By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
A day of answering some questions for the Atlanta Falcons earlier this year may have turned into just another headache for opposing coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
While watching film and explaining some option concepts to the Falcons, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson saw a thing or two he borrowed from the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Redskins.
Johnson saw a few principles in the pistol formation using the option that he has incorporated into his offensive package at Georgia Tech.
“We do that every year to see if there are different wrinkles and different things to add,” the Yellow Jackets’ head coach said. “We are not going to drastically change what we do because it has been fairly successful, but you can always tweak things and try to make it better.”
Johnson has the ability to tweak things a little bit because of who is playing quarterback. Vad Lee and redshirt freshman Justin Thomas are both fast enough to get to the edge, but can also throw the football with more accuracy and arm strength than quarterbacks Johnson has had in the past.
“I think it can make us very effective,” right guard Will Jackson said. “I think Coach is just trying to tailor the system a little bit to the personnel we have. I think Vad and Justin are both guys that can run that system and both can be successful.
“I think it is one of those things where you want to keep defenses honest. So if they have to watch a little tape of us running the pistol and zone-read stuff, then let them watch it. That means it will be less time they have to be watching our traditional triple option and counter option stuff.
“It is just an interesting wrinkle he has thrown in there that I think we can be successful with.”
That’s definitely not what opposing defensive coordinators like Clemson’s Brent Venables want to hear. Following last year’s victory over Georgia Tech, Venables admitted he had never felt so sick to his stomach in preparing for such an offense. Though the Tigers won the game 47-31, the Yellow Jackets still rushed for 339 yards and that was just with the spread option offense. Now throw in the pistol, all the zone read and option plays Johnson could possibly pull out of these formations, plus the threat of a ligament passing game, Venables is probably already getting sick when he thinks about it.
“In talking with other guys from other schools, they say they come in with one game plan and one thing they do against our offense,” defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu said. “But when you throw in that pistol it makes things different.
“I doubt other teams even work on coverages against our offense, but when you throw that in and having a quarterback like Vad Lee who can throw the ball accurately and can do some things with his feet; it brings a new dynamic or element to the game.
“Teams have to really prepare like they are preparing for a real offense, but also prepare for the triple-option offense. That is definitely going to be interesting to watch this year.”
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Johnson is still going to be Paul Johnson and he is going to run his triple-option offense like he always does. Why wouldn’t he? It works. Georgia Tech led the ACC and ranked fourth in the country last year averaging 311.2 yards per game on the ground – the fifth straight year it has led the conference in that category.
“Obviously, Coach’s MO is playing hardnosed and running the football,” Jackson said. “I think he could possibly throw in a little more of the passing game, and he has talked about it, but at the end of the day he wants to run the football and he is going to tailor the offense to the talents that the guys are playing and the personnel that is in the ballgame.
“I don’t think I will ever see us going five wide and throwing the ball on every down, but I can certainly see him throwing in some wrinkles and making some adjustments just based off the personnel… Coach is an option guy. That’s what he does so anything we run will have some option principals to it. Naturally, any formation we line up in there is going to be an element of option football in it.”
Johnson says there will be more of a wait and see kind of approach on how much he incorporates the pistol and zone-read concepts into his offense. If he can find ways to make it work and fit it into his scheme, then all of sudden Georgia Tech is going to be even more difficult to slow down.
“I don’t know how much we will do or what exactly we will do out of it,” he said. “We may have a package out of it, but we will just see when the season starts.”