By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
The beauty of Georgia Tech’s offense – with its options and counters, traps and pitches – is that it does not require the Clemson defense to be different, but to be at its best.
“It’s very hard to get eleven guys on defense to play with great discipline every snap,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “They wear you out doing the same thing over and over and over. Guys get bored real quick, and that’s when you have issues.”
At least once a year Clemson faces this variation on an old theme, and it becomes a time for wringing hands and gnashing of teeth. That annual variation comes to Death Valley tonight when Paul Johnson’s triple-option style offense at Georgia Tech will try to spoil No. 6 Clemson’s hopes of a BCS Bowl berth.
Kickoff is set for 7:31 p.m.
“It’s not what you see, it’s not what you necessarily teach week to week,” Venables said, and yet, “The scouting report stays the same year to year.
“It still comes down to being able to being physical, executing and staying on your feet, while putting your eyes where they belong.”
There’s no mystique to defending Georgia Tech. Every down is a potential run. Venables said that’s the first red flag. Tech ranks fifth
nationally – leads the ACC – in rushing offense averaging 311 yards per game. No coincidence that Georgia Tech lost the two games with its lowest rushing totals – Virginia Tech (129) and BYU (237). Stuff the run, game over.
“There’s some simplicity in it,” Venables said. “If you’re whipping people up front, tackling soundly, staying on top of routes, not turning guys loose, you leverage the football you win the game.”
Practically speaking it is not simple.
“They’re more intricate than you might think,” Venables said. “They’re not running the same dive scheme. They change the schemes in what they’re doing to have some complexity.”
In last season’s game, Venables said, “they came out with a new formation and it took us a few series to get it adjusted. That’s what they’re good at and I’m sure that’s what will happen this week,” he said. “Whether it’s a new play, new blocking scheme, new formation, there’s going to be something new.”
Tech rushed for 339 yards and led in the fourth quarter last season, but a safety and blocked field goal turned the game for Clemson, a 47-31 win. Senior David Sims has not had a negative rushing play this season and sophomore quarterback Vad Lee has passed for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Their throwing game is high stress, which is why they have success throwing it,” Venables said. “They’re better because the quarterback is more accurate when he throws the ball It forces you to play them in a completely different mode.”
Layering the potential complexity is Coach Paul Johnson – the wildcard, the caretaker, the architect. In six seasons his teams have strung together 28,000 rushing yards, more than any school in the nation. Johnson has won four of his six games against Clemson.
He protects the offense’s reputation with indignant passion, snapping back at those who challenge the scheme’s relevance in an era
where the pass prevails. He calls the plays from the sideline with a bold almost callous disregard for what other coaches take for granted.
“I haven’t seen a lot of guys like that.” Venables compared Johnson to Washington State coach Mike Leach, another swashbuckler with a different sword.
In their minds, fourth down doesn’t necessitate a punt. Georgia Tech has punted 29 times this season. In the ACC only Florida State has
punted less frequently (27).
“Coach Johnson has stuck with it and it’s been very successful for him.”
While Venables would prefer more time, time has not been beneficial recently for Tech opponents. The last five teams with more than a week to prepare lost to the Yellow Jackets. And as for an offense that’s not supposed to play well in arrears, Tech has rallied twice this season from 13-point deficits.
Confidence in the front seven gives Venables reason to believe Clemson may be better prepared. It needs to be, he said.
“They do it very well. They do it in a precise way, you have to match that precision,” he said. “You have to wear them out with precision and discipline.”