ATLANTA — Four games into his first full season as Georgia Tech's starting quarterback, Tevin Washington wears a big smile.
The No. 21 Yellow Jackets lead the nation in total offense, rushing, scoring and — surprisingly — pass efficiency.
Hardly anyone expected Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to be much of threat in the air this season after it finished 2010 ranked 113th in pass efficiency.
The Jackets' triple-option attack leads the nation in rushing for the second straight year, but their passing game is no longer an afterthought.
"I guess you can say we're doing better than we were," Washington said Tuesday night. "We're just trying to do the opposite of what the other teams try to take away."
Opponents have geared up to stop David Sims, who fills the role that Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen successfully played in 2009-10, but doing so has compromised their coverage.
"I think it all comes with understanding the whole play, what Coach (Paul) Johnson really wants us to see and realize what the defense is trying to do to us," Washington said.
"When you understand what the pass play is designed to do, I think it really helps you, in the grand scheme of things, making your read and knowing who's going to be open."
Johnson, whose team visits North Carolina State (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday, believes that Washington epitomizes the skills and spirit of the offense. Washington doesn't try to do too much, but excels in understanding and fulfilling his role.
"This team is kind of unique, too, and I was thinking about it this morning," Johnson said.
"In essence, there have always been guys, pretty much since I've been here, that you tried to feed the ball to. This bunch is a little more like it doesn't matter. You just kind of run the system, and if they want to take away David Sims, OK, we'll give it to Orwin Smith. If they want to take away Orwin, then you'll do whatever."
Washington's improvement in recognizing defensive shifts before the snap has resulted in Johnson trusting him more at the line of scrimmage.
Though quarterbacks rarely use audibles in Johnson's system, they do have situations that allow Washington to move his formation to the opposite side of the line and compensate for pressure.
"Really, we've run probably less triple-option plays to this point than we have in a while," Johnson said. "People are kind of geared up, overplaying, trying to stop it and they're opening themselves up to other stuff by doing it. So there's no use forcing it."
Johnson likes how Washington has worked to spread the touches around. Smith, Sims, Roddy Jones, Embry Peeples and Preston Lyons have run for a combined 1,058 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Among receivers, Stephen Hill's production — 462 yards and four touchdowns — is an exception, but he has just 14 catches. Smith, Jones, Tony Zenon and Tyler Melton have 14 catches total for 432 yards and four TDs.
"I think Tevin has played well to this point," Johnson said. "He's been efficient for the most part and gotten the ball to different people. Certainly he's like everybody else in that there have been spurts where we'd like him to do better, but overall I think you'd have to be pleased with what he's done to this point."
Washington, a red-shirt junior from Wetumpka, Ala., still must improve his ball security. He went without a turnover in the first three games despite putting the ball on the ground four times, but in last week's 35-28 win over North Carolina, Washington had two turnovers, including his first interception.
N.C. State's secondary, led by cornerback David Amerson, has eight interceptions, tops in the ACC. The Wolfpack's 12 sacks rank second.
"We just have to be careful," Washington said. "It was kind of problem for us last year, not holding onto the ball like we should, but it's gotten better this year. We're not perfect by any means, but we're improving."