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#TGW: Calming Influence

Aug. 31, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

To say that the Justin Thomas era began well would be fair, but history will show that it was a tad uneven at times.

Georgia Tech’s third-year sophomore quarterback finished with fabulous numbers in the Yellow Jackets’ 38-19 win over Wofford in Saturday’s season opener.

When a guy completes 11-of-15 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns and leads his team with 71 rushing yards on 13 carries, he’s had a good day at the offense.

You don’t rack up 353 total yards while sleeping. Thomas needed to wake up in the second half, though, and did in completing all six of his passes for 202 yards and two scores.

“The way he played in the second half is more realistic of the way he can play,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “Remember, he missed a whole season when he was hurt, and he hasn’t played a lot.”

It took Thomas a while to really get rolling.

Tech’s first play looked good: Thomas threw a “smoke” route to the right sideline, barely a forward pass. Senior wide receiver DeAndre Smelter caught it, faked Wofford cornerback Bernard Williams, and turned in a 21-yard gain.

Three straight incompletions late in the second quarter led to a punt, and Wofford converted that opportunity into a 9-7 lead.

Then, Thomas got busy.

His 14-yard run, and a scrambling 33-yard pass to A-back Tony Zenon combined to set up a 30-yard field goal by Harrison Butker as time expired to bring halftime. Tech led 10-9, and never again trailed nor was tied.

Thomas was on the mark all through the second half.

“That was his first start,” said senior B-back Zack Laskey. “I know all week he’s been antsy to get out there so, he kind of settled down, coach talked to him a little bit and he calmed down and played a heck of a game.”

Thomas seemed fairly non-plussed after the game, although he admitted to a shaky start in his first start.

“I guess you could say that,” he said. “It wasn’t one-on-one, but overall [Johnson] said if we calm down and play our game . . . [quarterbacks/B-backs coach Bryan] Cook said the same thing: `Calm down, get your reads and just throw the ball like we know you can.'”

Thomas seemed plenty calm in the second half.

He snuck for a first down on fourth-and-1 on the fourth play of the third quarter, and soon completed a 22-yard pass in the right seam to A-back Tony Zenon on fourth-and-5 from the Wofford 41.

Next, there was a 19-yard short post zinger to wide receiver DeAndre Smelter for a score that put the Jackets up 17-9.

That drive more than anything that happened in the first half started the Jackets’ season. Up to then, they were like a train that was slow to pull away from the station for the first time, and Wofford was like a hand car in the way.

Thomas completed all three of his passes on that possession for 55 yards (including a 14-yarder to Smelter). He also rushed six times for 11 yards to account for 66 of the 72 yards on the drive.

This was the Thomas whom Johnson expected.

“He had a shaky first half not only in the passing game, but he missed some reads on the option game. I thought in the second half he settled down,” Johnson said. “He was just kind of off. I expected him to play better. I think he played better in the second half, and I think he’ll play better in the second game.”

Thomas is ready for the next one, Saturday at Tulane.

“In the first half, I missed a few routes that could have been the difference, overthrew them a little bit,” he said. “In the second half, I calmed down a little bit and made the throws I was supposed to . . . When I started getting the throws down, we started being more productive. It shows us that we can move the ball, and we know what we’re doing out there.”

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