After the Georgia Tech loss at BYU, I said that it might be time for head coach Paul Johnson to look at splitting up the QB duties to give a change of pace and to keep the defense sitting back a little. I doubt that CPJ paid much attention to what I was saying, but that was in fact what happened against Syracuse, and the results were tremendous.
Although the triple-option offense is primarily a run offense, the Georgia Tech quarterback plays a crucial role in its success. The correct read must be made, and then the quarterback must decide whether to keep, or pitch the ball. Mistakes can be costly, so reading the defensive ends and linebackers is key.
Vad Lee and Justin Thomas split the duties and ran the option to perfection against what had been, up until Saturday, a pretty tough Syracuse run defense. Thomas had 10 rushes for 95 yards and one TD, including a 50-yard breakaway for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Lee had 14 rushes for 72 yards and two TDs, and added a passing touchdown as well.
It’s clear that Lee is the better passer right now, and defenses are forced to respect his arm strength. When Lee has three seconds or more in the pocket, his accuracy is dead on. It’s not the frequency with which he’ll pass (he was 3/3 for 88 yards and a TD), but how effective it is. When the offensive line is doing its job, and the linebackers are forced to step up to guard against the pitch, it creates those one-on-one match-ups that Lee can exploit, just as he did on Saturday (0:54 in video).
When Thomas is in the game, the defense may not be as concerned about the pass, but they absolutely have to be concerned about the open field speed that Thomas brings. A few inches shorter and about 35 pounds lighter than Lee, the freshman Thomas can’t bring the big bruising dives between the tackles that Lee can make. But what Thomas can do it get to the edge and turn on the jets. His outside speed allows him to force defenses to commit quickly .
With this mix at QB, the Yellow Jackets might have found the formula to keep the option running at its peak, as long as the offensive line continues to keep defenders on their own side of the line of scrimmage. Both quarterbacks made exceptional reads, and had the Syracuse defensive line guessing all day. When it works that well, the option is very tough to defend.
I’d look for the Lee-Thomas two-headed monster to continue if the Yellow Jackets have similar success against Virginia.