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Is the Passing Fancy a Passing Fancy?

Sept. 9, 2011

Gameday Central

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The football is not likely to fly all over the place tonight quite like it did when Georgia Tech passed for 365 yards last week against Western Carolina.

Simply put, Middle Tennessee State is better than WCU, so the sledding – or slinging – will be tougher. Plus, head coach Paul Johnson doesn’t love his running game any less than he did before.

The man gets the concept of balance, though, and he might very well loathe his passing attack a lot less than he did. Heck, he might even like it. Add it all up, and the prospect of Tech’s passing fancy being more than a passing fancy is real.

There’s no great analysis necessary to explain why Tech had such trouble throwing the football last season, yet there’s some detail behind the Yellow Jackets’ apparent improvement.

Last season, the pass protection was crummy, receivers often ran poor or incorrect routes, they dropped too many balls and the quarterbacks didn’t often enough throw them well.

That about sums that up.

The recipe for rehabilitation has been multi-layered. To explain simply, changes to simplify the pass protection scheme have been well-received, route runners at least in the first game were more frequently on the same wavelength as quarterbacks, and the quarterbacks threw better passes.

Tidy, huh?

Good luck getting a detailed description of adjustments to the pass pro.

“I don’t want to give anything away, but with what we got rid of, I think now there’s less thinking and more reacting. Rather than thinking, `This, this, this . . . and oh, he just ran by me,’ it’s very simplified. It’s more intuitive,” center Jay Finch said.

“If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and everybody else is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, everybody is going to be picked up.”

The offensive linemen and an occasional running back have fewer options to contemplate in pass protection now. They don’t have to go through as long a mental checklist prior to and immediately after the snap.

There are fewer if-then equations to process, as Finch said, “It’s most likely going to be one of two [assignments].”

As for the pass catchers, wide receiver Stephen Hill is as fine a spokesman as there could be at present. He was named ACC wide receiver of the week after catching four passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns last week.

To put it bluntly, he had a dreadful season in 2010. He was too often out of sync with the quarterback, running routes that quarterbacks didn’t expect. Dropped passes were a problem, too. Hill was far from alone in these miscues.

Johnson and his staff have not changed the routes the Jackets are running, at least not much. Everybody’s running them better, though, at least so far.

“It’s the same thing; coach is not going to change much. It’s just most of us reading to see what we need to do [with regards to route adjustments] because we really didn’t do that much last year,” Hill said. “We just weren’t good at it last year. It could have been the lack of being on the same page [with quarterbacks].”

In addition to his offseason work, which was extensive on physical and mental levels, Hill’s had considerable chirping in his ears. Early returns indicate he’s not only stronger of body but of brain.

“Having somebody beside you as a mentor, like coach Johnson, [wide receivers] coach Buzz [Preston] … they helped me keep my head in the right place on and off the field,” Hill said. “That really makes a big difference.”

Several small adjustments and improvements, including quarterback Tevin Washington’s diligence in addressing his passing mechanics, added up to big results in the season opener.

The numbers may not be as grand tonight, but the hunch here is that if you look closely you will see more evidence that Tech’s passing game will consistently be fancier this season than last.

“It took some time. After working at it in the spring and in camp guys are clicking,” Finch said. “We just made it easier.”

It’s easier on the eyes, too.

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