Air Johnson? Georgia Tech improves through the air

Maybe it’s a little early to call this offense Air Johnson.

Even so, Georgia Tech is sure showing a lot more life in the
passing game.

Through two weeks, the Yellow Jackets have thrown for more yards
– 579 – than they did in the first six games of 2010. The
run-oriented option offense has worked just like coach Paul Johnson
draws it up, creating some huge openings in the passing game for
quarterback Tevin Washington and his receivers.

Washington has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes, with
five touchdowns and no interceptions. Stephen Hill has a staggering
43.9-yard average on his seven catches, which include three TDs,
giving the junior more yards than he had all of last season.

”What we do lends itself to big plays. It’s not just 3 yards
and a cloud of dust,” Johnson said Tuesday. ”Our receivers get
put in space in one-on-one situations a lot. We have some favorable
matchups at receiver. That’s what happened on a couple of those big
plays.”

Make no mistake, the Yellow Jackets (2-0) still prefer to run
the ball most of the time. Of their 139 offensive plays, only 26
(less than one in five) have been passes. The key has been getting
the most out of those infrequent throws, something they didn’t do
very well a year ago.

Four of Georgia Tech’s passing scores have gone for at least 71
yards.

”We’re opening up the offense,” the 6-foot-5, 206-pouind Hill
said. ”When you’ve got a big body receiver going against a 5-10
cornerback, you should have a mismatch.”

Johnson credits the offensive line with doing a better job
protecting the quarterback, which can become an afterthought on a
team that runs so much.

”When you’ve got three or four seconds to sit back there and
make your reads, that’s all you ask for,” Washington said.
”They’re doing a great job of giving me time to sit back there and
make a read, make a decision with the football.”

The schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher, though. After
easy wins over FCS school Western Carolina and FBS lightweight
Middle Tennessee State, the Yellow Jackets host Kansas (2-0) on
Saturday, looking for a bit of redemption against a team that
handed them one of their ugliest losses a year ago.

Georgia Tech was coming off an Atlantic Coast Conference
championship (since vacated by the NCAA for rules violations) and
ranked in the Top 25 when it traveled to Lawrence last year. The
Jayhawks would win only three games all year, but one was a 28-25
upset of the Yellow Jackets.

”I remember the end of the game, them taking the knee in the
victory formation,” Johnson said bitterly. ”I remember
that.”

Hill was one of the biggest disappointments in what would become
a 6-7 season. Touted as someone who possessed many of the same
physical skills as former Georgia Tech stars Demaryius Thomas and
Calvin Johnson – fast, tall and much bigger than the defensive
backs he was going against – Hill managed only 15 catches for 291
yards.

His biggest improvement, according to Johnson, has been off the
field.

”He grew up and matured over the summer,” the coach said. ”He
got his personal life in order. He committed to playing. Stephen
always had a lot of ability. There was a lot put on him a year ago,
and I don’t know that he was ready for it. He didn’t start out
well, and he kind of nose-dived from there. His confidence is up
now. Hopefully he will keep working hard and continue to produce
like he has.”

Johnson knows Georgia Tech is unlikely to keep up an average of
289.5 yards passing, or that Washington will remain the ACC’s most
efficient passer.

But with defenses forced to concentrate mainly on the run,
there’s no doubt the Yellow Jackets will have some chances to do
major damage on those occasional plays when they do drop back to
pass.

”We’re making too big a deal about the passing part of it,”
Johnson said. ”We’re not throwing it any more than we did last
year. We’re just completing some. It’s a lot more fun when you’re
completing ’em.”

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