ATLANTA — Georgia Tech starting quarterback Justin Thomas is planning to lead an attack that emphasizes the Yellow Jackets’ traditional strength.
That means Thomas can expect to line up under center, instead of in shotgun formations, which coach Paul Johnson says distracted the offense last year. And it means the triple-option is back.
Thomas is the heavy favorite to take over for Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. Johnson, best known for sticking to the run in his spread-option offense, says Thomas and backup Tim Byerly each have the skills to bring the triple-option back to a prominent role.
In an attempt to utilize Lee’s strengths as a passer and runner, Georgia Tech unveiled a new diamond formation last season. Lee lined up in the shotgun with all the running backs in the backfield. Normally in the spread option, two A-backs are spread out and only a B-back lines up behind the quarterback.
The diamond formation was only an experiment, but Johnson now says he should have focused on his normal package.
“We got away from the system a little bit a year ago and we want to try to get back more to it,” Johnson said Saturday following the Yellow Jackets’ third preseason practice.
“We’ve got to be better at what we do. Last year we weren’t very good at running the triple-option. We didn’t run the ball very much in the triple. We had to find ways to move the ball because we weren’t good at it. What I want to do is get back to where we’re better at that, so things come off that. That’s the way the offense was built.”
Thomas is small – 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds – but very fast and could be a big-play threat with his runs out of the option in his first season as a starter. He played in 10 games in a backup role in 2013 and ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns on only 33 carries.
Johnson said Thomas has a solid hold on the starting job and Byerly is firm as the No. 2 QB. Thomas, though, said he can’t assume he has won the job.
“There is always something to prove,” Thomas said. “I haven’t started a game yet. I still have to come in, prepare and keep myself ready and motivated like it’s a game situation every day.”
Both quarterbacks say they have the back-to-basics message from Johnson. They say more proof has come in the first three practices.
“I think it’s very evident,” Byerly said. “We’re not a shotgun team. Let’s get under center. Let’s run the triple and that’s it.”
Georgia Tech’s 203 passes in 2013 set a high mark for Johnson’s six seasons as coach. The Yellow Jackets completed only 92 passes, for a disappointing 45.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s 713 rushing attempts in 2013 were down from 808 in 2012. It was still a big number for almost every other program in the nation, but it was the Yellow Jackets’ fewest since Johnson’s first season.
“Still people (say) we need to throw it more,” Johnson said. “No. We need to complete it more and have a higher percentage and be in situations so that when we throw it, it works.”