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Georgia Tech’s triple option presents a number of problems for Maryland’s defense

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Maryland’s football coaches have such respect for Georgia Tech’s prolific offense that they are considering slowing down their up-tempo offense for Saturday’s game. Doing so, they hope, might keep the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option attack on the sideline as much as possible.

“Our best defense can be keeping their offense off the field,” Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien said this week.

Pumping the brakes is one way the Terrapins (2-2, 1-0 ACC) hope to combat an offense that has bedeviled all five teams it has faced this season. Coach Paul Johnson, who employed the triple option with great success while at Navy, said this may be the most efficient offense he has had during his four-year tenure at Georgia Tech.

As a result, the 13th-ranked Yellow Jackets (5-0, 2-0) have amassed video-game-like statistics with a scheme that some doubted could thrive in a Bowl Championship Series conference. Georgia Tech is averaging 51.6 points, second nationally to Oregon.

It has produced nine plays of 70 or more yards and 40 plays of 20 or more yards. Twelve players have had plays of 20 or more yards.

And not only have the Yellow Jackets scored on their first possession in every game this season, but they have scored a touchdown on their first play in three games.

“Pretty spectacular,” Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle said of the offense.

The perception that Johnson’s offense is capable only of milking the clock with methodical drives is false. The problem for defenses is that Georgia Tech, which averages 587 total yards, can strike fast and sustain long drives.

Seven of Georgia Tech’s touchdown drives have lasted longer than seven minutes, including a 17-play, 98-yard drive that lasted 9 minutes 25 seconds against Middle Tennessee.

But 21 of its touchdown drives took less than three minutes. Ten have taken less than one minute. And perhaps the most eye-opening statistic: Georgia Tech has had eight one-play touchdown drives this season.

“I think the perception is that it’s grind it out because sometimes we can do that and have long drives,” Johnson said. “But if you count big plays of 20 yards or more, we’ve had more than anybody else in the league, I think, since I have been here.”

One of the differences this season has been the play of quarterback Tevin Washington.

He has 10 touchdown passes and just one interception. Wide receiver Stephen Hill averages 33.5 yards per reception, which ranks first nationally. Georgia Tech ranks first nationally in passing efficiency.

“They make some big plays on you, and they multiply, and that gets very tough,” Kansas Coach Turner Gill said after his team lost to Georgia Tech, 66-24, on Sept. 17.

Joe Vellano, a Maryland defensive tackle and co-captain, said Georgia Tech will run the same play 10 times in a row and “on the 11th play, they will run the same-looking play, and the guy will go to block you and then they will float [a pass] over the top.”

This all makes for a particularly difficult matchup for an injury-depleted Maryland defense — standout safety Kenny Tate is listed as doubtful to play Saturday and linebacker Darin Drakeford (two starts this season) and defensive lineman Andre Monroe (one start) won’t play because of ankle injuries — that may start three freshmen for the second straight game.

It’s not just that the Terrapins looked overmatched defensively against West Virginia’s pass-happy offense and Temple’s power running game.

They also allowed a backup quarterback to lead Towson on two 16-play drives and help rack up 225 first-half yards in last week’s game at Byrd Stadium. The Terrapins rank 90th nationally in rushing defense (177.5 yards); Georgia Tech has the nation’s top rushing offense (378.2 yards).

Coach Randy Edsall said Thursday that if the Terrapins hold the Yellow Jackets to less than 300 rushing yards, it will have done “a pretty good job.”

Further complicating matters for the Terrapins is that they have just 17.5 hours of practice time — versus the 20 hours other teams have — to prepare for a style of play teams rarely see. (Maryland self-imposed a reduction of practice time this offseason because it exceeded the 20-hour limitation under the previous coaching staff.)

Last season, Maryland had all of preseason camp to prepare for the triple-option of Navy; and Maryland won, 17-14, on Labor Day.

This season, rather than review tape of their previous game as they usually do Sundays, the Terrapins jumped right into an introduction to the triple option.

And much like how they prepared last season for Navy, the Terrapins are not using a football in practice on occasion so they can hone in on their assignments rather than just who possesses the ball.

Act like everyone has the ball, McDougle said.

Georgia Tech could struggle if a few things backfire: If Washington plays like he did in last week’s somewhat sloppy 45-35 victory over North Carolina State, when he completed 4 of 12 passes and missed some open receivers, Maryland’s defense can find success.

Or if Georgia Tech commits turnovers — Maryland is seventh nationally in turnover margin — the Terrapins know they will have a chance.

“If we force turnovers,” Vellano said, “it totally kills their offense.”

The onus will be on Maryland’s offense to keep Georgia Tech’s offense on the sideline, and for the defense to give an inspired performance that few believe it can achieve.

“A lot of [fans] are down on them,” O’Brien said. “They hear it. They are fed up.”

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