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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