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#TGW: On the Ground...And Through the Air

Aug. 30, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

When they last met, nobody now alive was then and the forward pass was not born yet, either. Georgia Tech rolled Wofford the only previous time these football squads met, and while the memory of that 33-0 pasting in Augusta is, uh, gone, you might say that in one way not a lot has changed since 1901.

Tech and Wofford still orient themselves around ground movements with scant thought given to air forces.

The Jackets ranked No. 6 in the NCAA among FBS schools in rushing last season, ripping off 299.3 yards per game. The Terriers were No. 5 among FCS schools at a clip of 269.9.

A funny thing is, both squads tried passing more last season, and neither profited. The Jackets finished 7-6, and the Terriers 5-6.

So Tech has, “scaled back,” in the words of head coach Paul Johnson, and the offense fans will see in today’s season opener in Bobby Dodd Stadium will resemble the option-based attack of previous years.

There is not likely to be as much variety as in 2013 unless counting Wofford coach Mike Ayers’s run-based attack.

The Terriers probably will use more formations than the Jackets, and after rushing 647 times last season and passing 137 one year after rushing 766 times and throwing 88, the goal for the season may be to get back to the “balance” of 2012.

Tech’s outsized advantage in manpower may dictate that Wofford try the air more than Ayers would prefer, but make no mistake, the Terriers’ goal is to run.

This will be Ayers’ 27th season at Wofford, and his public relations staff took the effort to point this out in pre-game notes: Since 2010, Wofford is 23-11 when attempting fewer than 10 passes in a game, and 9-6 otherwise.

“Wofford would look like what we did a year ago,” said Johnson, who carries a 5-0 record against Ayers into the game, all meetings having transpired when Johnson was head coach at Georgia Southern. “They’re in the shotgun about half the time, and under center about half the time.

“They run a lot of the same plays we ran out of the gun. They try to run some of the same plays we run under center within framework. They’ve got their way of doing it.”

Wofford has a variety of candidates to play quarterback, including redshirt freshman Brad Butler of the Darlington School in Rome, Ga. Sophomore Evan Jacks started six games last season, and junior Michael Welmer has played in 17 games. Redshirt freshman Brandon Goodson may be in the mix as well.

For the Jackets, third-year sophomore Justin Thomas will start.

That doesn’t mean he’ll finish.

Regardless of who is under center, Tech’s offense figures to be more predictable. Johnson will call plays while taking into account whomever he has at quarterback – whether that’s Thomas, junior Tim Byerly or someone else — but only to a point.

“You have to call the plays that fit your personnel, and I think these guys give us the opportunity to do what we want to do,” he said. “Now, having said that, you still have to be smart. Justin Thomas is not the same thing at 185 [pounds] as Josh Nesbitt with what he can do in short yardage.

“If Synjyn Days is playing quarterback, does he bring a different skill set to that position than Justin Thomas? Yes.”

Days arrived at Georgia Tech in 2010 as a quarterback, but transitioned to A-back and more recently B-back. He is likely to be the primary backup to starting fullback Zack Laskey, in fact, although Johnson may have more in mind. Days did take some snaps at QB in short-yardage situations last season.

If today’s game plays out the way oddsmakers expect, both teams may throw more than their coaches would normally choose – Wofford in an attempt to keep up, and Tech with the goal of polishing its passing attack.

But the bulk of offense displayed by the Jackets will be old-fashioned Johnson.

“Through the years, we’ve had a lot of success being good at what we do. That’s kind of my philosophy, I want to be good at what we do,” he coach said. “I feel good about [the option] . . . I think we’re way better at it than we were a year ago . . . We’ll run our base six or seven plays.”

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