At Georgia Tech, the spread option has sprouted more options

Ninety-five yards and a cloud of dust. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Ninety-five yards and a cloud of dust. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

We know Paul Johnson’s offense, right? A-backs go in motion. B-back gets the bulk of the carries. Quarterback throws passes that can’t be caught by man or bird.

OK, scratch that. We knew Paul Johnson’s offense. But the spread option as currently deployed by Georgia Tech is forcing us to reassess.

Option football is based on the triple option, wherein a quarterback keeps the ball and runs himself, hands it to the back bursting up the middle or pitches it to a man on the flank. With Joshua Nesbitt as on-field administrator, options were essentially reduced to two: He’d keep the ball or hand it to his up-the-gut B-back.

In 2009, Nesbitt and B-back Jonathan Dwyer carried 514 times; the top four A-backs carried 181 times. Last season Nesbitt and backup quarterback Tevin Washington — Nesbitt broke his arm in November, you’ll recall — and B-back Anthony Allen rushed 512 times; the top three A-backs rushed 151 times.

It’s not as if that way was a bust. In its first three seasons under Johnson, Tech finished fourth, second and first among FBS schools in rushing. But that was a different sort of rushing, and here’s how you can tell: The B-back has always been the featured ballcarrier in Johnson’s offense — Dwyer had consecutive 1,300-yard seasons, and Allen topped 1,200 last year — but in 2011 the starting B-back hasn’t yet had a 100-yard game. David Sims has carried 30 times, which matches the number of carries allotted to the A-back crew of Orwin Smith, Embry Peeples and Roddy Jones.

Granted, this could be a function of opposition. Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Kansas might not have had anybody capable of defending the perimeter. It could also be that, in Washington, Tech has a quarterback whose favored option isn’t to run it himself.

This isn’t a knock on Nesbitt. He was a tremendous college player who would take any dare. But Washington isn’t as powerful as Nesbitt, and the new man is less apt to carry four defenders five yards for a needed first down. When in doubt, Nesbitt trusted himself to make a play. Washington seems to trust his mates a bit more.

As a consequence, we’re seeing a rushing attack predicated less on power than on speed and deception, and the results have been breathtaking. (Indeed, Tech has trotted out a T-shirt bearing the pertinent numbers from the Jackets’ destruction of Kansas.) It’s tempting to call this a true triple option, except that Washington has added a viable fourth way.

The forward pass is no longer a forlorn hope. Nesbitt left Tech having completed 43.1 percent of his passes as a starting quarterback, and without Demaryius Thomas to outfight defenders that percentage would have been far worse. Washington completed four passes against Kansas — for a total of 164 yards.

The Jayhawks cheated toward the line to try to stop the run, and the A-backs ran past them. And — key difference — Washington hit them in stride. Said Johnson: “Those are the plays we haven’t completed the past couple of years. He’s throwing them where they can catch them. That’s the idea.”

Well, yes. And now a defense has to defend not only the keep and the handoff, but the pitch and the throw. In sum, it has become a spread option in the fullest sense.

On sheer talent, there’s no current Jacket who’s a match for Nesbitt or Dwyer or Allen or Thomas, but that’s not the point. This is a crew that fits a specific scheme — and the line, it must be noted, is doing some road-grading — and that scheme has worked wherever Johnson has taken it.

We shouldn’t expect it to keep working quite so well. (Through three games, Tech leads the nation in total offense – by 74 yards a game over No. 2 Oklahoma State.) Neither should we expect it to stop working. Johnson knows his business, and he recruited these players for a specific purpose. Tech’s not going to average 675 yards over 12 games, but it’s clear the Jackets are onto something. And that something, if not exactly new, is more than a bit different.

By Mark Bradley

296 comments Add your comment

Tim

September 21st, 2011
1:13 pm

Could it be…am I FIRST? Not that I really care. Just thought it would be fun to get a response from MB. Writing from Zambia!

Mark Bradley

September 21st, 2011
1:18 pm

Matt Ryan's Dad

September 21st, 2011
1:22 pm

Would be nice to beat up on UGA this year and put the final nail in Mark Richt’s coaching tenure there. McGarrity might even walk down on the field and fire him right there on Grant Field.

Matt from MN

September 21st, 2011
1:22 pm

DILLIGAF

September 21st, 2011
1:23 pm

If you buy one of those tee shirts, do you get two tickets to the game, a hot dog and a coke?

@wbarker

September 21st, 2011
1:23 pm

I love to see this offense perform and the numbers they are putting up, but I’m afraid I won’t ever be completely sold until we can win a bowl game. Go Jackets!

DC

September 21st, 2011
1:24 pm

Mark throws out the bait…lets see if any UGA fans takes a bite….

DC

September 21st, 2011
1:24 pm

testing testing 1…2…3

Wreck 'Em

September 21st, 2011
1:25 pm

“But Washington isn’t as powerful as Nesbitt, and the new man is less apt to carry four defenders five yards for a needed first down.” That line made me chuckle, because Nesbitt was a beast. However, Washington CAN throw, with much more accuracy, and definitely adds a nice, new dimension to the offense. Imagine what this kid will be like in his senior year – I’m excited.

Chan Gailey

September 21st, 2011
1:25 pm

Whats up homies? Good luck Saturday!

cantondawg

September 21st, 2011
1:26 pm

I played at Georgia Southern under Erk Russell and had to face this offense everyday in practice. Tech is just beginning to run it like it should be run. When you have a QB willing to pitch it to the slotback then this offense becomes very dangerous. If the QB learns to pitch the ball 10-20 yards downfield this offense becomes unstoppable. Also, people don’t realize how good of a passing offense the spread option is. You won’t have the attempts or yards but there’s usually lots of big plays by faking the option and then pulling up and hitting a receiver streaking downfield.

Herschel Talker

September 21st, 2011
1:26 pm

MB:

There is one good thing to come from CPJ’s spread offense.
After the Jackets run all over Georgia the last game of the season, Mark Richt will be shown the exit door. Richt is too clueless to adjust to a complicated offense like that.
CPJ will be doing a huge favor to UGA by pushing Richt and his years of incompetence out the door.

HT

Chris

September 21st, 2011
1:27 pm

Johnson is definately throwing some new wrinkles in this year as well. The counter plays are being used a lot. We’re also not throwing the lollypop sideline passes that were low completion percentages. Washington appears to be making better reads and distributing the ball properly. The offensive line is changing the line of scrimmage, so Washington is running straight down the line to option. If they can continue to push the defensive tackles, the video game numbers will continue.

Johnny rocket

September 21st, 2011
1:27 pm

kansas and middle tennessee are two awesome teams!!!!

Jason

September 21st, 2011
1:27 pm

I said two years ago when we get a qb who can pass, watch out. That time is here. Maybe the doubters will wake up when we thump unc by 20

cantondawg

September 21st, 2011
1:28 pm

The offense is a nightmare for defenders. I guarantee you that there are alot more injuries when facing this offense than other ones because of all the cut blocking the lineman and backs do.

Chan Gailey

September 21st, 2011
1:29 pm

You can really tell that this is a Tech forum, and not a UGA one. I’m reading coherent sentences with proper grammar. THWG!

GT Trumpet

September 21st, 2011
1:30 pm

This is a tremendous team to watch. Can’t wait to see how we fare against one of the best defenses we will play all year this week!

Bill

September 21st, 2011
1:31 pm

Navy lost by 3 to SC. E carolina scored 37 against SC.
Coastal and SC are two awesome teams!

Bill

September 21st, 2011
1:32 pm

Forgot to mention SC beat Ugag. HAHA What a overrated piece of junk uga is.

GT Letterman

September 21st, 2011
1:33 pm

Mark, I grew up watching all of these options we are seeing at Tech run brilliantly by the players playing for Erk Russell at Georgia Southern in the ’80s. It was amazing then, and very successful – measured by 4 national titles in the first 8 years the program existed after being restarted.

We will not win every game, but it is great to be in every game and win a lot of them. Go Tech.

GT Trumpet

September 21st, 2011
1:33 pm

And to anyone who wants to say that since we beat only a cupcake team, those stats mean nothing. You must remember this: Georgia Tech destroyed a cupcake team worse than anyone has ever destroyed a cupcake team. That says something.

cantondawg

September 21st, 2011
1:34 pm

HT,

Why don’t you go root for Georgia Tech? You’re about ther sorriest a%% UGA fan ever.

Wreck 'Em

September 21st, 2011
1:36 pm

Word, GT Trumpet, WORD.

Ted M

September 21st, 2011
1:36 pm

So if you going to forecast the Jackets season, with no duty to stand by your original prediction, what would it be? Perhaps 10-2?

Quisp

September 21st, 2011
1:39 pm

If Cantondawg played at Georgia Southern, why is he not Cantoneagle?

cantondawg

September 21st, 2011
1:41 pm

Mark,

Is there any way YOU can put an ignore button on Herschel Talker posts. Dude has been beating the same dead horse everyday for two years.

StingerSplash

September 21st, 2011
1:42 pm

cantondawg,
Nobody was better at the downfield pitch than Raymond Gross. No. Body.
MB, I also think what you’re seeing is the evolution of the line and the perimeter blocking, allowing the QB to make one defender guard two people. If it’s two on two, you keep it and it’s two on two because somebody got around a block.
If you really, really want to see just how deadly this offense can be – take a look at 85 and 86 Georgia Southern.

Worm

September 21st, 2011
1:43 pm

Does it work in Bowl games?

Crittenton = OJ

September 21st, 2011
1:44 pm

Huge LOL @ that tshirt. I guess everyone needs something to be proud of…

cantondawg

September 21st, 2011
1:46 pm

Quisp,

I’m both an Eagle and a dawg..I’ve been a Dawg fan all my life and played 3 years for the Eagles. Depending on the forum, i use both names.

ramblingbuzz

September 21st, 2011
1:49 pm

I keep hearing about how good UNC’s defense is but that defense gave up 468 yd to UVA last week.

cantondawg

September 21st, 2011
1:50 pm

Stinger,

I’ve said that many times myself. Raymond Gross would run 30-40 yards downfield and would pitch the ball just as he was being hit by the defender. I was there during the Gross years and i can tell you he was the hardest person to tackle. He wasn’t extremely fast but very shifty. He was a prototypical option qb and the absolute best at pitching the football to the slotback

GIVE ME A BREAK

September 21st, 2011
1:56 pm

Tech wins 45-17. We’ll be there. Come on out.

Bill

September 21st, 2011
1:58 pm

Canton dawg
Shouldn’t you be canton eagle since you played at gsu?

Richt`s Hammer

September 21st, 2011
1:58 pm

I can`t defense this. Oh well pass the biscuits.

rduck

September 21st, 2011
2:00 pm

It’s a long season but so far the Jackets are really playing well. The defense needs to step it up a notch and special teams are still “iffy”, but these kids are playing as a team and are very cohesive right now. I admit that we haven’t played a killer schedule yet, but we needed these games to get the new kids’ feet wet. This weekend will be a true test to see just how far along they have come and just how far away we are. But so far, the play has been very good. Less TO’s and more explosive plays due to the hard work of blocking for one another til the whistle blows. BTW… For those fans of UGA that want to brag about playing to ranked teams to start the season… How’d that work out for ya? Go Jackets!!!

Jersey GT

September 21st, 2011
2:01 pm

Wow didn’t know that ramblinbuzz. unc gave up that many to uva?
makes me think this will be another romp.
Line is 7. We tripld the 14 line last week. Im guessing a triple again and a 42-21 win

wreckbuzz

September 21st, 2011
2:02 pm

I think the notion that Paul Johnson couldn’t recruit and would have trouble when Chan Gailey’s recruits left is dead. See below the starters/regular rotation guys on offense for 2011.

Paul Johnson recruits:
QB – Tevin Washington
BB – David Sims
AB – Orwin Smith
AB – Embry Peeples
AB – Tony Zenon
WR – Stephen Hill
WR – Jeff Greene
OT – Ray Beno
OT – Phil Smith
OT – Tyler Kidney
OG – Will Jackson
OG – Omoregie Uzzi
C – Jay Finch

Chan Gailey recruits:
AB – Roddy Jones
WR – Tyler Melton

Could it be that maybe Paul Johnson is such a good coach that he took a roster full of players who weren’t a great fit for his offense and won a share of the ACC Coastal in 2008, the ACC title in 2009? But now he has players that are scheme specific and can throw it up to full throttle. Now we are seeing what Georgia Southern’s big brother looks like.

GoldJacket

September 21st, 2011
2:03 pm

As we start playing better defenses, there won’t be as many pitch opportunities. I think we’ll start to see more b-back dives. I also believe that the offense has improved a lot from the first couple seasons, and the blocking has improved off the edges to open up the a-back pitch early and often

juvenal

September 21st, 2011
2:07 pm

said 3 years needed to play another QB some……

Saint Simons

September 21st, 2011
2:08 pm

GT then SC

(((((((((( 45-42 )))))))))) hahahahahahaha

Paul H

September 21st, 2011
2:08 pm

Does it work against actual football teams?

ed

September 21st, 2011
2:09 pm

ONLY TECH WOULD MAKE A T-SHIRT FOR BEATING KANSAS.
ALMOST AS BAD AS MAKING A RING FOR BEATING YOUR ONE AND ONLY RIVAL FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ABOUT TEN YEARS.
GT, YOU ARE A JOKE.
BY THE WAY, CCG IS LOOKING PRETTY GOOD THESE DAYS.
NO GO OUT AND FILL UP THAT GIANT ERECTOR SET OF A STADIUM FOR MIGHTY UNC SATURDAY.

db

September 21st, 2011
2:09 pm

My wife wears many hats. The one she has donned lately is she’s a football coach. She saw the Jackets at practice before the season started and noted they looked small.

She said, I be they will be faster and will be able to run past people. Man was she on the money.

We’ve got the size where we need to, and we have the speedsters in all the right positions.

Coach PJ, if you’re ever in need of an assistant coach or strategist, ring me up. I am sure we can work a deal.

Go Jackets!

Dawglasville

September 21st, 2011
2:10 pm

I am not one to harsh anyone’s buzz… no pun intended, really. Northeast Illinois had 450 something yards against Kansas the week before they played Tech and scored 42 points. Tech may win every game. Tech did everything they were suppose to do these three games. I actually love the option (hate the Dawgs can’t stop it) but I think Tech will have a much better idea where they are at after this weekend. (For the record, I think they will win and I think 10-2 is very possible).

sore loser =

September 21st, 2011
2:10 pm

SanDiegoJacket

September 21st, 2011
2:10 pm

I’m so proud of my Yellow Jackets!! What a joy to watch this team and know at any time someone is going to get loose and fly down the field. I also respect Paul Johnson who’s scheme is a perfect fit for TECH where our 2/3 star players are coached up to become the best 2/3 star players they can be. And I’m proud of TECH fans who know a MNC is not probable every year, but we get good wins and maybe some day the stars will be aligned and…….. As I’ve always said, ” what do TECH students and Ugag students have in common???? They both can get into the University of Georgia!!”

TO HELL WITH GEORGIA, EVERY DAY IN EVERY WAY!!!!!!
SanDiegoJacket

Saint Simons

September 21st, 2011
2:11 pm

(((((((((( 77th ranking )))))))))) I’d say that’s a lot closer than that preseason # 11. BWAhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

reality

September 21st, 2011
2:11 pm

jackets, you are all setting yourself up for a big fall from your current state of euphoria.