The option has never been more accepted than it is today. From middle school on to the NFL teams have been using option concepts out of the shotgun and pistol for years. Most of the four teams to make the playoffs last year used option concepts, as did national champion UCF. Spread option tactics have long since gone mainstream.
Ironically the original “spread option” is, once again, facing questions about how it’ll survive at the highest levels of college football. Changes to the cut blocking rule aren’t going to kill the flexbone, it’s survived for decades, but they can’t help either. After an impressive 2014 Georgia Tech has yet to regain form as a program. So, once again, it seems there are some questions about Paul Johnson’s future at Georgia Tech.
In a lot of ways, despite a more widespread and influential heyday, the triple option is staring at a potentially similar fate to the run n shoot. Though nearly extinct at the highest level the run n shoot has influenced every modern passing game, including Johnson’s. The offense was, in essence, absorbed in the evolution of football.
A lot of the best parts of the original option offense, double teams and reading defenders, can often be accomplished just as easily from the shotgun. This has the added benefit of being where almost every high school player is most comfortable.
As the Clemson Tigers travel to Bobby Dodd Stadium it’s important to note that the Tigers have struggled here in the past, and didn’t exactly impress the first time they went on the road this year. Still, after a rough start, Dabo has adjusted to playing Tech annually. The players have been preparing for the option since the offseason. Venables has seen, and shut down, this scheme several times.
After entering the season with the most experienced team Johnson has ever had, the offense has been able to lead the country in rushing yards so far. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets they sit just 63rd in scoring offense, and have lost close matches with UCF and Pitt the last two weeks. Option teams often struggle with turnovers and Tech has had seven so far.
Taquon Marshall is an electric and unreliable triggerman. When he’s on, he’s the most dangerous player Tech has, but he has serious struggles pitching the ball and has already matched his interception total from last year.
Everything starts around the triple option, with the quarterback reading the unblocked defensive end to determine if he should hand the ball off to a fullback (B back) or keep it himself. If the quarterback keeps the ball, he can pitch it to a trailing running back (A back). The B back runs are the core of the offense, if GT can get four yards per carry running the dive Johnson wants to hand to the fullback all day.
Pitt was able to frustrate Marshall consistently by having their defensive ends play wide, forcing Marshall into situations he should hand the ball off.
The A backs are where big plays are generated in the running game, and are used heavily as receivers. Originally the term “spread option” came from playing these backs in the slot, as opposed to the backfield like a traditional wishbone team would. The cut block rule may hurt these A backs the most, as they are routinely asked to make blocks against outside linebackers and safeties. Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch average out below 6’ and at around 185 lbs. and were previously able to make up for that by diving at legs and creating a pile. Making these blocks can be the difference between a five yard gain and fifty.
Receivers in this offense are role players, and embrace being “wide tackles”. They’re on the field to block, first and foremost, and then to catch the occasional big play when safeties creep up against the option. As a result Tech’s receivers tend to be tall deep ball threats.
The option might be the hardest offense to protect a malfunctioning quarterback in, nearly every single play requires he make a decision. When Marshall isn’t at his best the A backs and WR’s can be nearly taken out of the game, with defenses only really having to worry about quarterback/fullback runs. Marshall’s 28 carries against Pitt not only led the team, they were as many carries as the rest of the team combined.
Given that Marshall completed 37% of his passes last year, and has yet to eclipse 50% this year, the passing game leaves a lot to be desired. Tech passes minimally and is either aiming for a big play or they forced into it on third and long. An offensive line that was not recruited or developed to pass block is, unsurprisingly, not that good at it, and often times things devolve to Marshall on doomed scrambles.
They ran a QB sneak on third and eight for god’s sake.
The offense can move the chains with the occasional called dive, but even these are meant to resemble the option. Take this trap play, which resembles an option right until the pulling guard hits a defensive tackle that thinks he’s being read.
Misdirection plays don’t work nearly as well when the defense isn’t worried about the play you’re faking.
Still, Johnson knows this offense like the back of his hand. The flexbone has been a giant killer before and anything can happen. It’d be really nice to have Dorian O’Daniel back. It’s also hard to see this team moving the ball much against Clemson. The Tigers weaknesses are in the secondary and the Yellow Jackets aren’t built to take advantage of that. Having a banged up offensive line against Clemson is bad news. The Tigers open as sixteen point favorites and could easily keep their habit of winning but not covering alive again Saturday.