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Tech's Thomas a receiving star
Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas (8) runs as Mississippi State’s Zach Smith (42) defends Saturday in Starkville, Miss. - photo by The Associated Press

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech doesn't pass the ball very often in coach Paul Johnson's spread option offense.
Demaryius Thomas is making sure he makes the most of every attempt that comes his way.

Thomas is the unlikely Atlantic Coast Conference leader in yards receiving as No. 22 Georgia Tech prepares to play at Florida State on Saturday.

For Georgia Tech to boast the ACC's top receiver is remarkable considering the Yellow Jackets rank last in the league, and 113th in the nation, in passing offense.

Georgia Tech averages only 153.4 yards passing, and 107.2 of those yards belong to Thomas, a 6-foot-3 junior his teammates and coaches call "Bay-Bay."

"He is a load," said Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.

Andrews said he respects the 230-pound Thomas for more than his receiving skills.

"He has great hands, pushes you around, an excellent blocker," Andrews said. "I don't know if we have played anybody that is as big as he is. I can tell you right now they are going to throw the ball to him. He will be a big challenge, he is a big ol' strong guy that can run and go up and make the difficult catches."

Georgia Tech has thrown only 67 passes. Among FBS teams, only Navy — Johnson's former team — and Air Force have fewer attempts.

Thomas had eight catches for 174 yards and a touchdown in last week's 42-31 win at Mississippi State. He is averaging 22.3 yards per catch.

Johnson has reason to be proud of his running game, led by 2008 ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer and quarterback Josh Nesbitt rank among the ACC's top five rushers.

Johnson also beams when bragging about Thomas, who is disproving the criticism that a receiver can't thrive in the spread option.

Johnson says defenses can't afford to provide help for a cornerback on Thomas because safeties are needed for run support.

That leaves only one defender on Thomas, providing good reason for even the run-happy Yellow Jackets to pass the ball.

"It's like we tell wide receiver recruits, people say 'Hey, you don't want to go to that offense,"' Johnson said. "If you're a great player, that's a great offense to be in. Can you imagine what Calvin Johnson could have done with one guy on him on play-action? That's really what Bay-Bay has done."

The coach adds that Thomas "would be a good receiver in whatever offense, because he's a good player."

Calvin Johnson, now with the Detroit Lions, is Georgia Tech's career leader with 2,927 yards receiving from 2004-06.

Thomas had 39 of Georgia Tech's 74 receptions in 2008, Paul Johnson's first season in Atlanta. He already has five 100-yard games, including three this season.

He says he is motivated to maintain the ACC lead in yards receiving.

"That would be a big accomplishment," Thomas said. "I know a lot of people don't think you can do that, but now you can see that we throw the ball and have a chance to make plays. You just have to capitalize."

Nesbitt completed only 43.9 percent of his passes last year but has improved to 50.8 percent with only two interceptions this season. He set a career high with 266 yards passing against Mississippi State.

Thomas said extra practice time with Nesbitt has made the passing combination more effective.

"The extra practice that we put in, I see that it's paying off," Thomas said. "He's a little more relaxed and taking his time back in the pocket and making some good throws."

A dangerous passing threat makes Georgia Tech (4-1, 2-1 ACC) especially dangerous. The Yellow Jackets rank sixth in the nation in rushing.

"They run a lot and a lot of times teams get so tuned in on the run that when they run a pass, the pass play will go for big yards," said Florida State cornerback Patrick Robinson.

"Sometimes that happens. He is pretty big and athletic. I will have my hands full."

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