When the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets hired Paul Johnson to be their next head coach, it was met with more questions than you would expect for someone with his track record.
Johnson turned the Naval Academy into one of the premier ground games in the nation thanks to his triple option attack.
The offense relies on speed and misdirection to confuse the defense. When running at its best, the triple option uses the defense against them, as they will ‘read’ their opponent and what they do will determine what the offense does next.
The Academy used it successfully against fellow mid-major teams due to the opposition being at the same competitive level as them. A lack of a passing game prevented Navy from being a threat against top tier teams (in the same way Hawaii’s Run-N-Shoot was ineffective due to a lack of a running game).
So when Paul Johnson was hired to take over at Georgia Tech, any hint of optimism was hit with a firm ‘the option will never work at this level’.
The first two years was a resounding success, as Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to 20-wins in that span including a conference championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl. Most teams in the conference hadn’t seen the triple option run at the level, and they scrambled to make adjustments.
But one thing about playing at the level Georgia Tech does, they are up there for a reason and adjustments were made. In the four years since their 20-7 start, the Jackets have only won 28-of-53 games played (52%).
Starting in 2010, Georgia Tech has seen a decline in their rushing yards-per-game from 323.3-ypg down to 299.7-ypg – their first year sub-300 since Johnson’s second season.
So is the triple option losing its effectiveness? It is hard to argue against the numbers as not only as the losses declined, the yardage they game per game on the game as gone down as well.
The problem with trying to succeed at the triple option is that recruiting players, especially quarterbacks, has a proven track record of being difficult. Why would a dual threat quarterback go to GT and take the punishment running the ball in an enclosed space when they can go to Oregon and other spread schools that ask their signal caller to run in open space?
Even attracting running backs are hard, as it is difficult to promise a certain amount of carries to players as one game they may touch the ball 15-20 times and the next 5-10. Don’t even bother trying to recruit top tier receiving prospects.
So why purposely push away top recruits that could help push you over the edge competitively? As much of an advantage it gave Georgia Tech on Johnson’s arrival, it is currently working as an disadvantage now.
It seems that each and every year Pual Johnson’s methods are put under the bright light, and this year will be no different. If the team’s running game continues to slip, and they only win another 7-games (could be lucky to reach that number this year), could the program reevaluate their current option at the helm of the football team?
Not likely, they let Chan Gailey get away with mediocrity for much longer than Paul Johnson has so far but then again maybe they have learned? Opposing defenses have certainly learned.
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