Sept. 14, 2013
By Jon Cooper
From the start of informal summer practices and through training camp the wave of talk about DeAndre Smelter continued to grow.
He was shaking off the rust from two years away from football and with his strength, speed and skill set, it was a matter of when, not if, he was going to regain the form that made him a two-time all-state selection (2008, 2009) and the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA) Player of the Year in 2008 and 2010.
That “when” appears to have arrived Saturday afternoon keying Georgia Tech’s 38-14 victory over Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium.
After not catching a pass in Georgia Tech’s season opener, Smelter caught three passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns. His first two scores capped off second-quarter scoring drives to help break open the game, and his third extended a fourth-quarter drive that led to Tech’s final score.
For Smelter, it almost felt like he was back at Tattnall Square Academy. He feels like he’s getting closer to recapturing that form every day.
“All it takes is repetition and giving 100 percent on reps,” he said. “Every time I go out in practice I’m trying to to compete and get better every day. We all do. We compete some of the best corners in the ACC so that works to our advantage, too.”
That work against Tech’s corners and the scout team helped Smelter make his first college reception on a post pattern early in the second quarter. With Georgia Tech leading 10-7 and facing third-and-12 at the Duke 24, quarterback Vad Lee stepped up in the pocket and zipped a pass in the direction of the cutting Semlter. The pass, threaded between two defenders, hit him in stride at the two and he took it in from there.
It was Lee’s first completion of the day after starting 0-5 in his first game in his hometown and was Smelter’s first college catch.
“We’ve been going over it in practice,” he said of the play. “We pretty much knew what they were going to do defensively and we knew some of the routs that we could possibly run today. Basically, this rout that I ran, all I had to do was beat the corner and once I did, all I had to do was catch it and get into the end zone. You definitely get wide-eyed but you’ve just got to make sure that you don’t get too excited and remember to catch the ball.”
His muscle memory didn’t fail and the Jackets had a 10-point lead and would never be seriously challenged again, opening a 31-7 bulge after three.
Smelter made it two catches and two touchdowns with 42 seconds remaining in the half.
This time he got to show his strength and athleticism.
On second and three at the Duke 10, Lee rolled right and fired a strike to Smelter at the five. He caught the ball then curled around heading down the sideline. He easily peeled off the tackle attempt by corner Garett Patterson and powered his way the final three yards, torpedoing his way in from the one.
“The second score was my favorite because I actually had to catch the ball and make a move to get into the end zone and make somebody miss,” he said. “Naturally, being a receiver, any time we get the ball that close to the goal line we definitely want to put it in as quick as possible. When we get down there, we definitely don’t want to go down short of the goal line.”
The score going into the locker room allowed Tech to breathe easier. The Jackets put the game away when they came out for the third quarter and ate up half the period with a 15-play, 73-yard touchdown drive.
Smelter made his final catch in the fourth quarter, catching a 13-yard pass on third-and-four at the Tech 45. Eight players later, B-Back Zach Lee parachuted a pass into B-Back Zach Laskey from 19 yards out for the final score of the game.
With the two-touchdown day Smelter became only the third Yellow Jacket in the Paul Johnson Era to catch two TD passes in a game, joining Stephen Hill, who pulled in two scoring aerials from Tevin Washington on Sept. 1, 2011 against Western Carolina, and Robert Godhigh, who caught two TDs from Washington last Nov. 17 against Duke. (Godhigh had a huge day Saturday, who ran for 79 yards and caught 59 more yards with a spectacular diving touchdown.)
North Carolina is up next, bringing its high-octane offense to Atlanta next Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets believe they’re ready to go toe-to-toe with them again — last year’s game ended in a 68-50 shootout — especially with their explosive attack through the air. Lee’s four passing scores on Saturday matched his 2012 total and their six scoring passes in two games puts Tech halfway to last year’s total for passing touchdowns.
“I was just talking with someone and they assumed that (four passing touchdowns is) not the norm. I told him, ‘It’s the norm to me,'” Lee said, with a laugh. “I’m excited to have great playmakers around me to be able to go get the ball. We have a great running game to set the play-action up pretty well. I feel like we can be a very balanced team as far as the run and the pass because we have great people like Robbie Godhigh and DeAndre Smelter and Darren [Waller], all these guys and our offensive line is protecting really well. So the sky’s the limit for us.”
Smelter agrees, especially as his chemistry with Lee continues to get better.
“[Lee]’s developing a chemistry with all the receivers,” he said. “All of us receivers can go out and do the job I did today. We’ve seen the same thing out of Vad since we started camp. He’s just a great leader.”
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