It might have at first struck listeners as dissonant, but during his radio show Monday night, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said that he wants to throw the ball more.
Given how much Johnson is identified with the Yellow Jackets’ run-based option attack, the idea that Johnson wants to throw the ball more might seem counterintuitive. But, thus far, the Jackets, who face Wake Forest Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, have been heavy on the run thus far this season, even for Johnson and his offense.
“We’d like to throw the ball more,” Johnson said. “Today, I challenged our guys in the offensive meeting – I want to throw the ball more, but you’ve got to be able to execute it when you do. That means protect, that means run routes right, that means throw the ball right. And, as we play, we need to throw the ball more.
Through five games, Tech has a run/pass ratio of 88/12. Through Johnson’s first nine seasons, Tech has stayed in the 80/20 neighborhood. The Jackets ran between 78 and 83 percent of the time in eight seasons. The one relative outlier was 2015 season, which was 75/25.
Johnson’s preference for the run this season is based partly on Tech’s issues with the passing game. Pass protection at times has been faulty, quarterback TaQuon Marshall has not always been accurate and the receivers have contributed as well. Still, the Jackets are hardly stumbling around. They’re seventh nationally in passing efficiency.
The other factor is that the success of Tech’s run game, particularly with Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson, has made the pass a less attractive option.
The risks in passing the ball loom greater “when you know you can probably make a first down if you run it three times,” Johnson said.
Still, the ratio is somewhat out of balance, and Johnson said that “I don’t want to throw it eight times a game. I don’t want to throw it 80, but I think for us, if we’re throwing 15 to 20 times a game, that’s probably when we’re at our best.”
Johnson has plenty of familiarity with the passing game. As an offensive coordinator at Hawaii, from 1987 to 1994, Johnson led an offense that used the pass-happy run-and-shoot and broke or equaled more than 160 school records. In fact, it was a caller who referenced Johnson’s days at Hawaii that led him to make his declaration about the passing game.
The pass can be advantageous for Tech because it enables the Jackets to pick up yardage in chunks, rather than grind out long drives that require a high level of execution over a larger number of plays. At 22 for 42 for 388 yards and five touchdowns, Tech averages 17.6 yards per completion. (The Jackets are also one of two teams in FBS without an interception, N.C. State being the other.)
“We’d like to throw the ball more,” Johnson said. “I would. I say ‘we’ – I would.”
Chances are, at least Marshall and his wide receivers would share their coach’s opinion.