Johnson exceeded Richt in developing a quarterback

Georgia Tech's offense is flourishing in part because of Josh Nesbitt (9), who certainly never doubted he could score on this fourth-down play in overtime against Wake Forest.

Georgia Tech's offense is flourishing partly because of Josh Nesbitt (9), who certainly never doubted he could score on fourth down in OT against Wake Forest. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

A year earlier and Josh Nesbitt would’ve gone somewhere else. If Paul Johnson and his run-happy, triple-option offense had landed at Georgia Tech back when Nesbitt was still considering colleges, Nesbitt almost certainly would’ve tossed his Jackets’ recruiting letters into the reject basket.

You say “option” to most high school quarterbacks and they hear “oblivion.”

“Yes,” the Tech quarterback said Monday when asked if he would’ve signed elsewhere had he been recruited by Johnson and not former coach Chan Gailey, who ran a pro style offense. “My mindset was different coming out of high school than it is now.”

When Tech and Georgia meet Saturday, it will bring into focus something even more remarkable than the staggering turns of the two programs. The Jackets’ Paul Johnson did a better job developing a quarterback this season than Georgia’s Mark Richt.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on the Bulldogs’ Joe Cox. It’s just that two years ago when the option came to Tech, it didn’t figure the Jackets would have the better player at that position. Richt has a strong track record for recruiting and developing quarterbacks (David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matthew Stafford). He runs a traditional offense. He played the position himself and ran the once-powerful Florida State offense.

Paul Johnson knew Josh Nesbitt had the skills to run the option. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Jackets coach Paul Johnson said he knew Josh Nesbitt had the ability to run the option. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Johnson has a controlled passing game: It’s called a pitch.

As a high school senior, Nesbitt threw for 2,256 yards and 32 touchdowns. He neither thought of, nor embraced, the idea of being an option quarterback.

“Uncertain,” he said, when asked how he felt when Johnson was first hired as Gailey’s replacement.

But look now. He has thrown for 1,418 yards and eight touchdowns, and rushed for 847 yards and 16 scores. He has thrown only 125 passes, completing 58. But his average yards per attempt, an often telling statistic, is 11.34. (Cox’s YPA: 8.13.)

He also has thrown only four interceptions. Factor that in with his yards per attempt and his college passing efficiency rating is 156.41. Nesbitt doesn’t qualify for the national leaders because he’s averaging only 11.4 passes per game (15 is the minimum). But if he qualified, he would rank eighth in the country, just behind Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen (156.45).

Bottom line: Nesbitt is operating in Johnson’s offense better than Cox is in Richt’s, running the option and keeping defenses off balance with a downfield passing threat.

“Josh has improved a great deal,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing is he’s more comfortable in what we’re asking him to do. The game has slowed down for him. He doesn’t have to think about everything, he can just react.”

Johnson said he didn’t sense any reticence from Nesbitt about the offense the first time coach and quarterback met. “I think he was like everybody. He had some questions. Everybody was asking what he was going to do and not do. He kept an open mind and I guess he eventually said, ‘Hey, it’s not too bad. I can have some fun with this.’”

Nesbitt hasn’t been all run. He threw for 266 yards against Mississippi State, and for just under 200 with two touchdowns against each Duke and Vanderbilt. He said he feels “10 times more comfortable” than a year ago.

“When he came here, he just told me, ‘You can have a great year, but you’re going to take a pounding.’ I don’t mind the pounding, and I thought I could be successful. I like the offense. I like the fact that we can score at any given moment and we have so many threats.”

Johnson’s confidence in Nesbitt was illustrated a few weeks ago when he went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Wake Forest five-yard line in overtime. A chip-shot field goal would’ve tied the game. Nesbitt came to the sideline and said, “I can make it coach.” Johnson replied, “I know you can.” Two Nesbitt runs later — a first down, then a touchdown — the game was over.

Nesbitt was asked about that first meeting with Johnson. Did he ever inquire how many times he would get to pass?

“No, I never mentioned it,” he said.

He bought in early, and it shows.

594 comments Add your comment

Jamaaliver

November 23rd, 2009
4:03 pm

Enter your comments here

clint31

November 23rd, 2009
4:07 pm

Mike Lum

November 23rd, 2009
4:13 pm

CPJ HAS developed Nesbitt…into a warrior. Josh’s passing has not improved over last year, despite what CPJ says. With man coverage, the tall GT receivers are just out-jumping shorter DBs.

Steady GT Fan

November 23rd, 2009
4:14 pm

I think Josh should be the ACC player of the year for what he has accomplished.

Bride of Chucky Knapp

November 23rd, 2009
4:16 pm

Nice to see an article about the game of football. Thanks Jeff!

Go Dogs!

Mike Lum

November 23rd, 2009
4:19 pm

CPJ developed Nesbitt…into a warrior. Josh’s passing/touch has improved little since last year. He may be more comfortable, but he can’t throw nearly as well as Tebow. Benefitting from man coverage, Nesbitt’s heaves are often caught by the taller GT receivers out-jumping shorts DBs. As a Tech grad, I wish they passed LESS!

WTF???

November 23rd, 2009
4:20 pm

Jeff, Jeff, Jeff… You’re just stirring the pot.

You ever heard the old saying, “You can’t polish a turd?”…..

Develop my ass… Develop what? A complex?

Cox will never play football again after this year, which I am thankful for….

Yellowjacket82

November 23rd, 2009
4:21 pm

Josh should be a legitimate Heisman candidate next year.

Mike Lum

November 23rd, 2009
4:22 pm

Nesbitt may be a warrior, but a passer he ain’t.

bob horner stayed hurt

November 23rd, 2009
4:22 pm

Jeff…I think you’re right.?? of course you’re right.. Cox has been dreadful…Richt was loyal and stuck with him…which will hurt us next year….Richt is a liar when he says “Joe gives us the best chance to win”….he should be candid and say..”I’m going with my 5th year senior…he’s paid his dues..” there is no way Murray is worse than than Cox…I’m not buying that

Forrest Gump

November 23rd, 2009
4:24 pm

Cox is taking a lot of unfair abuse. Richt certainly should have brought him along and had him play in some of those non conference scrimmages instead of padding Stafford’s stats for three years. Throughout Richt’s tenure at UGA, the Dogs have rolled over when things don’t go their way. This season has been one big roll over, and it is not all Cox’s fault.

Valdosta Dawg

November 23rd, 2009
4:24 pm

It does make one wonder why CMR had such great offenses at FSU and ran that fast break to perfection, we have the talent so WTF? Time for BoBo to go coach at the high school level!

WTF???

November 23rd, 2009
4:24 pm

And can’t throw nearly as well as Tebow?

Tebow’s mechanics are garbage….

Mallet and Snead are the cream of the crop in the SEC as far as throwing the football, but Tim Tebow is and will go down as one of the greatest “Football Players” to ever play in the NCAA. I just wouldn’t use him as a benchmark to compare “passing ability”….

Mike Lum

November 23rd, 2009
4:24 pm

Josh benefits from man coverage, and tall Tech receivers outjumping shorter DBs. Tebow is a better passer. As a Tech grad, I clinge every time he drops back. Johnson will pass 10-15 times/game just to keep the defense guessing. If CPJ ever gets a good passer, the offense will really take off.

UGA and Clempson are Twins

November 23rd, 2009
4:26 pm

and Richt wanted to make a safety out of him…..best damn QB on the flats, he’s a warhorse!

Yellowjacket82

November 23rd, 2009
4:26 pm

I agree w/ bob horner. Look at all of the successful programs this year with Freshman QB’s. It’s almost like Richt thought he owed Cox something to play him…. sort of like keeping Willie M?

GT9

November 23rd, 2009
4:26 pm

Good article, Mr. Schultz.

Joshua has been a fantastic leader for the Ramblin’ Wreck. It is a special experience to get to watch him play football. He is a rare athlete and an incredible football player. This fan is very appreciative of the effort and excitement he brings to the Flats.
10-1
Seventh in the nation

Beat UG!

GT JJ

November 23rd, 2009
4:27 pm

Nesbitt threw some great passes against Duke. He’s been awful in the (recent) past but I think now that he understands the offense better, there will be more chances for midrange throws (like a couple comeback routes he threw on the dookies). Hell, we may even start throwing a few screens if we can open the offense up even more.

Tucker T

November 23rd, 2009
4:27 pm

Jeff

I gotta say that it’s a little sad that you have to include UGA in a mostly Tech centered post just so you can get the page views. I mean this post is 97% about Tech but you had to throw UGA in there to get the extra page views because you know that if you only have Tech fans read your post you are not going to get many hits. I guess that’s what you have to do but it’s still kinda sad.

Yellowjacket82

November 23rd, 2009
4:27 pm

Loyalties run deep…but at what price?

Burdell

November 23rd, 2009
4:28 pm

Mike Lum–

Did you see the pass on the post route to Stephen Hill at the end of the first half against Duke? Tell me that wasn’t a pass that would make any QB proud. When you have 6′3″ and 6′4″ receivers why wouldn’t you just throw the jump ball most of the time?

Mike Lum

November 23rd, 2009
4:29 pm

WTF, I agree with everything you’re saying. Tebow is no passing benchmark in most cases, but he’s a better passer than Nesbitt. Josh has improved, but he often still scared me. Sorry for my duplicate comments.

Ludicrous

November 23rd, 2009
4:29 pm

Will Adams be hosting the party animals from the Georgia Legislature in Shreveport this season?

mark louis

November 23rd, 2009
4:32 pm

It’s easy to develop a QB when all they have to do is hand off.

Jack-it Dawg

November 23rd, 2009
4:32 pm

If Nesbitt had come to the Dawg Nation he’d still be on bench. Even Cox is better than this high school QB. Gimme a break!!

EW

November 23rd, 2009
4:32 pm

No argument here.

Cuttysark

November 23rd, 2009
4:33 pm

Nice article Jeff. Obviously Josh Nesbitt was willing to let Paul Johnson implement his style of offense and see how it worked for him as an option quarterback. More importantly, he wanted to become a winner which is exactly what Coach Paul Johnson instills in his players. Give Josh credit for seeing what this offense was all about before making a decision. More important than statistical numbers is Nesbitt’s play making ability on the field, and the team’s record.

A story on Paul Johnson’s record in rivalry games is now available for viewing on http://isportsweb.com. The Yellow Jackets are getting ready for their big game against Georgia on Saturday. THWG!

Yellowjacket82

November 23rd, 2009
4:33 pm

Jack-it…we’ll see who is the better QB on Sat.

95,000 Fans - Every Game!

November 23rd, 2009
4:34 pm

In the SEC – Cox would be a better choice than Nesbitt. Sorry Josh. The thing is though, you probably have a chance to play in the NFL, but like Tebow, it won’t be at QB. Tebow might be the fullback who leads you into the hole!

Bryan G.

November 23rd, 2009
4:34 pm

CPJ has done a great job at Tech. It’s hard for this Dawg not to root for Johnson.

Mike Lum

November 23rd, 2009
4:34 pm

George P, that Duke pass was a beauty. Can’t remember if Josh hesitated before throwing it. Nesbitt is best when he steps back and lets it go. When he has to look around, it gets scary. Works again Duke, Vandy, and Miss State. UGA & Clemson have better athletes, so it won’t be as easy.

jim

November 23rd, 2009
4:36 pm

Cox screwed himself when he signed at UGA to begin with. He knew he would be behind Stafford for a couple years and only get 1 year as the starter. Cox was a decent prospect coming out of high school too, why would he make such a dumb decision?

EW

November 23rd, 2009
4:36 pm

“Bottom line: Nesbitt is operating in Johnson’s offense better than Cox is in Richt’s, running the option and keeping defenses off balance with a downfield passing threat.”

Everyone please refer to the above line from the article before posting, THIS is the crux of JS’s argument, nothing to do with how good a passer Nesbitt is or how bad of a QB Cox has become this year.

Yellowjacket82

November 23rd, 2009
4:36 pm

Josh is the better athlete and leader.

EW

November 23rd, 2009
4:37 pm

Jim, Cox signed with UGA BEFORE Stafford. Get your facts straight.

jim

November 23rd, 2009
4:38 pm

My mistake, then why did he stay when he knew Stafford would have the starting job over him?

EW

November 23rd, 2009
4:40 pm

Sorry jim, no idea there…maybe he figured hanging around for one year at UGA was better than going somewhere else and having to start over.

E

November 23rd, 2009
4:40 pm

Final score

UGA-47
GT-13

bank on it nerds……,

95,000 Fans - Every Game!

November 23rd, 2009
4:41 pm

Also, until McCoy caught him, David Greene was the winningest starting QB in NCAA history. He performed this feat in his five year career at UGA. He was a redshirt freshman during CMR’s first season and it was easy to see he had needed the extra year so he could get up-to-speed with the college game. I trust CMR as far as creating the type of QB UGA needs to win a lot of games over the next four years. Now, if he can just create a kickoff team……..

Jack-it Dawg

November 23rd, 2009
4:41 pm

Bottom line: Nesbitt is a terrible ACC QB and Cox is an SEC stud QB

Engy

November 23rd, 2009
4:42 pm

Nesbitt has quite an arm on him. He’s actually comparable to Stafford in that he’s got tremendous arm strength but not necessarily accurate. Like a gunslinger quarterback. Even if he’s the QB in our spread option offense, I think he could be drafted in the 3rd or 4th round based on raw talent alone.

There were some receptions where Bey Bey had to jump over a smaller corner to get it, but there were also plenty of receptions where the ball was dead on accurate over a 40+ yard pass.

F-105 Thunderchief

November 23rd, 2009
4:43 pm

Nesbitt could still play in the NFL. Tracy Ham passed for 40,000 yards and rushed for more than 8,000 in the CFL coming out of Johnson’s system. Nesbitt could be the dual threat quarterback Michael Vick’s character never let him become. Or, I should say, hasn’t yet become.

Herschel Talker

November 23rd, 2009
4:43 pm

It’s really very simple. Mark Richt sucks.

RAMBLE ON!!!

November 23rd, 2009
4:43 pm

He’s a robot.

Yellowjacket82

November 23rd, 2009
4:44 pm

Jack it…Cox sure did look good Sat night trowing those screen passes to KY.

Me

November 23rd, 2009
4:45 pm

Nesbitt is a warrior…..just look at him. Cox looks like a young Huck Finn…..I’m sure he is a good kid but can anyone picture him ripping the ball back from that bruiser at FSU like Josh did? I didn’t think so…..

Sonny Clusters

November 23rd, 2009
4:45 pm

How can we be talking about this knowing Paula Deen was hit in the face by a ham? – AJC

Where are the priorities?

Mama Clusters

November 23rd, 2009
4:47 pm

Paula’s alright, son. She’s already jokin’ about it. Calm down.

gatorman770

November 23rd, 2009
4:47 pm

GO Jackets!
The best quarterback will be celebrating Saturday night!

B Davis

November 23rd, 2009
4:49 pm

What I really like about the Tech offense is that it is fun to watch.

Hate to say it but a lot of the traditional football is simply boring.

Nesbitt has become a warrior. That will serve him far better in the pros than being only a slinger.