Under head coach Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech has thrived with an unusual triple option offense, making four bowl games in as many years, including a berth to the 2010 Orange Bowl. Last week the Yellow Jackets showed just how deadly that offense could be, dropping 68 points and nearly 600 yards on a talented North Carolina defense in Chapel Hill.
hat game showed just how badly a defense could get burned if players deviated from their assignments in pass coverage, missed tackles, or deviated from their lanes against the run.
“It was one of those games where they took advantage of opportunities,” Duke defensive end Dezmond Johnson said. “Georgia Tech is one of those teams that if they see a flaw they can take advantage of it. And like you’ve seen last week, they can… turn it into six points.”
But last week also highlighted the defensive deficiencies that have sunk Georgia Tech this season as the Tar Heels scored 50 points of their own in that game.
After three consecutive losses in which Georgia Tech gave up more than 40 points, the team fired defensive coordinator Al Groh. In the four games since, the team is 3-1, although that stretch included a 41-17 loss to BYU and the North Carolina win in which the team gave up a season high in points.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe believes the coordinator change has refocused the Yellow Jacket defense on executing its fundamentals, although the results are hardly indicative of a unit playing inspired football.
“It’s schematically somewhat the same. They had an open date, but you’re not going to change [the scheme],” Cutcliffe said. “I’m sure their focus became fundamentals, became a focus on pursuit angles, a focus on not giving up big plays. From reading between the lines that was what the head coach expected to see—just a very sound approach to defense.”
What the defense lacks the offense compensates for, however. The triple-option offense primarily a running scheme, and Georgia Tech has consequently racked up some impressive numbers on the ground. The Yellow Jackets average 324.4 yards and more than four touchdowns per game on the ground, good for fourth and first in the nation, respectively.
Georgia Tech’s offense unit has not been without struggles of its own, though. Quarterback Tevin Washington, the returning starter, has ceded an increasing number of snaps to redshirt freshman Vad Lee. Despite Lee’s success, Georgia Tech will continue to use its two-quarterback system. But Cutcliffe said the Yellow Jackets’ quarterback swapping would not affect Duke’s preparation because the two quarterbacks run the same offense and both are capable of converting defensive lapses into big plays.
Last year, Washington gashed the Blue Devils for more than 300 total yards, averaging eight yards per carry and more than 14 per pass attempt. Even though he has not faced the Blue Devils yet, Cutcliffe is familiar with Lee, a Durham native.
“I saw him a lot over here—he spent a lot of time over here at our place. I had him in camp. Vad’s a fine young man and a very, very gifted athlete,” Cutcliffe said.
Although the run game is clearly Georgia Tech’s strength, the team has succeeded in its limited opportunities through the air. In years past, the Yellow Jackets have had a superstar at receiver, with two taken on the first day of the draft in the past three years.
This year the ball has been spread more evenly—six players have more than 100 yards receiving, led by Jeff Greene’s 256—but the success through the air has continued. The team averages more than 10 yards per attempt through the air and more than 18 yards per completion, largely because the play calling keeps defenses so off balance.
“A lot of times you see these guys running wide open,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “During the course of the game you get so locked in to the run, so keyed into the run. And then on first down, they hit you with a pass. That’s what makes it hard is you can get passes at times that you really don’t expect…. Last year they threw the ball on us well. They hit us with a couple deep passes, and that’s really how they win games.”