Sure, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas runs the ball, hands the ball off to one of his backs or pitches the ball to one of his backs more than he throws it.
But Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, defensive coordinator Brent Venables and the defense certainly respect Thomas and his ability as a passer in Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to throw the football,” Swinney said on Tuesday. “You want to watch the tape and not see a good, accurate thrower, but that’s not what you see. You turn the tape on and he’s making back-shoulder throws.
“He’s a little bit more accurate than you’d like to see as the opposing coach, to go along with all the other stuff he does in running their system.”
Through three games this season, Georgia Tech has rushed 142 times and passed 42 times. Thomas has carried the ball 28 times and is his team’s leading rusher with 169 yards.
Through the air, Thomas has completed 19-of-38 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins said Thomas looks better on film this year than he did last season, when he went 75-of-180 passing for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
In his career, Thomas has thrown for 3,530 yards with 33 touchdowns and 16 picks.
“He looks a lot better on the film this year,” Wilkins said. “He’s just throwing the ball really well, holding onto the ball and making good decisions, so we’re just going to have to try to rattle him in some way to throw him off a little bit.”
In Week 1, Thomas led a game-winning touchdown drive at Boston College in the waning moments. The senior threw a 22-yard pass on fourth-and-19 and a 26-yard pass on third down to set up Dedrick Mills’ 4-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining.
Last weekend, Thomas set the tone of Tech’s 38-7 victory against Vanderbilt with an 81-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. Thomas faked a pitch and found one of his A-backs wide open for the catch-and-run score.
Venables said Georgia Tech’s offense puts plenty of stress on the secondary.
“It’s high stress, and they’re in high-stress coverages when you’re in an option defense,” Venables said. “There’s a lot of one-on-one, and you don’t have a ‘where’s your buddy at?’ Everybody’s running solo back there, so it’s tremendous stress on those guys.”
Clemson safety Jadar Johnson said defending Thomas and the triple-option is all about understanding assignments, reading keys, executing responsibilities and playing with good technique.
“Their quarterback, he’s a pretty good player,” Johnson said. “He has the ability to extend plays with his running, and he looks downfield the whole time. He has good vision, but if we just stick to what we know and do what we know we can do, then we’ll be fine.”
Swinney remembers watching Thomas in high school, and he’s seen the same thing from him the past two years as a starter against Clemson. So, he knows what he’ll see at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Thursday night.
“Very good player, Justin is,” Swinney said. “I knew that when he was in high school down in Prattville. He’s a competitor that we have a lot of respect for.”