Pass It On

Aug 31, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Yes, Virginia, Georgia Tech has a passing game.

Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami, Georgia and rest of the 2013 schedule should take note as well.

That was a question heading into Saturday’s 2013 season-opener against Elon.

The Yellow Jackets had a first-time starter in redshirt sophomore quarterback Vad Lee, who had appeared in 12 games in 2012, whose starting receivers were two guys who not only had never started a college game, but had never even caught a pass, in redshirt-freshman Micheal Summers and junior Corey Dennis. The only numbers Dennis had on his résumé were the nine tackles (six solo) he’d recorded on special teams over the last two seasons. The next third option at receiver was athletically gifted DeAndre Smelter, who last played football in high school, and had played baseball his first three years on the Flats.

Tech answered with an efficient yet big-play passing game as part of a 70-0 victory over Elon. The win set an ACC record for the largest margin of victory by an ACC team.

Summers answered the call, stepping up immediately, as he got the ball in his hands on Tech’s first offensive play, via a wide receiver screen.

“I wanted to see how they were going to line up and that’s a pretty safe play,” said head coach Paul Johnson, who called the play. “When I watched them against Georgia Southern and when I watched the defensive coordinator (Brad Sherrod) when he was at Delaware against Navy, they really pursued on the motion hard, so that’s a pretty safe play to see how they were going to line up.”

While Johnson down-played the importance of seven-yard completion — Tech’s first first-play completion since 2006, when Reggie Ball hit Calvin Johnson for a six-yard pickup against Notre Dame — Lee did not.

“That’s like a momentum builder, just to get it going,” said Lee. “It gives the receiver and me confidence. That was big and just to see Mike take it for six yards, that’s all we really want out of the play. That was big time.”

That play set the tone for Tech and for Summers. The 6-1, 190-pound native of Statesboro, Ga., who had impressed throughout training camp impressed again on Saturday, catching three passes for 79 yards, both team-highs.

“He caught everything that came his direction but the one ball down the sideline that really shouldn’t have been thrown to him,” said Johnson. “Micheal is going to grow and get better the more he plays. He made a big catch on the deep ball, caught the hitch, made the guy miss, got a crucial first down early in the game. I think he did okay for his first start.”

“He’s been working so hard throughout camp,” said Lee. “Maybe it hadn’t been going as smoothly as we thought or he thought, but, obviously, today, hard work pays off.”

Redshirt-senior B-Back David Sims was confident that Summers would be mentally up to the challenge of his first start.

“Micheal’s a pretty laid-back guy anyway so he’s not going to show a lot of emotion,” said Sims. “I think for his first start, and for his first actual college experience he did pretty good. We got him the ball the first play of the game, he made somebody miss. He showed that he can make some plays for us this year. I hope that this is just a taste of it.”

While the seven-yard gain on the game’s first play was a big play momentum-wise, Summers made a big play yardage-wise in the third quarter.

The play came on the second drive of the second half, and while the game was decided for all intents and purposes, at 49-0, it was the kind of play that could be a chemistry-builder with Lee.

Facing second-and-six from the Tech 22, Lee lined up in the pistol. He took the snap and dropped back but almost immediately was flushed from the pocket by Elon defensive lineman Jordan Jones. Avoiding Jones by scrambling to his left, Lee ran up to the 20, pulled up and heaved the ball downfield. Summers pulled the ball out of the air, as sophomore WLB Alexander Dawson could do little more than try to catch up.

“It was a ‘duck,’ but he went to go get it,” said Lee, with a laugh. “That’s a confidence-builder for me being able to know that I can throw any kind of ball and he’ll go get it. That was big time.”

The play was good for 54 yards, Tech’s second-longest of the day. Ironically, that exact same play had been called for Smelter on the previous play.

“That was the NEXT play, actually,” said Lee. “I got flushed when I was about to throw it to DeAndre then Coach Johnson called it again for Mike. The O-Line held up and Mike was open.”

Two plays after the connection, a confident Lee went over the top, dropping a perfect pass into A-Back Robert Godhigh in the right corner of the end zone. The TD, Lee’s second of the game gave Tech a 56-0 lead, and, more important, another positive upon which to build going forward.

“That was the highlight throw,” Lee said. “I was really using my eyes on that. I told Robbie, ‘We don’t win unless you score a touchdown pass’ because it seems like he always scores. I used my eyes, I worked the corner on that and Robbie ran a great rout.”

The touchdown pass to Godhigh capped Lee’s final series of the day, a four-play, 82-yard drive, during which he accounted for all 82 yards, running for four and going 2-for-3 passing for the other 78. The drive was important as far as working on the passing game, which had been an afterthought due to the nature of the game. Tech led early and was never headed, forcing four turnovers, a fumble and three interceptions. Two of the picks were returned for touchdowns, only the third time in school history that’s happened, the first time since Sept. 9, 2006 against Samford — the only other time came 40 years earlier on Oct. 22, 1966 against Tulane. Tech set a school record with 173 yards in interception returns.

While Lee didn’t throw much he did make the most of his throws. Another of his aerials, a screen to Sims, resulted in a 59-yard scoring play on the first play of the second quarter, extending the lead to 28-0. Receivers played a big part in that, as Sims credited Dennis and redshirt-freshman A-Back Dennis Andrews for their downfield blocking.

Lee spread the ball around, getting the ball into the hands of three different A-Backs, Godhigh, B.J. Bostic, and Deon Hill, as well as Sims and Summers, and went 7-for-11, a 63.6 percent completion rate — he came into the game with a career 48.2 percentage into the season — for 189 yards.

While the competition gets tougher beginning at Duke in two weeks, the Jackets’ passing numbers are encouraging, as Elon’s secondary was expected to be a strength, with three of the Phoenix’s starters returning from last season.

Even more encouraging for Tech’s offense is the return of Darren Waller and Travin Henry from suspension. While the passing game won’t suddenly jump to option no. 1 in Johnson’s Spread Option, it suddenly appears to be a more viable and potentially very productive one.

“The sky’s the limit for us,” said Lee. “I love to put the ball in their hands so they can make plays. Obviously, when Darren comes back he’s going to be an even bigger deep threat and it’s going to be exciting just to see where we can go with this.”

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