Perhaps no school in the nation has a more defined offensive identity than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Head coach Paul Johnson’s triple option offense has become a staple of the ACC.
Despite the proliferation of pass-happy spread offenses around the nation, Johnson’s Yellow Jackets have rolled along with the power running attack that looks like it belongs more in 1913 than 2013, giving opposing defenses fits in the process.
Using the flexbone formation, calculated pre-snap motion and cut blocking the Yellow Jackets turn what appears to be a simple offense into a complex monster.
The flexbone formation is made up of two receivers spread out wide on the line of scrimmage, a quarterback under center and three running backs — one outside each tackle and another behind center creating a triangle.
From this, the Yellow Jackets have multiple options on each play of who to give the ball to. The quarterback can take it, hand it off to the fullback up the middle, or one of the outside backs can take a pitch or sweep and get out in space.
To cover all of these options a defense has to be disciplined and stick to their assignment. The defensive linemen, linebackers and secondary must all work together to control all possible options. The key word, according to defensive coordinator Bud Foster, is “control.”
“You got to control their run game,” Foster said. “I don't think you can just stop their run game.”
That’s easier said than done, and it’s made even more difficult by Johnson’s ability to read a defense’s assignments and make adjustments to open new holes. Once a defense thinks it has all possible options covered, the scheme changes and they’re caught in no man’s land as a running back scampers free.
That isn’t to say that the Virginia Tech Hokies and Foster haven’t had success against the Yellow Jackets attack. In every one of the five games between the two teams since Johnson became head coach of Georgia Tech, the Hokies have held them to fewer points than they averaged per game that season.
The Hokies have won four of those five meetings.
“We have a lot of experience on this team that played against (Georgia) Tech last year, so I know the game plan should be pretty good for us,” said junior safety Kysheon Jarrett. “We’ve got the idea, we know how to play, we know how to play against them.”
Senior cornerback Kyle Fuller has been a key cog in the Hokies' defense of the triple option, moving in to play outside linebacker in 2010 and 2011. He will do that again this year, after the season ending injury to Ronny Vandyke in the fall left the Hokies without an outside linebacker capable of handling the responsibilities.
Despite previous success, the Hokies will still have their hands full with the Yellow Jackets. A tough task isn’t made any easier given the short week to prepare after playing back-to-back games against two air-attack offenses in East Carolina and Marshall.
“It definitely makes it a little bit tougher, but we’re ready for it and we’re just going to start getting prepared and be ready to go,” Fuller said.
The flexbone formation also has the receivers and backs positioned perfectly to stretch the field vertically in the passing game, following many of the same concepts of spread systems. In previous years the Yellow Jackets have not done this. The most passing touchdowns a Yellow Jacket has had under Johnson in one year is 11.
However, starting quarterback Vad Lee has shown an ability to throw the football as well, already passing for seven touchdowns while completing 56.4 percent of his passes.
“To me, he’s a similar guy to who they had last year, I think,” Foster said. “You know, maybe a little bit more of an accurate thrower. That seems like that’s something they’re doing a little bit more is a play action pass and stuff with this guy.”
Foster’s defense is up to the challenge, though.
“We just have to execute and play well. Georgia Tech’s obviously going to run the ball a lot, that’s their M-O,” senior linebacker Jack Tyler said. “They’re going to be good and physical, we just have to play good defense against them.”
“Short week or if we played them on Saturday, it doesn’t matter,” Jarrett said. “We’re going to go out there and play.”