More and more is becoming clear about Georgia Tech. Less and less of it offers hope.
The next (and perhaps last) attempt at salvaging the season could be the elevation of backup quarterback Vad Lee to the starting spot. Coach Paul Johnson has been insistent in his defense of Tevin Washington, saying that he isn’t the problem, but removed him from Saturday’s 41-17 loss to BYU late in the third quarter after a costly interception.
“I intended to let (Lee) play some and I kept thinking that we would try to get some rhythm or whatever, and it just became apparent that it wasn’t working the other way, so we needed to put him in and let him play,” Johnson said.
It ran against Johnson’s past philosophy regarding Lee. In other losses when Tech has been behind or caught in a shootout, Johnson has stayed with Washington, feeling that he gave the Yellow Jackets the best chance to win. He has deflected calls for Lee to play more by noting that the most popular player on the team is often the backup quarterback and that Lee hadn’t been practicing well enough to merit playing time.
However, asked about a possible change for Saturday’s game at Maryland, Johnson said “we’ll see.” Tech is now 3-5, the first time it has been under .500 after eight games since 1994, the final year of coach Bill Lewis’ failed tenure.
“I’ve just been trying to go out in practice every day, just playing my game, just staying focused on the task at hand, just staying inside my role,” Lee said. “I try to lift everyone up in practice and the game.”
Lee did seem to give the Jackets a jolt of energy Saturday, leading the Tech offense to its only score of the game, a 70-yard drive that was aided by 37 yards of BYU penalties and ended with a field goal.
Center Jay Finch said that Lee “preaches good energy.”
After the field goal, Lee led two final drives with the game out of reach. Tech went 3-and-out and then punted after gaining one first down. Saturday, Tech’s problems clearly stretched far beyond Washington.
“I’ve got to get a lot better as well,” Lee said. “Nothing’s going to be handed to me, as we already know. I’m just working and, now after that tough loss, I’ve got to work times two.”
Washington has started every game at quarterback since replacing the injured Joshua Nesbitt midway through the Virginia Tech game in Nov. 2010,, a streak of 25 games. A fifth-year senior and a team captain, he has largely played effectively this season – Tech entered the game third in the country in rushing offense and 15th in total offense – but has made errors at critical junctures of games.
Asked last week how he could improve, Johnson said that Washington “hasn’t had a ton of errors, they’ve just come at inopportune times, and we really need to cut down on that for a guy that’s played as much as he has.”
Tech’s next opponent doesn’t look particularly receptive for either quarterback or an offense that failed to make a first down on 10 third downs Saturday, the first time the Jackets went without a third-down conversion in a game since a 33-0 loss to North Carolina in 1980.
Maryland may be down to its fourth-string quarterback and lost Saturday to the same Boston College team that the Jackets trounced Oct. 20, but the Terrapins play defense as stingily as the Cougars.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, Maryland is ranked No. 4 in rushing defense, No. 7 in total defense and No. 28 in scoring defense. The defense’s centerpiece is defensive end Joe Vellano, who recorded 20 tackles in Tech’s 21-16 win in 2011 and this season is averaging 1.8 tackles for loss per game, tied for ninth in the country.