Georgia Tech offense displaying new option

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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Vad Lee is under no delusions. He knows his coach, he knows what Paul Johnson preaches, and he knows the four touchdown passes he threw against Duke last week were an anomaly, not a cultural shift in Georgia Tech's offensive philosophy.

Still, Lee sees his success through the air as something of a reminder -- both to opponents and his coach. The triple-option offense isn't going anywhere, but with Lee at quarterback, Georgia Tech's playbook has a few extra wrinkles.

"People will see more of that this year," Lee said of his big passing day against Duke. "I'm not saying I'm going to throw four touchdowns every game, but I'm saying we have great playmakers at receiver, great running backs that set up play-action, and our line is pretty good."

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsVad Lee rushed for 76 yards and a TD against Duke, but his 125 passing yards and four TDs stood out.
The personnel was assembled to run the option. That much hasn't changed. Through two games, 110 of Georgia Tech's 137 plays have been runs.

But if the bread and butter of the offense is the ground game, the success the Yellow Jackets have enjoyed on those other 27 plays at least make for a nice side dish.

"It's not something we put an emphasis on and hadn't put enough emphasis on in the past," Johnson said. "We always look out there and see how the defense is playing."

Duke left Georgia Tech with ample opportunity to chuck the football around, and Lee took advantage. His four touchdown throws in the Yellow Jackets' 38-14 win was the high-water mark for a quarterback since Johnson took over as head coach in 2008. Lee already has thrown six touchdown passes in two games -- halfway to the team's season total in 14 games last year.

Of course, there's never been much question about Lee's ability as a passer. The bigger surprise is that Lee has found a weapon on the receiving corps in an unexpected place.

Two of Lee's four touchdowns against Duke went to DeAndre Smelter, who has long since been a star athlete at Georgia Tech. The surprise, however, is that Smelter is making it big on the gridiron after spending his first three years with the Yellow Jackets as one of the top prospects on the baseball team.

Arm injuries dimmed Smelter's star on the baseball diamond, so this winter he decided he wanted to give football a try.

"I didn't want to go through college thinking I should've done this or that," Smelter said.

He met with Johnson before baseball season, and the two worked out a plan. Smelter worked on football conditioning during baseball season, spent the summer working with Lee and the other receivers during 7-on-7 drills, and by the time fall camp opened, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete looked like a natural.

"He's still learning as we go, but even in fall camp, I told everybody I had big expectations for him, as if he'd been playing forever," Lee said. "And he's just getting better."

The rapport is still a bit of a work in progress. Lee lamented a low throw he made against Duke that Smelter bobbled. Both players lacked precision on a play that might have gone for another touchdown.

That can't become habit, Lee said. Before the season began, Smelter and the other receivers made a list of goals. One of them read: "Have more opportunities through production." It's a mantra Lee is living by, too. He knows Johnson's offense is etched in stone, but if Lee and Smelter and the rest of the passing game make the most of their opportunities, they might carve out a new wrinkle.

In a surprising 68-50 win over North Carolina last year, Tech threw 12 passes, including one for a touchdown. Lee hopes that's just a starting point as the Yellow Jackets look to take command of the Coastal Division against UNC on Saturday.

"The main thing is gaining the trust," Lee said. "If we can execute and use our playmakers, and I get them the ball in space and let them make plays, there's definitely something that we're looking forward to. We're working to get even better at it, because we have a lot of room to improve."

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