ATLANTA - Georgia Tech's offense evolved rapidly in its first season under offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's guidance.
Nix's scheme combined tenants of a vertical passing system with those of a spread option running game. And it met the mandates handed down by coach Chan Gailey when he turned over the play-calling to Nix in the spring by producing more points without sacrificing turnovers and field position.
The Yellow Jackets averaged 24.2 points per game this season, up from 18.5 last year, 22 the year before and 21.1 in 2003. The Jackets scored 30 or more in six games, one fewer than the last three seasons combined.
And in eight Atlantic Coast Conference games, Georgia Tech's offense led the league in scoring at 26.6 points per game and ranked among the top-three ACC offenses in rushing (second at 151 yards per game), passing efficiency (third), total yards (third at 328.5 yards) and turnover margin (third with 12 giveaways vs. 19 takeaways).
"We did a lot of great things when you look at the ACC games," Nix said.
"We did a lot of stuff we wanted to do. We gave ourselves a chance to play for the ACC Championship. But we didn't play as well as we wanted to at the end."
The Yellow Jackets' final two games exposed a missing link in Georgia Tech's offensive evolution: Surviving when not hitting the big pass plays.
Georgia Tech scored just one touchdown in its final two games combined. The Jackets lost both games, 15-12 against rival Georgia and 9-6 vs. Wake Forest in the ACC Championship.
The Yellow Jackets scored 22 of their 40 offensive touchdowns through the air, with 13 of those 22 of those scoring passes measuring 15 yards or more.
The Yellow Jackets' biggest playmaker, Calvin Johnson, recognizes the problem.
"If we don't hit big plays like that, our chances of winning are slim," the All-American wide receiver said.
The absence of an intermediate passing game and an inability to sustain drives without striking downfield foiled Georgia Tech's offense in all four of its losses this season.
That's the next step in the offensive evolution, Gailey said.
"That's something that we need to be able to change," Gailey said. "We can't say that we're not going to be able to execute all the way down the field, that we've got to take shots and that's the only way we're going to get it into the end zone. We've got to be able to execute all the way down the field."
The Yellow Jackets can't wait until the spring to adjust their scheme. Taylor Bennett will make his second career start at quarterback on Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl. Veteran Reggie Ball was ruled academically ineligible last week.
Plus, the offense will need to score points and stay on the field to defeat West Virginia in the bowl game.
The Mountaineers' offense is among the nation's most prolific, averaging 39 points and 463 yards a game this season.
"That will be a great challenge for Patrick (Nix) in developing the game plan," Gailey said, "because you need to keep their offensive firepower sitting over there on the sideline."
Georgia Tech's scheme changes with the departure of Ball, whose running ability and strong arm led Nix to cater the scheme to his talents.
2006 OFFENSE BY THE NUMBERS
24.2 - Points per game: Up from 18.5 last year
26.6 - Points per game in ACC contests: Led league in scoring
6 - Times Jackets scored more than 30 points: Had seven in previous three seasons
1 - Touchdown in final two games: Losses to Georgia, Wake Forest
Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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