MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Pssst. Paul Johnson to Georgia.
Kidding. Just trying to get your attention.
While Athens is on fire, Georgia Tech is … well, on fire.
OK, so maybe we’re not talking apples-to-apples here. More like melons to pits. Georgia has played (and lost to) two ranked teams. Georgia Tech has played (and dismembered) two opponents that could qualify as a charitable write-offs.
But the Jackets are showing signs that they could make things interesting in the ACC this season. After pounding Western Carolina 63-21 last week, the Yellow Jackets came back to body slam Middle Tennessee State 49-21. (They led 28-0 only three minutes into the second quarter, then took off the gas, perhaps fearing the Blue Raiders would not show up for next season’s comic relief in Atlanta.)
So that’s 112 points and 1,258 yards in offense in two weeks. Granted, when a team from a major conference opens with two lopsided victories over a I-AA team and a Sun Belt team, it’s premature to project a BCS bowl. You would expect the old guys from fire hall 17 to be next up on the schedule. (Close: It’s Kansas.) But if an offense is operating at that high of an efficiency rate — and suddenly has shown the ability to hurt opposing defenses with the pass — it means something.
“We’ll see how we do when the competition gets a little tougher,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We started out well, came out with good intensity and then toward the end of the first half, we lost our focus a little bit. But we came back out after halftime and reasserted our dominance.”
Dominance and the Jackets didn’t intersect last season. They finished 6-7.
The pluses this year start with the play of Washington at quarterback. His first two pass attempts went for 73- and 71-yard touchdown passes. NASA is still calculating his quarterback rating.
The Jackets didn’t just pile up the points early, they scored in different ways.
• First possession (touchdown, one play, 73 yards): Johnson suspected he might get a favorable matchup on the first play from scrimmage – the smallish but speedy Zenon vs. a linebacker – and that’s what happened. From the Jackets’ 27, Washington hit him on a little wheel route on the left side, and Zenon then outran the Blue Raiders’ defense to the end zone to make the score 7-0 just 14 seconds into the game.
• Second possession (touchdown, 17-98): The Jackets’ offensive line just pounded Middle Tennessee State up front. Every yard came via the run.
• Third possession (touchdown, one-71). Washington spotted an open Stephen Hill over the middle. Defenders must’ve believed he had some contagious disease because nobody came with a five feet of him. He was gone.
• Fourth possession (touchdown, 7-90). Washington to Hill for 43 yards was the highlight. (Washington’s yard per throw dropped on that.).
Welcome to the Air Johnson offense.
Washington took over for the departed Joshua Nesbitt. He’s playing the position better — at least more like a quarterback. Nesbitt was a tough kid, one who ran the triple option well. He played through injuries. But he couldn’t throw a lick, and when the Jackets lost wide receiver Demaryius Thomas off the team two years ago, Tech didn’t have another receiver to make him look even semi-good. This season, Tech’s combination of Washington-to-Hill may turn into one of the ACC’s top duos.
Johnson also showed a little attitude near the end of the game. He had backup Synjyn Days attempt a team pass to Zenon in the final seconds. Presumably, it was in response to the Raiders having an onside kick and calling a timeout so they score a late meaningless touchdown.
Johnson smiled when asked about the pass.
“No. I just wanted to give him a chance to throw the ball,” he said.
When you win, it’s all funny.
By Jeff Schultz