Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not. Today's team: the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
What they're talking about...replacing Vad Lee at quarterback. After three years with the Yellow Jackets, Vad Lee announced his intentions to transfer to James Madison in January. While Lee was inconsistent as a passer in 2013 (45.6 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions), the offense averaged 6.10 yards per play and the Yellow Jackets finished the regular season 7-5 before falling to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl.
Justin Thomas, a speedy and shifty 5-foot-11, 185-pound redshirt sophomore from Prattville, Ala., is the top candidate to replace Lee as the team's starter. Thomas, the Alabama state 100-meter champion in high school, appeared in 10 games last season, rushing 33 times for 234 yards and completing nine of his 17 pass attempts. Thomas is competing with Tim Byerly, a bigger (215 pound) quarterback with a strong arm that transferred from Middle Tennessee State in 2012. While most observers believe Thomas is the man to beat, coach Paul Johnson indicated that the competition will continue into the fall.
"I'm excited about our quarterbacks," Johnson said via WRDW. "I think they had a good spring and I'm looking forward to the fall camp, and looking forward to them working and seeing what they do this fall."
What they're saying is...Justin Thomas has experience in the system, so he should start. Earlier this summer, Wesley Simms of From the Rumble Seat, SB Nation's Georgia Tech blog, penned an opinion piece that generated some good chatter regarding the quarterback competition.
Let's get this straight first: Justin Thomas is the starter for Georgia Tech this fall. He's been in the the system for two seasons and he was back up last year for Vad Lee. As backup, he did get to play in eight games last fall with some moderate playing time and when he did play, he showed signs of leadership, speed, and play making ability. In the first game last season against Elon, Thomas sprinted 44 yards on third and three for a touchdown, leaving defenders in the dust. There is no question he's got the speed to run Paul Johnson's offense. The question people are going to ask is whether or not, at 5-11 and 179 lbs, he has the durability to play all season under center and take hits while running this offense against quality competition.
The responses cover both support for Thomas and the skepticism mentioned above with his size. Check out a sampling below, courtesy of SB Nation:
--I have a hard time believing it's a done deal, especially after watching Byerly in the spring game. Yes, there were fumbles. I know. But look past all that (I think it was circumstantial), and you saw a QB that was good at running the option who's a physical inside runner that really fits the mold of what Coach Johnson wants from a QB in this offense. He embodies Josh Nesbitt's style more than Tevin Washington or Vad Lee ever did — and it's a style that bodes very well for this offense's success. (Think of how many 4th and 1's and 4th and 2's that Nesbitt converted by faking to the B-Back, jumping behind him and just pushing forward on the QB Iso play.) I also am concerned about Thomas' durability. He's a small guy to be getting hit 20, 30, and 40 times a game, for a full 12-14 game schedule.
-- We've talked about platooning for a couple of years now, but it rarely ends in the second guy getting much time. Last year, CPJ said he wanted Thomas to play more, but that the spots where he was going to go in were terrible spots (inside their own 5, trailing and desperately needing a score, etc), and that he didn't trust the OL to protect him (an acknowledgement of his slight frame). Even Vad a couple of years ago got about two series per game, except at the UNC game when he came out on fire. I doubt that we see many games where the “second” QB gets more than two or three series.
-- JT will be the starter. It's a lock. Otherwise, Byerly would have been on this poster. [Georgia Tech's promotional poster] Also, I can't find the link anymore, but I saw recently where there were JT cardboard cutouts that were made for promotional material. That doesn't happen for a guy “competing” to be the starter at this point. Unless something VERY drastic happens, JT will be starting.
-- I'm just imagining the look on CPJ's face when the marketing team says “youuuuu kinda need to play Thomas because we promoted the crap out of him.”
What we think is...Don't be surprised if a quarterback-by-committee approach is featured early in the season. Paul Johnson used both Tevin Washington and Vad Lee at times during the 2012 season, and I agree with many of the fans above that we could see it again in 2014. With Thomas and Byerly the Yellow Jackets can show, essentially, two different offenses during the game. That kind of calculation can be too heady to expect proper execution -- particularly if it causes both quarterbacks to struggle with rhythm or timing -- but it creates an extra level of misdirection; which is the backbone of Johnson's flexbone offense.
Time will tell if a one-quarterback or two-quarterback system works for the Yellow Jackets, but if Georgia Tech wants to compete for an ACC title in 2014 the offense better be humming early. After a trio of non-conference games (Wofford, Tulane, Georgia Southern), Georgia Tech has a month-long stretch that will determine its Coastal Division title chances. Road trips to Virginia Tech and North Carolina bookend back-to-back home games against Miami and Duke, the defending division champion. By the end of Oct. 18, Georgia Tech could be chasing its fourth division title in eight years or out of the ACC title race entirely.