Georgia Tech might have a pretty good offense this year. The Yellow Jackets are only a year removed from an 11-3 season and a #8 finish behind an offense scoring nearly forty points a game. Then pretty much the entire skill position depth chart graduated, the offense was racked with injuries, and 2015 happened. This early in the season it’s hard to say much about most teams definitively, but there’s reason to think Georgia Tech could figure things out on offense. Justin Thomas is explosive and experienced at quarterback. Dedrick Mills and Marcus Marshall are a pair of 5’10” 215 pound bowling balls at fullback. Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch are averaging over nine yards a carry and fourteen yards per target from the slot. The wide receivers and offensive line are pretty good blockers. They even have a pretty good backup quarterback/goal line mooch in Matthew Jordan. The offensive line will cut block pretty much everyone the scheme doesn’t enable them to leave unblocked. The wide receivers and slot backs would be doing the same if not for a recent rule change.
Georgia Tech is the only team outside of the service academies to base out of the flexbone.
The offense will base out of this formation, with one fullback (known as the B back), two slots (A backs) and two wide receivers. Everything is going to base around the triple option. One of the A backs will motion behind the quarterback who has the option to hand the ball off to the fullback, keep it himself, or pitch it to the A back who motioned over. If the defensive end takes away the fullback, the quarterback keeps the ball, if the last unblocked defender (the read key) tries to tackle the quarterback the A back gets the ball and it’s off to the races.
I don’t think Georgia Tech is going to have much luck with the dive phase of the option. Even with a potentially banged up Boulware the defensive tackle rotation is too stout. Both Joseph and Lamar have great size at Mike linebacker. The Georgia Tech offensive line has more offensive linemen in the 280’s (3) than 300+ (the mammoth 370 lb Shamare Devine is probably too big for this scheme). Where things could get ugly very quickly is when Justin Thomas either keeps or pitches the ball. With Austin Bryant confirmed to be missing this game there’s very little experience at the defensive end spots. How Wilkins, Yeargin and Ferrell handle being read is going to be very important. Even with Dorian O’Daniel returning to his traditional option handling spot there are concerns about how the secondary handles run fits. Tankersley is a very good run support corner. Van Smith is eager but misses lanes and tackles aplenty, Jadar Johnson can fly but even misses lanes. Neither Fields nor Edmund have been tested much. It doesn’t take many mistakes for a triple option team to break off a fifty yard run.
The rest of the Yellow jacket offense consists of complementary plays designed to hurt defenses that overcompensate somehow to take away the triple option. If a team puts too many defenders in the box Paul Johnson will call a rocket sweep, where the A back gets the ball outside of the tackle box and tries to outrun everyone.
If a coach encourages his defensive end to “slow play” the option by refusing to commit to the quarterback or the fullback an option team will just call inside zone and hand the ball off. If the defensive tackles are flying up field and wreaking havoc Tech will call midline and shift from reading the defensive ends to reading an aggressive defensive tackle. If Paul Johnson thinks Justin Thomas and one of the A backs are capable of beating a defense to the edge he’ll call speed option. Against less talented defenses the Yellowjackets have had a lot of success with the play, I’m less sure how it’ll work against the team speed of Clemson. The offense is built around reacting to whatever the defense is giving up. Brent Venables is a great defensive coordinator, but as option coaches would put it, Venables coaches against the option once a year, Paul Johnson coaches with it every week.
The other play most likely to be used against Clemson is the midline option. The old adage of “if you can’t block them, read them” is why. Georgia Tech’s guards and center are going to struggle against Lawrence, Pagano, Huggins and Watkins. By reading one of these tackles Georgia Tech ensures a double team on the other. The offensive line will block both ends, with the tackles just trying not to get beat inside. The guard to the side of a three technique tackle will climb to a second level defender. The other guard and center combo block a one technique tackle to the other inside linebacker. Typically both b backs lead through the hole created by the unblocked tackle. The quarterback will mesh with the fullback, who is running straight at the center. If the three technique tries to tackle the fullback the quarterback keeps the ball and runs inside. If the three technique tries to tackle the quarterback the fullback keeps the ball inside. Most of the defensive line is experienced, but Lawrence is still a true freshman, there’s no reason to believe he’s above mental busts when targeted.
Playing Georgia Tech on the road on a Thursday ensures quite a bit of weirdness. Georgia Tech has yet to complete more than eight passes. Georgia Tech is 3-0 after beating Boston College, Mercer and Vanderbilt, and they’ve put up thirty points in back to back games. The Yellow Jackets could easily put up twenty points on Clemson. If the secondary can handle their run fits and the defensive tackles and inside linebackers are capable of holding up against thirty to forty dives Clemson should be able to shut Georgia Tech down. If not, and the offense looks more like week two than week three, an upset is not unforeseeable.