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#TGW: Back to Basics

Aug. 5, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– Long before Georgia Tech practiced in pads Monday for the first time since spring, the Yellow Jackets began simplifying and head coach Paul Johnson’s run-oriented offense continues going about reducing its options and returning to the option.

There were times last season when the 7-6 Jackets were difficult to recognize on offense while struggling to assimilate shotgun and pistol formations and some new plays.

Some of it worked well initially.

Eventually, the Jackets had too much to work on, and therefore never really became especially good at anything.

“When you go back and look at it … some of the stuff we did wasn’t very good after … [opponents] saw it [on tape],” Johnson said. “Unless you’re going to commit, you can’t run three offenses and be good at any of them.”

So Tech is streamlining, going back to basics, again banking on the triple option. The goal is to make more out of less, and quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly will be in the middle of it all.

“I think they have to be able to run the system. We got a little bit away from the system last year, and we want to get back to it,” Johnson said. “I think they embrace what we’re trying to do.”

That may have been an issue last season.

Quarterback Vad Lee, while talented, took his snaps in high school from the shotgun. He had little or no experience running an offense from under center, which is where the TO is usually hatched.

So there were some new formations, and a bit more of an emphasis on passing. That’d didn’t work so well. Tech completed just 45.3 percent of its tosses.

“We’ve got to be better at what we do. Last year, we weren’t very good running the triple option. We had to find [other] ways to run the ball because we weren’t good at [the triple option],” the head coach said.

“We threw the ball more last year that we’ve thrown it since we’ve been here, and completed less. What happened, if you want to know the truth, is we got away from it because we were trying to play the way we thought the guy could do and what the guy wanted to do as opposed to just doing what we do.”

Lee transferred to James Madison.

The sophomore Thomas and the junior Byerly had a few moments last year.

They’re not new to this. Thomas rushed for 233 yards and a 7.1-yard average in 2013 and completed 9-of-17 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Byerly rushed for 119 yards and a 6.6-yard average and completed one of four passes.

They suggest that the Jackets will be better at the option this fall.

“I think everybody is more bought in this year, and they know what we have to do to win, and they know what we’re going to do because coach Johnson already said that’s what we’re going to do,” Thomas said. “They know nothing is going to change, so we’ve got to get better at running the option.

“[Johnson] just said, `We’re getting back to basics.'”

Tech’s return to roots suits B-back Zack Laskey just fine. The senior B-back figures to carry the ball more than any other player. Fine by him.

“I think we’re going to just go back to basics, smash-mouth football,” he said. “I think we have the guys to do the things we have to do, and as far as I can tell, we’re going to get back to … a lot more option offense.”

Thomas, who is 5-feet-11, 185 pounds, entered fall practice as the starter, although Byerly (6-feet, 215) had a very successful spring game in rushing for more than 100 yards to sort of offset ball security problems on a wet, cool night.

“Tim’s a little bigger, maybe a little more physical,” Johnson said. “Justin’s a little bit faster and quicker, but I think they both can do what we need to do in the offense. I think that clearly Tim is the better inside runner, and Justin would be better on the edge because he’s faster.

“Justin is more of a make-you-miss guy, and Tim’s more of a run-through-you guy.”

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