ATLANTA — In addition to the never-ending sounds of the clanging and clattering of hundreds of — perhaps thousands even — cowbells, something else filled the air that night.
They came from Joshua Nesbitt’s right arm.
That’s right. On a clear, typically noisy night in Starkville, Miss., the Georgia Tech quarterback did something he apparently isn’t supposed to be able to do: He threw the football.
Hurling passes seemingly at will, the run-first signal-caller made his intentions known early. As the defense in front of him tried its hardest to confuse him, Nesbitt made it plainly obvious that he wanted to carve up the unit by instituting an air attack. It was a successful one, too.
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“They threw a lot at us,” Nesbitt said, recalling the different fronts Mississippi State tossed at him one October night last year. “We had to know what we were doing, because any given play, sometimes we’d get multiple defenses.”
Chances are high he will see many different defenses once again Saturday when the Yellow Jackets take on Kansas.
Carl Torbush, a former head coach at North Carolina and a longtime college assistant, has joined the Jayhawks’ (0-1) staff this season to lead their defense. Just where was the journeyman coach before settling last December in Lawrence, Kan.?
That’s right. He was at Mississippi State.
“We’ll have an idea of what they’ll play defensively,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said, referring to the Jayhawks. “You watch the tape and they’re playing the same defense, so there wouldn’t be drastic changes I wouldn’t think.”
Last Saturday, Kansas’ stodgy defense gave up just 168 yards of total offense to North Dakota State. It wasn’t enough, however, as the Bison snuck out of Memorial Stadium with a 6-3 upset that has sent the Big 12 campus reeling.
In studying film of last week’s game, Johnson noticed the same defense that allowed just six points to lower-classified North Dakota State four days ago, looked very similar in makeup to one that gave up 43 points to the Yellow Jackets last fall.
During that contest against the Bulldogs, deep in the heart of SEC country, the Yellow Jackets threw 14 passes. Of those, 11 were completed for 266 yards; Georgia Tech’s highest passing total of the season.
“I don’t think we went into that game expecting to pass a lot, but it just happened that way,” A-back Roddy Jones said. “(Receiver Demaryius “Bay Bay” Thomas) just happened to have a big game because it opened up for that to happen. I’m sure if it opens up again this time, I’m sure we’ll try to do that again.”
Thomas had eight of those receptions and recorded a touchdown. He has since left for the NFL.
Thomas’ replacement, sophomore Stephen Hill, also had one catch during that game, but likely was most remembered for his 24-yard end around run that put the Yellow Jackets on the scoreboard first.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Nesbitt said about having faced semblances of Kansas’ defense previously, “but these are different players and this is a different team, and we just have to go in and give whatever the other defense gives us.”
Despite Nesbitt’s somewhat shaky passing debut Saturday, that still could mean many passing yards again.
“I’m just not as worried about it as everyone seems to be. It is what it is,” Johnson said about Nesbitt’s 8-yard, 1-for-6 passing performance last week. “There’s games where he throws the ball really well, and he has in the past, and there’s games where he may struggles sometimes.
“But what you hope is if he struggles, it’s a game where you don’t have to throw at all. I really believe we could have won the game on Saturday without ever throwing once. We’ve certainly done that before.”
The Yellow Jackets beat Virginia Tech completing one pass last season, and had nine other wins where they threw single-digit completions.
Although Nesbitt’s South Carolina State outing has drawn ire for his statistics, Johnson said he will not be gun shy if the opportunity presents itself for Nesbitt to launch it out once again.
“I’ve seen the kid, he can throw the ball,” Johnson said. “He’s very adequate throwing the ball for us doing what we need to do.”