Sept. 20, 2008
By JACK WILKINSON
You know, this option thing — early-season imperfections notwithstanding — just might work out after all.
Or as Paul Johnson understated late Saturday afternoon, “We really got the option going a little bit. Maybe we’re getting better at it. I hope we are.” And he smiled.
A little bit? Try 500 yards of total offense in a 38-7 evisceration of Mississippi State. Try 438 yards on the ground alone — Georgia Tech’s fifth-highest single-game rushing total in school history, the most in 30 years and its biggest haul since 1993.
Try Jonathan Dwyer’s 88-yard touchdown run, when the sophomore took a third-quarter pitchout and never stopped running until he’d crossed the goal line and run right into the Tech record book. Dwyer even surpassed the real McCoy: Bob McCoy, who broke off an 87-yarder against the Citadel in 1948.
“It’s always good,” Johnson said, “to pitch it to a guy who can run fast.”
And try, try, try as it might, Mississippi State couldn’t defend the option. Which had to be particularly galling for coach Sylvester Croom, a star center and ferocious blocker on Bear Bryant’s wishbone teams in the 1970s.
Yet when asked how difficult it was to defend Tech’s triple option-based spread attack, and if the Jackets had run anything unexpected, Croom said, “They didn’t do anything different. They didn’t do anything we hadn’t worked against. Absolutely nothing.”
If so, then that might be the most frightening aspect of all on a sun-splashed September afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Even a coach well-versed in the option, even a defense that had practiced hard and well against it found this option indefensible. But then, the Tech option spread is not your coach’s, father’s or grandfather’s wishbone.
And to think Tech (3-1) was coming off a maddening 20-17 loss at Virginia Tech, a game the Jackets felt they could’ve, should’ve, would’ve won if not for a fumble and two late penalties. And here Mississippi State came calling for the first time since 1929, and a week after losing a 3-2 pitchers’ duel at mighty, No. 10 Auburn. And there was Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt, on the eighth play from scrimmage, keeping on the option, turning up field, then limping out of bounds after gaining 21 yards and injuring his right hamstring.
What, Tech worry? No way. Not this day. “I thought Jaybo Shaw came in and did a great job for a freshman right out of high school when Josh got injured,” Johnson said.
“Josh went out and I hadn’t taken a snap since pre-game,” said Shaw. “But I got in there, and Jonathan and [center] Dan Voss helped to calm my nerves.”
And when Shaw, the freshman from Flowery Branch, came off the field after fellow freshman Embry Peebles’ 7-yard touchdown run gave Tech a 7-0 lead, Johnson was waiting. Said Shaw, “He said, `Calm down, everything is going to be all right, we do this every day in practice.'”
And indeed it looked like practice — on Rose Bowl Field, or back at Flowery Branch High, where Shaw ran the option for his father, his coach. He survived a vicious hit just as he was throwing a 20-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas. Shaw later scored himself on a 25-yard option keeper for a 21-0 halftime lead.
“I thought we played much, much better on the offensive line,” said Johnson. “We didn’t allow penetrations that we’ve allowed in the first three games.”
Early in the third quarter, Dwyer ran right, burst upfield, cut back slightly at the State 30 and scored standing up. “I didn’t know anything about it `til after the game,” the sophomore B-Back said of his history-making run. “It’s a great honor.”
Midway through the third quarter, Scott Blair’s 29-yard field goal made it 31-0. By then, Tech had already amassed 286 yards rushing against a Mississippi State defense that had allowed just 288 total rushing yards in its first three games.
When Greg Smith sped 35 yards with an option pitch early in the fourth quarter, it was 38-0 and the Tech band and the Swarm — the student section just beyond the North end zone — began chanting, “A-C-C! A-C-C!” For the nation’s most maligned BCS conference much of this season, Saturday afternoon was finally an opportunity for an ACC team to revel without a pause.
“I thought we were really focused today,” Shaw said, “and we wanted to make a statement that the ACC has some good teams.”
“We came in hungry,” said Dwyer, who finished with 141 yards on nine carries. “We came off a loss to Virginia Tech, and then hearing all of the SEC-ACC comments really motivates us. We wanted to go out [winning] going into the off-week, with big ACC games coming up.”
Actually, that won’t occur until mid-October, when Tech begins a five-game ACC gauntlet at Clemson. After taking next weekend off, the Jackets are home against Duke, then Gardner-Webb. There is every reason to believe they’ll be 5-1, 2-1 in the ACC by the Oct. 18 showdown at Clemson. Especially if this option thing continues to work out so well.