#STINGDAILY: Saturday Showdown

Sept. 18, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

This is the second time already this fall — after just two games mind you — that we’ve said this, but in the event anyone is beginning to think that Georgia Tech is a passing team, or even less of a running team than before, just stop.

Anyone who says that he/she thinks that head coach Paul Johnson is falling in love with the aerial game is crazy or lying.

As the Yellow Jackets (2-0, 1-0 ACC) prepare for Saturday’s ACC home opener against North Carolina (1-1, 0-0) – and hopefully an eighth consecutive win over the Tar Heels in Bobby Dodd Stadium (and 14th in the last 16 meetings) — the home team still means to run the ball frequently and fervently.

For the second season running, North Carolina has had a week off to prepare for the Jackets, and Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said that’s been helpful.

“I want to say we’ve gotten better in the bye week,” he reported to his local media. “Obviously, everybody knows the task at hand when you play the triple option . . . so we are going to have to do a tremendous job in that aspect of the game.”

Perhaps the fact that the Tar Heels are spending so much time preparing for one element of Tech’s offense will benefit the Jackets, no? That may be especially true since while Tech is not a passing team, the Jackets have become more of a passing team.

Fans may be forgiven for being tempted by what’s happened in two games so far to increase their faith in Tech’s ability to mix it up. It seems like Johnson feels that way.

Vad Lee completed 8-of-16 passes for 125 yards and four touchdowns in last Saturday’s win at Duke, and Johnson’s trust in the sophomore quarterback surely is growing. He’s 15-for-27 this season for 314 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.

“We we’re just trying to call plays against what the defense was doing,” Johnson said. “They were rolling down hard trying to stop the run. We were able to hit some wheel routes. It’s not something we put more emphasis on.

“We always look out there and see how the defense is playing and then try to run the best play that gives us a chance.”

A-back Robert Godhigh (four receptions, 59 yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver DeAndre Smelter (three, 47, two) were the chief benefactors at Duke. Really, though, all the Jackets benefit.

Johnson said he doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to halftime statistics when us gear for the second half, but rather goes largely on feel – and by what he sees an opposing defense doing.

That hasn’t changed.

North Carolina junior weakside linebacker Travis Hughes (17 combined tackles and assists) and safety Tre Boston (14) are the Tar Heels most likely to make a tackle. Junior end Norkeithus Otis already has three sacks, and UNC has 10 tackles for lost yardage in two games.

This will be the best defense Tech has faced. This may also be the healthiest the Jackets have been in a while on both sides of the ball. Safety Isaiah Johnson has even offered increasing signs, although he likely won’t play Saturday.

Returning players and the Jackets’ increased willingness to pass have not been the only evolutions. Fans seem to like Tech’s new “diamond” formation, which makes for kind of a crowded backfield.

“It doesn’t hit as fast, but you don’t have to get the movement,” Johnson said. “We only ran three plays out of it, but we’ve got more plays. Will we see it Saturday? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how they play [defense].”

Lee’s development doesn’t seem to be in question. Johnson has liked most of what he has seen so far, although he pointed out Tuesday that redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Thomas remains likely to play some.

“[At Duke], it just so happened that a lot of [the passing] was in the red zone,” the coach said. “We haven’t thrown a lot down there and the opposing defense probably wasn’t expecting us to throw down there.

“I think Vad can throw the ball. At one point, I think he was one for seven to start the game. And then he got settled in a little bit.”

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