The Yellow Jackets (4-5, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) will use the same approach this weekend at North Carolina (6-2, 3-2) that helped them win a surprisingly easy game last week at Maryland.
Tevin Washington started at quarterback, played two series and then watched two series from the sideline while Vad Lee ran Johnson’s spread option offense.
The change worked. Georgia Tech, which had dropped three of its previous four, won 33-13.
“Certainly we’re going to have to carry that over this week,” Johnson said. “We’re playing a team that’s really hot and has won five of their last six and is undefeated at home. They’ve had a week off to rest and get healed up. We’ve got to continue to build on last week and build some momentum.”
It was clear that the Yellow Jackets needed a proverbial spark after their dreadful showing two weeks ago in a 41-17 home loss to Brigham Young.
They failed on all 10 third-down attempts and finished without an offensive touchdown for the first time since Johnson’s first season in 2008.
As Johnson saw it, fifth-year senior quarterback Washington deserved only part of the blame and had played well enough to keep the starting job he’s held since taking for an injured Joshua Nesbitt in 2010.
But Johnson likewise wanted to give more snaps to Lee, a redshirt freshman and the likely successor to the starting job next year, so the coach decided to do something different.
“I think both quarterbacks bring something to the game,” Johnson said. “Tevin has a lot of experience. He’s played a lot of football. You’re not going to line up too many ways with things he hasn’t seen or doesn’t know what to do. Vad brings a lot of athleticism and a lot of energy when he goes out there. You kind of get two different things out of those guys.”
Johnson was encouraged by the urgency Georgia Tech showed in the first half at Maryland. The Yellow Jackets’ offensive line consistently extended blocks and created space for the A-backs, B-backs and quarterbacks to run for a combined 370 yards and five touchdowns on 46 attempts.
Washington had one rushing touchdown. Lee had two. They combined for 90 yards rushing on 16 attempts.
But without the offensive line’s work, the Yellow Jackets might have folded against a Maryland defense that ranks third in ACC average points allowed and second in average yards allowed.
“We keep a stat on defenders on the ground and we had more than we’ve had all year,” Johnson said. “I mean not even close. It was guys getting after it. That’s the way you have to play if you’re going to have a chance to be any good. You can’t go through the motions.”
Washington missed practice Tuesday to get some rest. He wore a red jersey and watched as Lee took snaps with the first-team offense.
Because he didn’t practice, Washington wasn’t available to speak with reporters, per Johnson’s policy, but Lee was grateful for the opportunity to get more snaps and feel more relaxed on the field.
“The more times you get reps in a live game, the more confidence comes with it and the more that I feel that I’m getting better,” Lee said. “Things slow down a lot. Things have slowed down tremendously. I just feel like I can go execute and make plays and just play my game.”
Johnson said Washington’s 26 career starts and his scoring ability — his 34 career rushing touchdowns are one shy of tying Nesbitt’s ACC record by a quarterback — are his primary attributes.
Lee has developed quickly enough this year to earn more responsibility.
“As he progresses, as I’ve said all along, the more he gets accustomed to what we’re doing and the better he gets at it, the more he’s going to play,” Johnson said. “We’re at the point with Vad where he’s going to run the stuff everyone else does. Earlier in the year, that was not the case. He just couldn’t do it.”