-year tenure.
I know. Georgia Tech passing? It’s like raving over the balsamic vinaigrette at Emeril’s.
But consider this Jackets squad, which plays at Virginia on Saturday and appears headed for an excellent, and perhaps even memorable, season. Tech is 6-0 for the first time since 1966, 3-0 in the ACC, and ranks among the nation’s top 10 in rushing, scoring, total offense and, most telling, pass efficiency.
Credit quarterback Tevin Washington, a full-time starter for the first time, and receiver Stephen Hill, a small forward in shoulder pads. They’ve abused defenses swarming to the option with play-action passes that often find the 6-foot-5 Hill lonesome open.
Tech leads the nation in yards per completion (28.2), and Hill leads in yards per reception (32.5). The Jackets are second nationally in pass efficiency and average 193 yards passing per game, a stunning number for an option offense.
Midway through the regular season, Washington already has completions of 82, 77, 73, 71, 67, 59, 43, 41 and 40 yards. Georgia Tech leads the nation in passes of 40-plus yards (11), 50-plus (eight), 60-plus (six) and 70-plus (four).
“You're dealing with the triple option, and actually you add one more element of it and that is the ability to throw the ball as well as they run the ball,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “As (much) as you try to dictate or try to create a game plan as to who you want to carry the ball, you have to be cognizant of the fact that as much as you do that, they do an excellent job of throwing the ball behind you because you get perimeter people involved and you get certain linebackers and do certain stunts, you play man coverages.”
Now consider last year, when Tech went 6-7, its first losing season since 1994. The Jackets were 113th among 120 Division I-A team in pass efficiency with a national-low 38.1 completion percentage. They had nine touchdown passes and 1,091 yards in the air.
This year’s numbers: 51.2 completion percentage, 10 scores and 1,158 yards – with at least seven games remaining.
Last year’s starting quarterback, Josh Nesbitt, sustained a season-ending broken arm at Virginia Tech in the season’s ninth game. Moreover, Georgia Tech was without DeMaryius Thomas, the All-ACC receiver who turned pro after helping the Jackets win the 2009 conference championship.
The Jackets were 12th nationally in pass efficiency that season, and Nesbitt was first-team All-ACC.
Georgia Tech lost five of its last six games in 2010, the final four-plus without Nesbitt. Washington and the offense struggled in his absence, most notably in a 35-10 loss at Miami and 14-7 Independence Bowl defeat against Air Force.
There have been few struggles this season. Washington’s first pass of the season was an 82-yard scoring strike to Hill against Western Carolina as the Jackets passed for more yards in that opening quarter (148) than any 2010 game.
Washington, a 6-foot junior, is no Aaron Rodgers. But he’s accurate, has thrown just two interceptions and is durable and astute enough to run the option.
The only red flags this season came the last two weeks when Georgia Tech reverted to 2010 form, completing just 10-of-33 passes for 231 yards combined in victories over North Carolina State and Maryland.
Is that a signal that the Jackets’ numbers are the product of defenseless opponents such as Western Carolina, Troy and Kansas? Or were the N.C. State and Maryland wins mere hiccups?
We’re about to find out. Georgia Tech’s next four opponents are Virginia, Miami, No. 8 Clemson and No. 19 Virginia Tech.
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