He was the last player to arrive for interviews after Saturday’s win against North Carolina. Josh Nesbitt limped in and dropped into the closest chair.
A tired man needed a place to rest.
Nesbitt carried the ball a career-high 32 times earlier that day. Not only did he lead Georgia Tech to a 24-7 victory, he showed why quarterbacks in coach Paul Johnson’s spread-option offense have a different kind of toughness than perhaps do quarterbacks in other systems. As former Navy QB Chris McCoy said, “you have to be a little stronger, a little faster.”
But is 32 carries too much? There was some concern afterward that more games like that, and more drives like the 17-play march during the fourth quarter in which Nesbitt carried the ball seven times will eventually get him injured.
No, say former quarterbacks who played for Johnson when he was the offensive coordinator and later head coach at Navy. No, say a few coaches, including Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, who will host the Yellow Jackets for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game. No, says Nesbitt.
“I can take it,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt, who leads the team with 78 carries, acknowledged he was pretty beat up after the North Carolina game. He arrived for interviews with a pack on one leg and had been treated for a gash on his arm. But he said he has to stay out there and go through the pain for two reasons: No. 1, that’s how he was brought up.
“For me, my family always told me the harder you get hit, the faster you get up,” Nesbitt said. “You have to be real tough in this offense. Every time you get hit, no matter how bad you’re hurting, you have to get back up.”
Reason No. 2, he loves to win.
Mullen said that love of winning is why he didn’t hesitate when he was offensive coordinator at Florida to run quarterback Tim Tebow 26 times against South Carolina and 27 times against Ole Miss during the 2007 season.
“I can see me doing whatever I feel necessary it is for our team to find a way to win that game,” Mullen said. “If you have to have your quarterback carry 60 times a game, you always try to find a way to win the game.”
Nesbitt did miss two games during the 2008 season with a strained hamstring, but that’s not an injury that can be blamed on running the ball. Nor would the groin injury he sustained during spring practice that season. Athletes in all sports sustain those kinds of injuries. And in football, players are going to get hurt.
One needs only to see the highlights of Tebow’s injury against Kentucky on Saturday. A running quarterback like Nesbitt, Tebow sustained a concussion when he was sacked standing in the pocket. He was hit by a player he never saw.
“You see how many times in a conventional offense quarterbacks stand back there and get their clock cleaned and no one says take them out or do something different,” said McCoy, who carried the ball a school-record 44 times at Navy against Tulane in 1996 when Johnson was the offensive coordinator. “You love the sport and give it all, no matter what position you’re playing.”
McCoy said he avoided major injuries by staying in the weight room. During his junior season he weighed 191 pounds but could bench 375 pounds. He said he became that strong because he knows playing quarterback in an option offense means you have to be as strong as a running back. Craig Candeto, who played quarterback for Navy from 2002-04, said he learned to avoid injuries by learning how not to get hit. He said while quarterbacks do get hit more in this offense compared to those who stand in the pocket, quarterbacks in Johnson's offense rarely get blindsided a Tebow did, and are usually able to either get down or turn your body so that you don't get hit badly when they are running the ball.
Nesbitt said that was part of what helped during his 32-carry day. He took some shots, but he was rarely defenseless.
“Josh is a competitive guy, a tough guy,” Johnson said. “There’s no fear.”
That was evident at the end of that 17-play drive against North Carolina. Nesbitt was thrown by two players for a 2-yard loss on a rushing play. He lay on the ground for a minute or so and then got up before the trainers could come on the field. Had they come out, he would have had to leave the game for a play. Instead, he hopped around for a few seconds before walking to the sideline, where Johnson said he asked him if he had one play more in him.
The next play, he sprinted 10 yards up the middle for a touchdown to ice the game.
“When he plays like that he becomes a great leader for the team,” Johnson said. “Everyone feeds off him.”
His linemen were the first to greet him in the end zone, including center Sean Bedford:
“It’s a real inspiration to everyone who is out there to see that the guy that you are supposed to be protecting, your leader is fighting with you, taking those hits and getting up and coming back at it again.”
Top rushing QBs this season
Where Josh Nesbitt ranks this season in rushing:
Rank (NCAA rank) Name, school Carries Yards Y/Carry Y/Game
1. (13) Joe Webb, UAB 68 432 6.35 108
2. (48) Josh Nesbitt, Georgia Tech 78 310 3.97 77.5
3. (61) Ricky Dobbs, Navy 98 294 3.00 73.5
4. (73) Jarrett Brown, West Virginia 38 208 5.47 69.33
5. (76) Tim Tebow, Florida 55 271 4.93 67.75
6. (81) Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M 38 196 5.16 65.33
7. (83) B.J. Daniels, South Florida 38 259 6.82 64.75
8. (85) Dwight Dasher, Middle Tennessee 72 251 3.49 62.75
9. (96) Austen Arnaud, Iowa State 53 238 4.49 59.5
10. (99) Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State 39 235 6.03 58.75
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