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Georgia Tech Offense Preview: The Option’s Coming To Town

Not gonna lie, it’s weird being the optimist of the previewers

Wake Forest v Georgia Tech Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

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 aligned symmetrically. The offense is based around the triple option.

On this play, 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. The offensive line cut blocks on the backside and is able to combo block the defensive tackles. 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. Paul Johnson can (and often does) alternate who his A backs and receivers block and leave unblocked, sometimes optioning off a cornerback, sometimes optioning off a safety, sometimes an outside linebacker. Paul Johnson is going to take what the defense gives him.

The goal of the offense is to establish fullback runs inside consistently before springing a big play once defenses overcompensate. In addition to option concepts Georgia Tech will use inside zone and belly (also known as G-lead) extensively to get the ball in the hand of a 5’10” 210 lb. bowling ball aligned at B back. Any of the defensive ends may well spend ten plays as the read key in space before a 370 lb. guard is set to kick him out on a belly handoff. Georgia Tech can do the same thing to the defensive tackles with midline options and trap handoffs.

Midline option. Notice how this play, unlike many others, can be run opposite the motion as a tendency breaker.

There’s an old adage among option coaches, if you can’t block him, read him. If he slow plays the read, he can’t handle a block when he thinks a read is coming. Option coaches are intricately cruel when they can be. Sometimes they’ll fake the belly handoff and run an option off of it. As a rule of thumb every base run has a counter or constraint play, many of those counters have counters, and then there’s a play action pass or two. Paul Johnson is very willing to run the same play four times in a row before calling the counter for a touchdown

Kirvonte Benson has done a good job filling in for the departed Dedrick Mills. If Georgia Tech can hand the ball off for consistent 3-4 yard gains the Yellow Jackets are more than happy to do so. Option teams with new quarterbacks struggle with turnovers as the quarterbacks master “meshing” with the fullback or making the right pitch read. Leading rusher TaQuan Marshall has the reads down and is larger than his predecessors. This means we should expect more midline option than the past, and that’s rarely ideal. With that said, Marshall was recruited as an A back originally and it shows in his ball handling.

On a night forecast to be cold and rainy things could get ugly quickly. The subpar ball handling also neuters the danger of many of the Yellow Jackets favorite reverses and play action passes.

Counter option, in particular, has become so hit or miss Georgia Tech has taken a page from Clemson’s playbook and installed a GT counter for their quarterback, typically run opposite of motion.

Once the quarterback and fullback running threat is established Johnson looks to get A backs such as Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch involved. Neither typically carry the ball more than a half dozen times a game, but both average over seven yards per carry. They are the home run threats.

Georgia Tech receivers are almost always large, physical blockers on the perimeter. Ricky Juene is far and away the most talented and productive player, having caught fifteen of the teams twenty-seven completed passes. No other receiver accounted for more than three. The offensive line is significantly better at run blocking than pass blocking. TaQuan Marshall, while yet to throw an interception, will definitely take a couple sacks instead of throw the ball away. He’s got the arm strength to connect on a couple, and Juene is perfectly capable of making his quarterback look good or drawing pass interference calls.

Georgia Tech uses a lot of trips and roll outs, some of this is to mess with teams run fits but some of it is because the passing game has its roots in the run and shoot. They’re very fond of having their receivers run switch routes, particularly on play action, and it looks a lot like when the receiver and A backs trade blocking responsibilities on rushing plays. The passing game this year is good enough it catch someone in the secondary sleeping, it’s not much to rely on. There’s only so much time to teach an offense and the complexity of the running scheme (plus a first year quarterback) has left the passing game skeletal. There’s not a lot of draws or screens to mitigate a pass rush either. Georgia Tech has so far passed when they have to, in order to keep the running game open. As Dabo put it, “Right now, they’re averaging four completions a game. But it’s almost 18 yards a catch. Whenever they do throw it, it’s a big play.”

Venables is not going to reinvent the wheel, even with the additional practices afforded by the bye week. Clemson will spend a lot of time in their nominal “base” 4-3 defense. Venables already likes to alternate between over and under fronts and the safeties will likely open the game aggressively against the run. The middle linebacker will often play five to six yards behind the line of scrimmage and follow the quarterback/direction of the motion. The outside linebackers, if not on the line of scrimmage, will probably play shallow and blitz often. Dorian O’Daniel will be asked to do a bit of everything. When Georgia Tech goes unbalanced a safety or corner will walk into the box.

Paul Johnson has been running this offense for a long damn time, it’s not worth trying to think of something he hasn’t seen. The dude doesn’t even need a play sheet. Paul Johnson also knows how his offense can be shut down, saying at a 2009 coaching clinic, “The best defense against this offense is good players.” The Yellow Jackets interior offensive line is solid and the right side of the line has more size than many past Georgia Tech teams. There’s still little reason to think a group of guys who can generously be described as three star recruits can block a defensive front with multiple first round NFL picks. Georgia Tech is currently fifth in the nation in third down percentage, however much of that is predicated on efficiency. This is the fourth most efficient offense in the country, and the 106th most explosive. The Yellow Jackets can’t afford a lot of negative plays, Clemson is tied for tenth in the country in tackles for loss. In the last few matchups between the team a negative play for the Yellow Jackets on first down typically killed the drive. Rocket sweeps are a cool play, they barely require you to block the play side of the defensive line at all! You also can’t base an offense around them, particularly when the defense is faster than you are. Tanner Muse is going to take someones head off or be made a fool of trying.

The counters that work against defenses that are a half step slower might not be there against the Tigers.

If Georgia Tech can’t establish the dive their scheme, no matter how good it is, doesn’t matter. Three and outs will keep the Tiger offense on the field, and if the offense does its job Georgia Tech is playing at a deficit and forced to pass. Even with a talented punter, Georgia Tech can’t win the field position battle without stringing together first downs. Clemson has handled this offense well for years, I see little reason to expect that to change.

Tigers 28 - GT 14