ATLANTA — For a fan-base, he has, perhaps prematurely, perhaps unfairly, been seen as the Great Georgia Tech Pass-Catching Hope.
Following the departure last offseason of Demaryius Thomas, a former All-ACC receiver who was selected in the first round of April’s NFL draft, Stephen Hill, a sophomore from metro-Atlanta, was pegged as the Yellow Jackets’ next great receiver. It is a title head coach Paul Johnson said he didn’t deserve.
At least, he didn’t deserve it yet.
“I think a lot of those guys got pre-hyped before the thing started and everybody wants to compare him to the (player) who was the first player taken in the draft,” Johnson said Sunday night on his weekly post-game teleconference. “I may coach another 31 years and not have another receiver like (Thomas). They don’t come along.
“So the comparisons for everybody trying to compare (Hill) to (Thomas) is unfair to him. And being a young guy, he’s tried to accept that role and live up to the billing. He’s put a lot of pressure on himself instead of just relaxing and playing.”
The pressure of such expectations became none more apparent than Saturday night, when the potential-filled, second-year receiver, Hill, dropped a pair of wide open passes against Wake Forest.
Each time, the drops came downfield as the Yellow Jackets seemed in position to turn a hopeful big-play reception into a scoring opportunity.
“It’s just confidence with him,” Johnson said. “I know he can do it. I’ve seen him do it. He’s just got to relax and catch the ball.”
The coach added that as a positive, Hill “blocked his tail off” against Wake Forest.
Like Hill, other Yellow Jackets receivers have had their share of drops this season. Against the Demon Deacons in Georgia Tech’s 24-20 road ACC win, four passes went in and out of a pass-catchers’ hands as quarterback Joshua Nesbitt tried to deliver strikes to them.
Johnson said he has spoken “in a roundabout” way with Hill already about ignoring any comparisons and just worrying about “being Stephen Hill and nothing else.”
“If he does that,” Johnson said, “he’s got enough ability to be a really good player.”
Johnson said he will speak with Hill about the subject more on Monday.
Hill was the subject of a widely-publicized recruiting battle between Georgia Tech and Georgia two years ago, as a report the day before that Signing Day indicated he was planning on joining A.J. Green and the Bulldogs in Athens instead of coming to the Flats to play under Johnson’s run-based option scheme. The highly-touted receiver instead chose the Yellow Jackets after all.
Nesbitt’s ‘best’ game?
With the headline-dominating drops, the plethora of penalties and the mass of mixed assignments ruling much of Georgia Tech’s (3-2, 2-1 ACC) comeback victory over Wake Forest, there appeared to be very little that looked good about the Yellow Jackets’ performance.
Not the case for Nesbitt.
The senior quarterback said following the win that he felt he played his “best game of the season,” after an 11-for-21, 130-yard, two-touchdown passing performance. He also rushed for 72 yards while helping will his team to victory on its final two drives.
Also, bear in mind, discounting the four drops, Nesbitt likely would have thrown 15-for-21; a solid mark for any quarterback, much less a run-based, option-style signal-caller.
“I don’t know if he was any better than he was at North Carolina (another win),” Johnson said. “It was one of his better games. He still made a couple of mistakes that he shouldn’t make, but overall, he made a lot of plays.”
One of the plays Nesbitt made with his feet was a 16-yard, first-down run that helped the Yellow Jackets convert a fourth-down to keep their last drive alive.
After scrambling for the big pickup, he was able to find receiver Correy Earls on a slant into the end zone with 15 seconds remaining for the eventual game-winning score.
“Joshua did a fantastic job putting the team on his shoulders in the fourth quarter there,” center Sean Bedford said. “He stayed cool under pressure and make a lot of plays for us.”
Place-kicker Scott Blair has struggled with his bouts of establishing confidence, but it appears those days are far, far away from him now.
After making just 14 field goals last season, he already has seven in seven attempts this season.
Against the Demon Deacons, his three field goals — one from a season-long 46 yards — kept the Yellow Jackets in the game. As a result, his efforts drew high praise from Johnson.
“He made some big field goals. He was as solid as can be,” Johnson said about Blair’s performance against Wake Forest. “He’s been great all year; real consistent.”
Johnson on Sunday had no new news on injured offensive lineman Will Jackson, who left Saturday’s game with a left ankle injury. It was the same injury that forced the redshirt freshman guard out of the season-opener and to the sidelines for the next game.
Nesbitt, who finished the game with a net 72 yards rushing Saturday, actually ran for more than that before a pair of sacks and backfield stops. He actually gained 114 yards before loss. Had it not been for the losses, he would have rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season.