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Holloway: Tech needs more time

POSTED: May 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATLANTA —Georgia Tech fans that turned out for the annual spring game Saturday hoping to see the same kind of well-tuned offensive precision that first gained new coach Paul Johnson notoriety and national championships at Georgia Southern and made his Navy teams such a nightmare matchup probably slept fitfully last night.

The good news? At least half of the Jackets are completely at ease with Johnson’s newly installed triple option offense.

The bad news? They all play defense.

Some of this was to be expected. After just three weeks of on-the-field installation, the Ramblin’ Wreck never got revved Saturday as the first-team offensive unit sputtered and stammered its way to 185 yards on 55 plays and three fumbles.

First-team quarterback Josh Nesbitt, hindered by a groin injury for much of the spring, only looked at ease when allowed to forget about reads and let this athletic ability take over, and neither offensive unit was anywhere near as smooth as the Johnson-led Navy offenses that led the nation in rushing each of the last three seasons. Of course, those teams had the benefit of working in the system for six years and Johnson has said that only a percentage of his scheme has been installed at Tech.

So give the new coach credit. He could have made a more favorable impression by letting his first-teamers beat up on the back-ups. Instead, he put the 1s against the 1s and predictably, the defense was well ahead of the offense.

“A lot of our guys have only been spot players, so I think the more you can get them in there in game situations, I think they’ll grow a great deal from it,” Johnson said. “To me, I just don’t think you get much of going out there and beating the fool out of the third team. Fans might ooh and ahh and talk about it when you leave, but what I’m trying to do is make sure our guys are ready to play this fall.”

The guy knows what he’s doing and he’s determined to make his offense work in big-boy college football. But, as Johnson said, “it’s a work in progress.” Johnson’s first team at Navy won just two games before reeling off the most successful five-year run in the program’s history.

And there were signs Saturday that similar success could be in store at Tech.

Some of the offense’s trouble should be credited to the defense, which played physical and disciplined — punishing every option in the triple, staying home on reverses and doggedly pursuing the slippery Nesbitt when his protection broke down.

By the end of the first half, the gaps were widening, the fumbles were coming (somewhat) less frequently and the playmakers were starting to make plays. Second-team quarterback Calvin Booker, who certainly has chance to supplant Nesbitt in August, threw a pair of touchdowns and helped lead his side to 24 points.

Johnson’s also got a caliber of athlete here he was never able to lure to the Naval Academy. Despite the run-first philosophy, this is a big-play offense and sophomores Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas are big-time athletes. When the new schemes become second nature, they could comprise a deadly triple threat. Often Saturday, the plays were there but the execution was not. That will come with time.

The real question is how much time will it take.

Three weeks, clearly, wasn’t long enough.



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