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Scouting Report: Georgia Tech Offense Goes Mainstream

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Welcome to year zero in Atlanta.

NCAA Football: Clemson Practice Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Johnson’s decision to retire after a decade means Georgia Tech will be scrapping their unique flexbone triple option offense. Geoff Collins is hoping to reenergize the program on the recruiting trail and on the defensive side of the ball this season, while all indications are that the offense is a work in progress. We don’t have many recent cases of a team converting from the flexbone to look at for guidance. Places that run the option tend to identify with it at a core level, and when one option coach leaves another is hired. With that said, it’s easy to expect growing pains. We’ve seen switching from the option go down in flames pretty recently in Statesboro, Georgia.

Collins and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude hope to run a modern spread option offense. Like almost everyone these days, Patenaude expects to spend the majority of his time in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers). There are going to be some roster constraints the first year, as the roster Collins inherited had thirteen scholarship running backs and zero tight ends. The offensive linemen may have the most radical transition of all, having to relearn things as basic as their stance as they adjust to more conventional blocking schemes.

The first play of the spring game

You can see an outline of what the Yellow Jackets’ vision is on offense. The versatility of those running backs is being viewed as an asset, many of the running backs in Johnson’s offense had to be able to block on the perimeter and run routes out wide. As a result, Georgia Tech has a handful of players who are dangerous from either the backfield or the slot. In addition, graduate transfer tight end Tyler Davis was versatile enough to line up out wide for UConn, and caught six touchdowns for the Huskies last year. His skill as a receiver also makes tight trips formations dangerous.

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This means that in addition to 11 personnel, the Yellow Jackets can use their skill players to line up in a variety of formations from more traditionally “run heavy” groupings. Patenaude has his skill players cross-training at tight end, running back, slot and wide receiver. It very much seems like this first season will be experimental, as Georgia Tech figures out what they have in their offense going forward.

We can tell some of the Yellow Jackets’ core plays from their spring game. It looks like they’ll focus on packaging inside zone, outside zone, power, and counter in a variety of ways. Georgia Tech still has option runs, but many of those now include an RPO. It looks like quarterbacks Tobias Oliver and Lucas Johnson will both see playing time, neither has proven themselves as a passer yet at a college level.

The Yellow Jackets running backs are dangerous running the ball in space, something Georgia Tech looks to take advantage of with outside zone and inverted veer handoffs. Patenaude also showed a fondness for calling power handoffs to convert third downs in the spring game.

In addition to the handoffs attacking the edge, Georgia Tech used frequent throws to the running backs to take advantage of their receiving skills and give their quarterbacks a security blanket underneath, such as this swing route out of “mesh.”

When this causes the defense to creep up the Yellow Jackets have the ability to take shots downfield. Take this look out of tight trips.

The Yellow Jackets appear to be dangerous running play-action passes if their offensive line can hold up long enough for their quarterbacks to execute play-fakes.

One final thing to look for will be Georgia Tech running empty formations from heavier personnel groups. Doing this allows offenses to isolate skill players on linebackers, and either take advantage throwing the ball underneath or running quarterback draw against empty boxes.

It’s hard to expect too much out of Georgia Tech in the first week of such a dramatic transition offensively. This is a “year zero” situation if ever there was one. As it stands, Clemson enjoys a massive talent advantage and has been running the same scheme with the same coaches for years. Oh, and Georgia Tech is on the road. Vegas has the Tigers as 36.5 point favorites. I don’t know if we’ll cover that, Clemson tends to play conservatively with a lead, but we’re almost certainly not going to see the Yellow Jackets leave Death Valley with an upset.