ATLANTA -- When perusing the NCAA statistical leaders, it’s hard to imagine seeing Georgia Tech all the way down to No. 10 in the nation in rushing. Normally the Yellow Jackets are in the top five, and this year’s status certainly can be overlooked since the team is 4-0 for the first time since 2011.
But head coach Paul Johnson expects more production from the running game, which he believes can be even better.
“I’m not happy with where we are running the ball,” Johnson said. “We need to get another 50 to 60 yards a game.”
Not that Georgia Tech’s running attack is bad. The Yellow Jackets average 292 yards on the ground, second in the ACC to Boston College with 316.8. But Georgia Tech fans are used to seeing their team push the opposition around on the ground.
Since 2008, Georgia Tech has rushed for more yards than any other program in the country. The Yellow Jackets have been sixth or better each of the previous six years under Johnson and averaged 299.3 in 2013.
Part of the explanation might be the offensive line. Guard Shaq Mason is in his third year as a starter and considered an All-America candidate. The others weigh in with a variety of experience levels from the 12 starts by tackle Bryan Chamberlain and guard Trey Braun, to first-year contributors like center Freddie Burden and tackle Chris Griffin.
Another explanation is the opposition’s defense. The A-backs, the players who hit the perimeter for the potential big gains, were rendered ineffective against Wofford and Virginia Tech because of the defense’s decision to cut off that portion of the Georgia Tech attack. In both cases, the Yellow Jackets were able to survive because of quarterback Justin Thomas and some tough up-the-middle running by B-back Zach Laskey.
It also hasn’t helped that A-back Charles Perkins missed a full game because of a leg injury. Perkins is considered the best blocker among the A-backs and is the most productive at his position with 111 yards, a 12.3-yard average.
Johnson noted the lack of big gains by the running backs. Georgia Tech has had seven runs of 25 or more yards, with the longest a 63-yarder by Perkins. A-back Tony Zenon has a 41-yard gain, but the other have been limited in their breakaway yardage; Deon Hill has an 18-yarder, B.J. Boston has a 14-yarder and Dennis Andrews has a 15-yarder.
Among the B-backs, Laskey’s long gain is 26 yards and Synjyn Days has one for 10 yards. Laskey is second on the team with 316 yards.
“We haven’t gotten that 50- to 60-yard home run from the B-backs, either,” Johnson said. “That’s how you pick up those yards is with those big runs.”
It has helped the cause that Thomas has proven to be an excellent runner. He has kept the ball 65 times for 443 yards, an average of 110.8 yards in the first four games. He ranks second among FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards.
Johnson added that a penalty negated an 80-yard run last week against Virginia Tech. That would have padded the 250 rushing yards quite nicely.
Regardless of what’s happened through four games, Johnson believes his running game will continue to improve.
“I’m confident in what we do,” Johnson said. “I’m confident we can run for 350.”
Georgia Tech notes: The Yellow Jackets will wear their white honeycomb helmets for Saturday’s “White Out” game against Miami. They haven’t worn the alternative helmets since 2012. ... Place-kicker Harrison Butker sprained his ankle in practice but is expected to play on Saturday. ... The Yellow Jackets have not beaten Miami and Virginia Tech in Johnson’s previous six years. They last did it in 2006 under Chan Gailey.