Justin Thomas. The name many of you were waiting to hear in our Top Ten Plays of 2013 Countdown. In his limited role as a backup in 2013, Justin saw decent minutes and often showed flashes of the inner beast that could very well lie within, leaving Tech fans salivating and conjecturing about his seemingly limitless athletic ability. Fans often cite his long touchdown runs against Elon and Syracuse as clear indicators of his remarkable speed and agility. Indeed, what little we've seen of Justin leads us to believe he is one of the more explosive and athletically-gifted players to grace the white and gold in at least the past decade.
However, while there is an abundance of praise for his athleticism every time his name comes up, there is no shortage of questions as to whether or not he will be able to make the right reads in real game situations. Will he know the offense well enough by the time the fall rolls around to run it effectively? Or will he be more like former quarterback Vad Lee, who similarly was an outstanding athlete but never quite grasped or "bought in" to the system?
I wish I had answers to those questions to tell you guys, but, unfortunately, I do not. What I DO have, though, is an analysis of a particularly brilliant play by Justin last season that many may have forgotten. A play that, when asked the above questions about Justin's football IQ, leads me to lean in the direction of believing that he has the field awareness, mental potential, and general knowledge of the playbook to run the offense in a way we haven't seen it run before.
The Situation: Georgia Tech is in the middle of routing Syracuse in true "Welcome to the ACC" fashion. Justin Thomas is in at QB midway through the third quarter with the Jackets up 42-0. Overall, it's a good situation for everyone: Vad gets to rest, Justin gets valuable playing time, and the fans get to catch a glimpse of their future starting quarterback.
It's second and six on the Tech 25, the drive still young. The Syracuse defense is utterly baffled by Tech's offense. Memories of 2009 float on the air as the Jackets continue to relentlessly pound the ball into the spacious holes and lanes through the Syracuse secondary. Justin is lined up under center in the flexbone.
The Play: It's your typical triple option play, but it starts poorly. Justin misreads Syracuse's Jay Bromley and pulls the ball from B-back Zach Laskey. Within a second of the snap, Syracuse has bodies in the backfield and Justin is still in the pocket. If we've seen it once, we've seen it a hundred times; at this point, the play is as good as dead.
This is where Justin surprises us. Instead of being frozen by Bromley and accepting the sack, Justin cuts up field into contact, and manages to partially get around the defender with his speed. Bromley's got him wrangled pretty good though, with his arms wrapped around Justin's left ankle whilst lying on the ground.
Justin stays calm. He keeps his head on a swivel and his eyes up till the very end, which pays off greatly for him: Deon Hill is standing five yards away looking for the ball! He pitches the ball to Deon, who takes it 23 yards for a first down.
I know many of you may object and say it was an ill-advised pitch and could have easily been a fumble, and you're right. Truth be told, he probably had no business pitching that ball, but he might not have if the game weren’t firmly in hand. Either way, in that particular instance, it was a fantastic, heads-up play.
It showed us two things: one, that Justin knew where to find his A-back in the midst of the broken play, and two, that he does not like to give up on a play until he hits the ground. His ability to preserve plays for as long as possible and somehow manage to get positive yards when he shouldn't was all on display.
I may be reading too deep into this play, but I think if we are going to look at the few highlights we have of him last season and form predictions, this highlight should not be excluded from the discussion.
What do you think? Was this play lucky, a bad idea, or an indicator of Justin’s playmaking ability? Join us tomorrow for more Top Plays.