Because of what his team does, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson feels he always has a chance to win every game, including Saturday’s matchup with No. 2 Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
What the Yellow Jackets (1-2) do of course on offense is something very few teams in college football do anymore. They run the triple-option offense. A simple scheme, but a very difficult one to stop, nonetheless.
“I think the nature of what we do give us a little bit of a chance as opposed to trying to get in an I-formation and trying to block all of those guys or pass block,” Johnson said at his weekly press conference.
With Johnson calling the plays, no one runs the triple option better. Georgia Tech leads the country in rushing, once again, averaging 392.7 yards per game on the ground. It is averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
But there has been one team that has seemed to figure out, or at least slow down Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack. It happens to be the team Johnson feels like his team has a chance to beat on Saturday.
In the last three years, Tech is averaging just 121.3 rushing yards per game against the Tigers, including just 2.95 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets have just two rushing touchdowns in those three games.
“We have to be consistent. We have to take care of the ball and we have to play with some consistency,” he said. “You are not going to beat a team as good as Clemson if you go out there and turn the ball over.
“When you get a chance to make plays, we have to make them. We had two or three shots the other day that could have been home runs plays and touchdowns, but we missed them.”
In the last three seasons, Clemson (3-0) has given Tech’s triple-option fits. The Tigers’ defense is one of the reasons why they carry a three-game win streak in the all-time series between the long-time rivals.
“Not many people have had a lot of success against Clemson in the last three or four years,” Johnson said.
In 2015, Georgia Tech managed just 71 rushing yards on 42 carries, the worst performance ever by a Paul Johnson team. In Atlanta two years ago, the Tigers held Tech to 95 rushing yards on 38 carries, while the 124 total yards they allowed was the lowest overall output by a Johnson team.
Though they ran for 198 yards last year in Death Valley, Clemson’s defense shut down the Yellow Jackets for better than three quarters and a late fourth-quarter touchdown made the 24-10 outcome better than the game actually was. The Yellow Jackets finished the afternoon with 230 total yards.
“The challenge becomes just trying to block them or read them to get to the second level,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, with the nature of what we do, we will not have to block all of those guys and maybe we will be able to double some of them.”
Clemson again comes in with one of the nation’s best defenses. The Tigers rank 10th nationally in total defense, giving up just 268 total yards per game. They are allowing just 13.3 points per game, 15th nationally, and 89.3 rushing yards per game, 16th nationally.
“They have not given up very much,” Johnson said.
Of course, it all starts up front with defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant. The Tigers rank third nationally in sacks (12) and fifth in tackles for loss with 29. The defensive line is responsible for the majority of the tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“They are pretty good,” Johnson said. “They probably have three, maybe four first-round draft picks up there on the defensive line. So, there will not be many teams that will ever have that.”
Despite the Tigers’ dominant defensive front, which has owned the Yellow Jackets the last three seasons, Johnson still believes his Yellow Jackets have a shot at pulling off the upset.
“You always have a chance,” he said. “I am not saying it is impossible, but they are a really good team. We will have to play better than we have played to this point. If you do that and you execute, then you have a chance.”