ATLANTA — Tevin Washington is aiming for Joe Hamilton’s passing standards at Georgia Tech.
That should be no surprise.
There has been much passing futility at Georgia Tech since Hamilton completed his career in 1999 as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
Washington is in position to end the school’s streak of nine straight years where the starting quarterback had more interceptions than touchdown passes or failed to complete 50 percent of his attempts.
In some years, A.J. Suggs, Reggie Ball, Taylor Bennett and Joshua Nesbitt, a strong runner, fell below both modest break-even measurements for quarterbacks.
Now it’s Washington’s turn.
With 10 TD passes and one interception, the junior has been a surprise in his first full season starting for No. 13 Georgia Tech, which will try for its sixth straight win when it plays Maryland on Saturday.
Georgia Tech (5-0 overall, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) leads the nation in rushing, which is no surprise in coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense.
The unexpected twist is the Yellow Jackets, led by Washington, also lead the nation in passing efficiency. They finished the 2010 season close to last in the nation — only 113th — in the efficiency rating.
“It’s a good feeling knowing the offense can do more than just one thing, running the ball,” Washington said. “It takes some pressure off your running game. When we hit a big play, it kind of loosens the defense up a little bit and helps the whole offense.”
Washington was a backup for two years before taking over as the starter for the final four games last year when Nesbitt was injured. The results were less than spectacular as he, like Nesbitt, was more impressive as a runner.
Washington completed only 41 percent of his attempts last year.
A summer of extra work with his receivers, including Stephen Hill, has produced dramatic results. He opened this season by completing 8 of 13 passes against Western Carolina for 271 yards and three touchdowns.
He has thrown at least one scoring pass in every game and was sharp before falling off his pace in last week’s 45-35 win at N.C. State. He was only 4 of 12 passing for 117 yards but two of the completions were for touchdowns.
“It wasn’t one of his better games,” Johnson said. “I think he’d be the first to say probably that he’s played better than that all year. He did enough to help us win the game when we had to, which was a positive, but I think he can play better. Hopefully he will this week.”
Washington said he was affected by pressure from the N.C. State defense.
“I knew I wasn’t comfortable,” he said.
“In the second half, I tried to make sure I had more composure. You’ve got to be calm back there. You’ve got to be the one person who’s composed, no matter what is going on. The offensive line did a great job with protection. I’ve just got to do a better job back there in the pocket, staying calm and hitting open receivers when we’ve got a chance to make a big play in the passing game.”
Big plays are the key. Georgia Tech still isn’t passing as often as most teams, but the average completion is for 29.8 yards. Hill is averaging 33.5 yards for his 15 catches, including four for touchdowns.
Washington said he doesn’t expect Maryland (2-2, 1-0) to alter its defensive strategy for the Yellow Jackets’ rejuvenated passing game.
“I think any defense in America is going to try to stop us from running the ball,” Washington said.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said Washington “isn’t the typical triple-option quarterback.”
“He throws the ball well and has good receivers who go up and get the ball,” Edsall said. “The biggest thing is for us to read our keys because he is a guy who can hurt us running and throwing the ball.”
Washington said he hopes Hamilton, the running backs coach at Georgia State, is noticing the new dual-threat quarterback at Georgia Tech.
“I talked to him over the summer,” said Washington. “He was just telling me to be in control out there.”
After Hamilton’s final season, George Godsey posted two of the school’s top three totals for passing yards in a season in 2000-01. Then came the long string of mostly subpar passing numbers.
Hamilton finished his college career as the ACC’s all-time leader in total offense with 10,640 yards. He holds most Georgia Tech career passing records.
“I want to do those things,” Washington said. “I want to do better than that, to be honest, but I want to set my standards high. I’m trying to put myself in position that one day I can be one of the good quarterbacks, a great quarterback, at Georgia Tech.”