But one Clemson has seen before
From 2008 through 2018, Clemson saw the triple option performed at its finest. Former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson called his triple-option offense as well as anyone and for a decade he caused a lot of headaches in the ACC.
For the first few years Johnson’s offense caused headaches for the Tigers, but then Dabo Swinney brought Brent Venables to Tigertown. Venables became so good at shutting down the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack, Clemson went 6-1 in the last seven meetings with Johnson as the head coach in Atlanta.
But Johnson retired in 2018 and the Yellow Jackets have since went to a more modern-day college offense. But because there is no more triple option in the ACC, it does not mean the Tigers don’t see it still. Smaller FCS schools like Wofford and Saturday’s opponent, The Citadel, use it to kind of even the playing field a bit.
And do not think it does not work. Last year, the Bulldogs went into Atlanta an upset Georgia Tech. They ran for 320 yards against a team that the year before ran the option as its primary offense. In 2018, they played Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and led for the majority of the first half.
“Going against an offense like this, it is all about doing your job. It truly is assignment football,” Clemson linebacker James Skalski said. “It is about not doing too much. It’s not about making plays that you are not supposed to make. It is being very precise with the details and how you fit things.”
The last time Clemson played the triple option was last year against Wofford. The Terriers rushed for 139 yards. In 2018, the Tigers held Furman’s version of the triple option to 117 yards, while also limiting Georgia Tech’s attack to 146 yards on 56 carries. If you are doing the math, that is a 2.6 yards per carry average.
“It is great when you have guys that have experience and have been exposed to it in the past,” Venables said. “Certainly, we have some guys that have, but we also have to bridge the gap for a couple of our other players, especially in our two-deep.”
Clemson, who will host The Citadel at 4 p.m. Saturday, has just seven players on its two-deep roster that has experience trying to stop the triple option. In last week’s season-opener, the Tigers started nine new players on defense.
“We will have our guys ready without question,” Venables said. “Now comfortable is usually never a word we use with the option. There is a lot of work to do. You have to start at ground zero every year.”
Last week, The Citadel never got its running game going against South Florida, as they rushed for 200 yards on 54 attempts, or 3.7 yards per clip.
“I know Coach V will drill it,” Skalski said. “Every game is the natty for him. So, just stressing assignment [football] and the importance of it. With teams like this, all it takes is one guy. It is not for anybody, especially with the triple-option. It is so detailed. All it takes is one dude to knock out of the gap or play the wrong guy and they are out the gate.”
The Citadel’s one guy is likely quarterback Brandon Rainey, who has already rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in his career. Last week, he led the Bulldogs with 65 rushing yards on 20 carries. He also threw the ball for 84 yards.
“It is exciting though. It is just a challenge,” Venables said. “As coaches you love that. It is a unique challenge as we all know and one that I know our guys will be excited about.”
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