The first drive is always the hardest.
Simulating the speed and unpredictability of Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense is nearly impossible in practice. Scout team players simply cannot simulate the Yellow Jackets’ exactness, the way Paul Johnson’s disciplined scheme racks up 311.75 rushing yards per game, fourth best nationally, which makes quick adjustments key.
“The toughest part, from a defensive standpoint, and that’s why sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get things going, is the speed,” said Maryland Coach Randy Edsall, whose team hosts the Yellow Jackets on Saturday afternoon. “That first drive, you’re not used to the speed and precision of what you’re seeing. It’s very difficult, when you don’t run that scheme, for your scout team to produce that in practice for you. That’s something that’s always concerning to me, when you play the option team, that first series is very critical. You want to get off to the right foot. You tell your guys, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a lot faster in the game than what you see in practice.’ ”
During last year’s 21-16 loss in Atlanta, Maryland quickly went three-and-out before Georgia Tech took over at its 37-yard line and marched into the end zone 3 minutes 57 seconds later, an eight-play, 63-yard drive with only one pass, a 21-yard completion from Tevin Washington to Tyler Melton on first down. Even with a 10-yard holding penalty, Washington punched it in from seven yards out on third and four. The Yellow Jackets finished with 272 rushing yards, pretty much par for the course for that offense.
Over the past week, Maryland’s first-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart looked at all the film of Georgia Tech’s offense that he could find, dissecting the unique scheme. The Yellow Jackets, he said, have so much rushing success because of their versatility. They plan for odd fronts and even fronts, and adjust on the fly if you overload certain sides.
“They like to find holes in the defense,” defensive lineman Isaiah Ross said. “Whatever the defensive end does determines what the quarterback does. If we don’t do our jobs, they’ll find the holes and bust it for 15 or 20 yards or more.
“It’s real important that everybody just do their job. If everybody does their job, all you have to do is make the tackle like you’re supposed to, and stuff will fall in place.”
Washington was replaced during last week’s 41-17 loss to BYU by true freshman Vad Lee, so the Terps are preparing for multiple looks under center.
Said Stewart on Washington: “What impresses me the most is his vision before the snap. I think he does a good job of having a pretty clean idea of where he wants to run the option. He looks at our leverage and knows whether he wants to pitch it or whether he wants to keep it. I think he’s done a good job for them.”
Either way, it’s the nation’s fourth-ranked rushing defense vs. the fourth-ranked rushing offense, and the tone could very well be determined during Georgia Tech’s first series, when the Terps can’t afford to play catch-up.
“That very first 12 plays, versus anybody, is tough, because those are the scripted plays,” Stewart said. “But against an offense that you’re going to see once a year, the speed is incredible. There’s no way you can catch up to that speed until that game. You can’t get the scout team to do it, you can’t get your offense, unless they run it, to do it. The cutting, the motions of the wing backs, all that stuff, it takes you a second or two to get caught up.”