ACC Week: One Big Question for Georgia Tech, How Many Options Does Paul Johnson Have?


The triple option is the ultimate execution offense. A defense knows what’s coming almost 75 percent of the time — it’s going to be a rush. However if executed properly, nothing gets a defense back on its heels more.

Georgia Tech had moments in 2011 when the triple option Paul Johnson implemented at Georgia Southern and Navy previously looked downright unstoppable. At 4114 yards, GT was No. 2 nationally running the ball (316.5 per game). That’s an impressive figure, and it resulted an equally impressive 34.4 points per game.

So with the starting quarterback returning, what could possibly be motivation for making a switch?

Well, Tevin Washington had no problems leading the running facet of Tech’s ground based offense; at 987 yards, he was Tech’s leading rusher. And as stated, the run’s a huge component of the Yellow Jacket attack. However, Tech was at its best in 2009 when Josh Nesbitt was surprising defenses anticipating a run with the pass. Nesbitt completed just 46 percent of his attempts, but managed 1700 yards and 10 touchdowns, mostly targeting Demaryius Thomas.

Washington actually posted comparable numbers: 49 percent completions, 11 touchdowns, 1652 yards. What vexed him was the pass was less of a surprise weapon, and at times something that felt more insisted upon. Take the Jackets’ encounter with Virginia Tech, a game in which Washington rushed for three touchdowns. Looking to unleash the pass against the tenacious Hokie defense resulted in Washington taking five sacks and losing over 40 yards.

It was an interesting juxtaposition from Nesbitt and the ’09 campaign, using the ACC Championship as an anecdotal examination of how the offense functioned then. Nesbitt completed nine passes, simply air raid-like for him, but among them was a 70-yard touchdown to Thomas in the third quarter that proved vital.

And while a superstar talent in Thomas supplemented the aerial ace-in-the-hole of those ACC champion Jackets, last year’s receiving corps wasn’t exactly devoid of targets. Stephen Hill was among the most coveted prospects in April’s NFL Draft, and far-and-away the Jackets’ most integral receiving target. He accounted for nearly half the aerial touchdowns (5) and averaged almost 30 yards per attempt. The latter was comparable to how Thomas was utilized in 2009, yet Thomas caught 46 times. Hill only had 28 receptions.

Washington was given the reins ahead of schedule, when Josh Nesbitt went down with an injury late in 2010. The Jackets came into that campaign with aspirations of repeating as conference champion, perhaps even contending for the BCS title. Yet by the time Washington became starter, Tech was floundering at 5-4, fell to 5-5 in his starting debut, and finished the season below .500. Stepping in amid such a tenuous situation is hardly ideal.

Now, he has a competitor breathing down his neck following spring ball. Redshirt freshman Vlad Lee played well in workouts. Johnson was already signing his praises a year ago, and this spring shined in the season-ending scrimmage. Included in his performance were two touchdown passes. Intriguing indeed.

Another interesting choice Johnson has ahead of him is how frequently to use Orwin Smith. He finished behind Washington and David Sims in total yards with 615. However, Smith’s 615 were accrued on 61 carries; Sims rushed 74 more times but produced just 83 yards more.

As the featured B-back with an ability to play QB, Sims had defenses targeting on him. Thus, it’s not as if Smith would continue to rattle off 10.1 yards per carry if he was rushing 150 times on the season. But with Roddy Jones, Embry Peeples and and Preston Lyons’ 151 carries worth of production gone, Smith should factor more heavily into the scheme.

That could be a boost to the passing game. Smith made the third most receptions a season ago, his speed making him a dangerous weapon on the flats. Defenses over-pursuing the option can be exploited with Smith in these scenarios.

Who is throwing to him will be of great interest.