Oct. 20, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
So it was Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium, where cheers went up each time Lee, the redshirt freshman, entered in Georgia Tech’s 37-17 trouncing of Boston College.
Shoot, Washington, a fifth-year senior who on Saturday became just the second player in Tech history to amass 2,500 career passing yards and 2,000 career rushing yards (2,977 and 2,012, respectively), even said afterward that head coach Paul Johnson has poked fun at this timeless tradition.
“Coach has mentioned to me that fans give him a hard time for sticking with me,” Washington said. “He says it in a joking manner, ‘You know how it goes; your backup is always the guy everybody wants to see when the team is not doing well.’
“[The fan chatter] really doesn’t phase me, to be honest. I’ve been on both sides, and I understand the game,” he said. “I just approach it like . . . I know I go out there each game and put it on the line, do everything I can do to put the team in a position to win.”
Johnson hears this stuff from callers to his radio show, and from other precincts. It’s all over message boards, and none of this is germane to Tech fans.
If there is a less-than-perfect season afoot and the starting quarterback is an upperclassman with a young backup, there’s often going to be carping. If that backup QB happens to be one of the most heralded recruits in the program, all the more.
Johnson and Lee applied jumper cables to the equation Saturday, the coach by playing Lee more than usual and Vad by playing pretty darned well.
Both were better in the first half, as the Jackets built a 28-3 lead that would’ve been bigger but for issues in the kicking game.
Tech racked up 407 yards of total offense in the first two quarters. In that time, Washington rushed for 41 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 3-of-6 passes for 77 yards. Lee completed 2-of-5 passes for 89 yards and a pretty touchdown to freshman Anthony Autry, and he rushed for a score among his four carries for 45 yards.
Lee may be young, but he knows how it works with fans.
“I’m aware of it, but it’s not something that affects me or makes me think that I’m bigger than the program,” he said. “I just try to work extremely hard.”
Perhaps you’re tempted to believe that because Tech entered the game 2-4 with a long shot at winning the ACC’s Coastal division that Johnson has heard your pleas, that he’s decided to start prepping for the future.
The coach said Lee’s simply busted his #$! to work his way into the mix. And by the way, he’s always preparing for the future in various ways.
“Vad Lee practiced better this week, and . . . earned the right to play,” Johnson said. “Tevin Washington played really well and did a great job of leading the team down the field and scoring at the end of the game. As Vad comes along, he comes along. He has a lot of ability.
“It’s not the end of the world to have two quarterbacks who can play really well.”
Sure, there were a few plays earlier this season that Washington would love to have back, but college football affords no reset buttons even though every single player and coach would love that option.
If your memory is short, recall that the only other player in Tech history to pass for 2,500 and run for 2,000 was in Washington’s present shoes back in 2010.
Joshus Nesbitt (3,276 passing, 2,806 rushing) was not having the season that he had a year earlier and nor were the Jackets so you could in some corners find a fan discourse similar then to what is out there now. Then, Nesbitt broke a bone.
Washington doesn’t say much about this stuff, even if it irritates him.
His 15 rushing touchdowns this season are second-most in ACC history for a quarterback to Nesbitt’s 18 in ’09, and third-most in school history behind Nesbitt and running back Robert Lavette (19 in ’82).
His 33 career rushing touchdowns are fourth-most in Tech history. Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer had 35, and Lavette had 45 from ’81-’84. Nesbitt’s 35, by the way, are the ACC record for rushing scores by a quarterback. So that’s in Washington’s range.
“I feel like I’m a senior, and I’ve been here for five years,” he said. “I know what I can do on a football field and I’m pretty confident in myself so at the end of the day, I just feel like if I’m put in a position to do well, I will do well.”
There is no reason to believe that Lee is anything but the full-fledged future at quarterback. He’s a little bigger at 6-feet-1, 213 pounds than Washington, and runs a little heavier although he’s not as shifty and maybe as fast.
It’s popular among unpaid theorists to suggest that Lee is a more polished passer. Statistics do not bear that out.
Washington has completed 53-of-86 passes (61.6 %) for 887 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, one on a ball muffed by his receiver.
Had he enough passing attempts to qualify, Washington’s 161.2 pass efficiency rating entering the game would’ve ranked No. 13 nationally, ahead of South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Collin Klein of Kansas State, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd among others. And get this — if Washington had enough attempts to qualify, his average of 9.9 yards per pass attempt would tie for the highest in NCAA history.
Lee has completed 8-of-15 (53.3 %) for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Much of Lee’s playing time has come in garbage time, none of it against Virginia Tech, Miami, or Clemson.
“I want to play, and I just try to bring it out in practice every day, bring energy amongst my teammates,” he said.
Lee’s decision-making abilities within the complicated Tech offense are behind those of Washington, although the breadth of that gap is closing with experience.
That doesn’t mean he’s stumping. Lee said he understands why the fifth-year senior gets the starting nod, and more playing time.
“Oh, definitely. Tevin’s a great quarterback, a great fit for this offense. He’s been doing a great job since he had to fill in for Josh Nesbitt,” Lee said. “He’s been pretty banged up so I try to go in there and give him relief. He’s not our problem or anything.
“Tev’s a pretty quiet guy, he’s pretty much to himself. When it’s football time, he brings it. We talk, we really do, but it’s not about what people think.”
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