ATLANTA — Vad Lee has started every game at quarterback for Georgia Tech this season only to be pulled from the past two. He’ll also start Saturday against Syracuse. Coach Paul Johnson says he’s not changing starters even though the Yellow Jackets have lost three in a row.
Johnson said Tuesday that Lee hasn’t received enough help from teammates, and that he’s suffering against the expectations of Georgia Tech fans who began raving about him nearly from the moment the sophomore was recruited from Raleigh, N.C.
The coach also said that Lee has been freelancing too much.
After he threw a game-clinching, pick-six interception early in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 38-20 loss at Brigham Young, Johnson replaced him with redshirt freshman Justin Thomas.
“I think that when you’re not winning, then you start pressing and you try to make plays instead of playing within the system. That’s experience,” Johnson said. “I think Vad Lee is a very talented guy and he’s going to be a good player.
“But as I’ve said before, people made him Superman before he ever played a game and then they kill him when he can’t live up to their expectations . . . you’ve got to give the kid some time, and he’s got to have some help. He can’t do it himself.”
Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2 ACC) will try to avoid the first four-game losing streak of Johnson’s tenure in Atlanta, now in his sixth season. Syracuse (3-3, 1-1) will make its first visit to Atlanta as a member of the ACC.
The offense has been erratic and underwhelming in recent weeks.
Georgia Tech opened the season with easy wins over Elon, Duke and North Carolina, but as the schedule has toughened Lee’s numbers have gone south and so has pass protection and the Yellow Jackets’ tendency to hurt themselves.
There were five false start penalties at BYU, a few dropped passes that appeared easy to catch, and even a rare offensive encroachment penalty where a player lined up beyond the line of scrimmage.
“It’s just lack of attention to detail,” Johnson said. “Ironically, we start practice on offense every single day with a snap-count drill. I’m at a loss as to why it’s a problem now.”
In the first three games, Lee completed 22 of 29 passes for 418 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception against teams that are now a combined 5-13.
In the three-game losing streak, he completed 19 of 57 for 340 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions in losses to Virginia Tech (17-10), at Miami (45-30) and at BYU <0x2014> teams that are a combined 15-3.
As a freshman, Lee’s playing time increased behind Tevin Washington as the season progressed and he played in 12 of 14 games. He teased fans in a wild 68-50 win at North Carolina, rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns and passing for 169 yards and a score.
His nine rushing touchdowns for the season were second on the team, trailing only Washington’s 20.
Thomas and Tim Byerly finished the Miami game, however, and Thomas wrapped up at BYU by completing all three of his passes, including a 5-yard touchdown to Deon Hill. He also rushed five times for 15 yards.
The speedster from Prattville, Ala., has made an impression.
“I think Justin has done some good things,” Johnson said. “If Justin has good week of practice, then odds are he’ll get to play some this week. When Justin comes in, he’s fresh and so there may be value in getting them both in the game a little bit for that purpose.”
Lee remains the man, at least for now.
“I think he’s actually getting better with his reads and his fundamentals and his techniques on some of the option stuff,” Johnson said. “Is he perfect? No, but nobody is. We’ve got to protect him better in the passing game; that’s the bottom line.
“He can help himself by getting to the right spot in his drops. He’s all over the place in his drops right now, but you can understand that a little bit with the pressure that he’s getting. It’s hard to get set up when they’re beating you to your spot.”