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QB Thomas helping Georgia Tech find identity
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, left, is tackled by Miami's Tracy Howard while running the ball Saturday in Atlanta. - photo by David Goldman

ATLANTA — Quarterback Justin Thomas is pleased that No. 22 Georgia Tech didn't need too long to find its comfort level on offense.

Consecutive victories over Virginia Tech and Miami have pushed the Yellow Jackets (5-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) into The Associated Press poll for the first time in nearly three years.

The recognition might seem surprising for a team that was nearly upset at home by Georgia Southern last month.

But with Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC) visiting Bobby Dodd Stadium this week, Thomas believes the Jackets are finding their identity at the right time.

"The future doesn't matter if you don't take care of business," Thomas said Tuesday night. "We know we have to go out each week, improve and play with a chip on our shoulder."

Thomas' rise as a first-year starter has allowed coach Paul Johnson to make more use of his preferred triple-option attack than the Jackets did the last two years.

The results have been encouraging.

Georgia Tech got away from the triple-option with quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Vad Lee, but Thomas' first and second steps are quicker than his predecessors' — making it easier for the Jackets to get the ball on the edge, where Thomas either keeps it or pitches it out.

Thomas is third nationally among quarterbacks with 94 yards rushing per game, and he leads an offense that ranks No. 1 in converting more than 58 percent of its third-down chances.

"I think that I'm getting more and more comfortable with him in the option," Johnson said. "I think he's getting better and better each week."

Thomas, a third-year sophomore, has been around the football program long enough to know what Johnson expects of the offense.

To keep the triple-option humming, the quarterback has to make smarts reads and avoid third-and-long situations. It's critical to pick up at least small amounts of yardage on each snap.

"I know offensively that 7 percent of our possessions have been three-and-outs — that's pretty good," Johnson said. "In points per possession, I'd be hard pressed to think there'd be many people in front of us."

Miami succeeded in part of its game plan, to take away Thomas' runs, but the Hurricanes didn't have the resources to stop a big back like Zach Laskey, who ran 29 times for 133 yards in Georgia Tech's 28-17 victory.

The Jackets got better with each series. With Laskey a threat to come crashing through the line of scrimmage, Thomas had more alternatives. He could fake handoffs to Laskey and run instead to the perimeter, where Charles Perkins, Tony Zenon, Deon Hill and B.J. Bostic were fast enough to take the pitch and run for big gains.

"We're still working on a lot of fundamental stuff," Johnson said. "The neat thing is he sees it and he wants to get better at it. When you point it out, he already knows it before you tell him most of the time."
Thomas hopes the Jackets, who have a 10-game home winning streak against Duke and 18 wins in the last 19 meetings overall, take nothing for granted this week.

"I'm confident in myself," he said. "I don't talk too much about myself, but I feel like I can do great things. I feel like the guys around me are also great players. We have a special group this year. We just need to finish it out strong."

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