ATLANTA -- One thing Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson really likes about this year’s team is the number of options his players give him.
Unlike previous seasons, when the Yellow Jackets had to rely heavily on individuals like Jonathan Dwyer, Anthony Allen or Joshua Nesbit, Johnson now has more choices at his disposal. That versatility can be dangerous in the hands of a master play-caller like Johnson.
“There’s been guys pretty much since I’ve been here that you try to feed the ball to,” Johnson said. “This bunch is a little more ... it doesn’t matter. You just kind of run the system, and they want to take away David Sims, then OK, we’ll give it to Orwin Smith. If they want to take away Orwin, then we’ll give it to whoever. It’s just kind of running the system.”
No. 21-ranked Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0 ACC) will put those options on display Saturday when it travels to Raleigh to play N.C. State for its first ACC road game. The Wolfpack are 2-2 and coming off a national-TV loss to Cincinnati by the score of 41-0.
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Normally it might seem to be a trap game, since Georgia Tech is playing well and N.C. State is struggling, but the Wolfpack probably lost their right to play that card when they thumped the Yellow Jackets 45-28 a year ago.
“Last year they beat us pretty good (in Atlanta),” Johnson said. “They scored more points than anybody since I’ve been here. We’ve got to play better, take better care of the ball and see if we can get them off the field, which we struggled with last year.”
That’s where the Georgia Tech’s depth could come into play. Should the Yellow Jackets feel stymied in one area, they’ll likely switch gears and go in a different direction. And if the running game gets slow, Georgia Tech has developed a passing game it can use effectively when necessary.
Georgia Tech’s A-backs are off to a productive start. Smith has rushed for 349 yards and four touchdowns and averages 18.4 yards per carry. Roddy Jones (194 yards, two touchdowns) and Embry Peeples (159 yard, one touchdown) are close behind. Expect to see Tony Zenon, who didn’t play last week, something Johnson called “an oversight.” Sims, at B-back, has rushed for 276 yards and scored three times and has shown the ability to get tough yards up the middle.
Quarterback Tevin Washington, who carried a career-high 18 times last year, has rushed for 146 yards and four touchdowns, and he has thrown for 821 yards and eight touchdowns. Stephen Hill has 14 catches for 462 yards, 33 yards per catch.
“I think (Tevin) has played well to this point,” Johnson said. “He’s been efficient for the most part with the offense and got the ball to different people. He’s like everybody else, there’s been spurts that we’d like for him to do better, but overall I think you have to be pleased with what he’s done to this point.”
Georgia Tech’s offense will face a soft N.C. State defense that has allowed 139 yards rushing and 408 total yards per game. Contrast that to North Carolina, which entered last week’s game having allowed 80 yards rushing per game but was torched for 335 rushing yards by Georgia Tech.
Injuries have hurt the Wolfpack. Only one of their starting defensive lineman is healthy, although defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy has been upgraded to questionable with a foot injury.
“They’re a great team. We’ve got a lot on our hands this week,” N.C. State defensive tackle Darryl Cato-Bishop said.
N.C. State head coach Tom O’Brien said, “We’re going to find out who the guys are that are discipline and mentally tough because the offense forces you to concentrate on your assignment each and every play. If you don’t play your assignment on every play, that’s all it takes to get you beat is on that one play.”
Saturday could be a test for the young Georgia Tech secondary, which faces a skilled passer in Mike Glennon, who has thrown for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. But Glennon can’t match the mobility of North Carolina’s Bryn Renner and certainly doesn’t have Renner’s offensive weapons at his disposal. And he’ll have one fewer now that leading rusher Curtis Underwood (226 yards) will miss the game with a sore knee.