ATLANTA — Jonathan Dwyer says he is content with a less prominent role in Georgia Tech’s more balanced spread option offense this season.
Dwyer led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing with 1,395 yards last year, when he was named the ACC player of the year. He is fifth in the league in rushing with 593 yards through seven games — two spots behind Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt — as the No. 11 Yellow Jackets prepare to play at Virginia on Saturday.
Dwyer’s role in last week’s win over Virginia Tech may be a sign he will handle a larger share of the carries in the run-first offense the rest of the season. He had a season-high 20 carries for 82 yards.
Dwyer’s totals were overshadowed by Nesbitt’s 23 carries for 122 yards rushing and three touchdowns. That has been the norm this season as the quarterback, not the B-back, has been the leading rusher in coach Paul Johnson’s offense.
Johnson says the change in his spread option is not necessarily his master plan. He says defenses dictate who carries the ball on option plays. It is no surprise that defenses have keyed on Dwyer in the first half of the season.
"Having the numbers we had last year, definitely there was going to be a big target on our back this year," Dwyer said. "Everybody was going to go out there and try to stop us. That adds motivation to show we can still run and just be more in sync as a unit."
Georgia Tech (6-1 overall, 4-1 ACC) ranks second in the nation with its 286.1 yards rushing per game. Nesbitt and Dwyer have had help from Anthony Allen, Roddy Jones and Marcus Wright, who have combined for more than 550 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets have proved they are not a one-man offense.
That’s fine with Dwyer.
"It takes a big load off my plate, the fact that Josh and everybody are making plays," Dwyer said. "It makes us more of a full offense. We can get plays from anybody. We can run the whole offense and somebody is going to make a play eventually. It doesn’t matter if a defense is keying on a particular player. We have trust in everybody to make a play."
Nesbitt has 23 or more carries in four straight games and is the Yellow Jackets’ surprise rushing leader with 624 yards and nine touchdowns.
Nesbitt has 52 more carries than Dwyer. Back-to-back games with more than 100 yards rushing has pulled the junior close to the school record for yards rushing by a quarterback.
Nesbitt has 1,657 yards rushing for his career, leaving him only 101 yards behind the record 1,758 yards rushing by Joe Hamilton from 1996-99.
Virginia coach Al Groh says Nesbitt shows more poise in his second season in Johnson’s offense.
"It is very, very evident that Josh is now a season and a half into this offense as opposed to a half season the last time that we saw him," Groh said.
Nesbitt had a pair of second-half fumbles and threw an interception as Virginia beat Georgia Tech 24-17 last year in Atlanta. The junior has cut down on his turnovers this season.
"You can see a lot of improvement in his game and him being able to read players, his being able to read the D-ends and the linebackers on who’s taking the dive, who’s taking him and when to pitch it," said Virginia linebacker Denzell Burrell. "You definitely see that a lot of improvement has come within a year and we’re anxious to see how we’ve improved against it."
Virginia held the Yellow Jackets to 156 yards rushing last season.
Georgia Tech beat then-No. 4 Virginia Tech even though Nesbitt completed only one pass. The Yellow Jackets rushed for 309 yards.
"I think last week we didn’t play our best game," Dwyer said. "We came out with a win but there’s a lot we can do better. We still have a lot more to prove for offensive line, for the backs, for everybody to prove we’re on the same page."
Dwyer said he’s looking for more games like Georgia Tech’s wins over Mississippi State and Florida State this month when Nesbitt passed for 266 and 131 yards, respectively.
"A defense can key on Josh and me at the same time and we’re going to pitch the ball to somebody else who can make a long run," Dwyer said. "The passing game is going to be there and we’re going to be a more conventional offense that can do a lot of different things. I think that’s going to be good for us as a whole."