STARKVILLE, Miss. — Josh Nesbitt is making it tough on defensive coordinators.
The Georgia Tech quarterback did a little bit of everything the last two weeks, baffling defenses in wins over Mississippi State and North Carolina.
Against the Tar Heels last week he rushed 32 times and scored two touchdowns. Against the Bulldogs on Saturday he passed for a career-high 266 yards and a score in a 42-31 win.
"Without a doubt, yes," Nesbitt said when asked if the game was the best passing performance of his career. "I think I took care of the ball very well, placed it where it needed to be and helped the team come out with a victory."
Maybe Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will have an easier time figuring out No. 22 Georgia Tech’s offense this week than the Mississippi State coaching staff. After the loss, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen blamed his assistants for failing to adjust to the Yellow Jackets as the game progressed.
"We have to make sure we have kids in position to make the plays, and I think as a coaching staff they had some guys wide open," Mullen said. "We lost containment, gave them extra time with our pass rush and we have to make sure we are doing a good job coaching those guys so that every gap is filled and their quarterback just can’t stand there all day and wait until someone finally comes open."
Nesbitt completed 11 of 14 passes and hit receiver Demaryius Thomas eight times for 174 yards and a 23-yard touchdown. While Mullen pointed at his defense’s shortcomings, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Nesbitt is more than just a running quarterback.
"Josh can throw the football," Johnson said.
He just usually doesn’t have to. With its triple option attack, Georgia Tech is a run-first, run-second team. Johnson led Atlantic Coast Conference quarterbacks in rushing last season, but struggled as a passer in his first full season as a starter. He completed 43.9 percent of his passes for 808 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions, averaging just 73.5 yards passing per game.
Through five games this season he’s nearly eclipsed last season’s passing totals (712 yards), is completing more than half (50.8 percent) of his passes and has more touchdowns than interceptions (3-2). And he’s nearly doubled his output, averaging 142.4 yards passing per game.
He’s passing well enough that he’s forcing defenses to play the pass honestly. And when they don’t, loading up the line of scrimmage with extra defenders from the secondary, Nesbitt is peaking over to see if Thomas or any other receiver is in man coverage.
"When teams are firing out of the secondary like that," Johnson said of Mississippi State’s defense, "we are going to throw it."
And most likely it to Thomas. The juniors have hooked up for 24 receptions this season — or 73 percent of the team’s completions — and the two are forming a connection. One they hone not just on game day.
"We have been working together a lot after practice and lately it is paying off," Thomas said.