The best words to come out of Saturday’s media mosh at Georgia Tech? Aside from Paul Johnson’s surprisingly entertaining and illuminating take on body fat, that is.
Here’s a vote for a few words from a man of few words, Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas.
“I expect to have a big season, but I can’t do it by myself,” the senior trigger man of the triple option said. A very simple sentiment, but quite a meaningful one given Thomas’ history at Tech.
When surrounded by a core of dependable playmakers in 2014, Thomas flourished. And thus did Tech, culminating with an Orange Bowl victory.
When injuries cut through his backfield like a highway chain gang, and his best receivers (yes, even the Tech offense requires someone occasionally catch the ball) moved on, Thomas took on some shades of ordinary. The more he tried to take on himself, the more the efficiency of his play suffered. The result when your most important player backslides: Three victories and no bowl game for the first time since 1996
The numerical differences for the quarterback between ’14 and ’15 spoke to problems: Thomas’ yards per carry plummeted (from 5.7 yards to 3.4); his interceptions were up (from six to eight); his combined touchdowns were down (from 26 to 19). The third-down conversion rate took a major hit, from 58 percent in 2014 to just 35 percent last season. Time of possession, another crucial indicator of option offense success, was down an average of three minutes a game from 2014 to ’15.
Funny how that works, eh? Who knew that football was an ensemble production rather than a one-man play?
His coach admitted Saturday that the ever-changing nature of his supporting cast frustrated Thomas last year. “Guys zigged when they should have zagged and he threw it where they should have zagged. It’s easy to go back (to the bench) and say, man, who am I playing with?” Johnson said.
But as a result, “I think he grew up a lot last year,” Johnson said.
On top of reports that the quiet-by-nature quarterback has tried to be more of a forceful leader entering his final season, the thought of a more assured Thomas, one allowed to trust again in those around him (with offensive depth appreciably greater this season), might calm some Tech angst.
The AJC’s Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura was polling players on who they thought might be the break-out performer of the upcoming season. One plucked a familiar name, someone who already has had a break-out season.
“I’m going with Justin Thomas,” receiver Ricky Jeune said. “Two years ago, he had some really great numbers and feel like this year he can match those great numbers.”
There are your second most comforting words from Saturday.