Sept. 13, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Don’t look now, but the big play is back at Georgia Tech.
Through two games in 2011 the Yellow Jackets have scored on five plays of at least 70 yards, four of them pass plays. Of the four passing scores, three of them are Tevin Washington-to-Stephen Hill hook-ups.
In 13 games in 2010, the Yellow Jackets totaled three, one of them coming through the air.
In his Tuesday morning press conference, head coach Paul Johnson said that nothing has really changed in the passing game — backing up his point is that Washington and Hill were the quarterback-receiver combo on the lone 70-plus-yard pass play last season.
“Contrary to popular opinion, sometimes, the nature of what we do lends itself to big plays,” he said. “It’s not three yards and a cloud of dust. You’re going to get put in space in one-on-one situations a lot and you’re going to get some favorable match-ups at receiver at times. I think that’s what’s happened on a couple of the big plays.”
Johnson pointed to the team’s improved pass efficiency, which heads into week three still leading the nation (315.9).
“We’re probably not throwing the ball any more than we did a year ago. We’re just completing some of them,” he said, giving props to the offensive line for improved pass protection. “It’s a lot more fun when you complete them. I think the quarterback’s having more of a chance to do that. I’ve said all along that we need to be more efficient in the passing game. To this point we’ve been more efficient. If you do that, the nature of what we do will lend itself to some big plays in the passing game. But it doesn’t do any good to get behind people if you throw it over their head or don’t catch them or can’t get them off or whatever. To this point, for the most part when we’ve had a chance to make a big play we’ve made it.”
The Jackets hope to hit on some big plays on Saturday against Kansas, Tech’s toughest test thus far. Another big game from Hill, who scored on a 40-yard pass play in last season’s 28-25 loss in Lawrence, would go a long way toward doing that. Thus far, in two games, Kansas has allowed 787 yards through the air, including 462 in last week’s shootout against Northern Illinois.
“They’ve given up some junk yardage on defense at the end of the first game, just like we did with some of the reserves that skewed their stats a little bit,” said Johnson. “But they’ll hit you and they’ll run around. So they’re a very formidable opponent.”
While the Jayhawks are quick and physical, the 6-5, 206-pound Hill holds a substantial edge on the secondary, which could lead to some mismatches — he’s got three inches and 11 pounds, not to mention two years of experience, on the biggest member of the group, redshirt freshman free safety Keeston Terry (6-2, 195).
Johnson feels Hill is ready to make a big impact in big games.
“I think Stephen’s grown up a lot and matured,” he said. “He worked hard during the summer. I think he’s got his personal life in order and he’s committed to playing. He’s always had a lot of ability. A lot was probably put on him a year ago, maybe unfairly. I don’t know that he was ready for it. He didn’t start out well and then it just kind of nose-dived. I think his confidence is up, he’s worked hard and hopefully he can continue to produce the way he has.”
Tech may not need to rely solely on Hill, as the Jackets showed in its first play last Saturday night against Middle Tennessee State, when they found B-Back Tony Zenon in a mismatch. The redshirt freshman took a pass from Washington and raced 73 yards for a score.
“I saw it watching tape last Sunday that we could get the B-Back matched up on the linebacker,” Johnson said. “It just worked. If it hadn’t have worked, you get up and play second-and-10 or whatever. But you’ve got to give credit to Tony and to Tevin because they made it work. They threw the ball and caught the ball.”
Johnson said the play was similar to one he ran in his first season on The Flats against Florida State.
Last Saturday, the Jackets also proved that they still had the capability to run long, time-consuming, grind-it-out drives, putting together a 98-yard, 17-play drive, which ate up 9:25. It was the third drive of the season of at least 15 plays, and has been characteristic of Johnson’s offenses up until 2010.
Whether they can do that on Saturday against a Big-12 opponent is yet to be seen. Of course, so are whatever wrinkles Johnson might find on film during the course of the week to pull out.
One thing for sure, however, is that the Jackets are thinking big again.