It’s been a while since the Trojans faced the triple option, perhaps since Kansas State’s Ell Roberson was busy pitching to Josh Scobey and Darren Sproles back in 2001 and 2002.
But when USC faces Georgia Tech in Monday’s Sun Bowl, don’t look for head coach Paul Johnson to call the Yellow Jackets attack a ‘triple option’. It’s the ‘spread option’ to the former Navy boss, and considering that during his five-year tenure in Atlanta, the Jackets have ran for a total of 11.36 miles, he’s earned the right call it by whichever name he chooses.
In the backfield, Tech will deploy two slotbacks, a fullback and a pair of receivers, a vastly different look than the Trojans are used to seeing. And judging by USC’s lack of success against tight ends in 2012, their absence in Johnson’s offense might be a welcoming sight for Monte Kiffin’s last hurrah at the helm of the Trojans’ defense.
As evident with the fundamentals triple option offense, Georgia Tech’s scheme is extremely run-heavy, as only New Mexico and the three military academies have thrown fewer passes this season.
For comparison’s sake, if you placed Marqise Lee among Tech’s receiving leaders using solely his stats from this season’s Arizona game, he would lead the team in receiving yards, and his 16 receptions would put him just two behind wide receiver Jeff Greene for the team-lead.
On the ground, the Jackets are fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 312 yards per game. And despite all of the ball movement in the triple option attack, Georgia Tech lost just 11 fumbles in the regular season, down from the 20 they lost two seasons ago.
They’re also very efficient, as evident with a 45 percent third down conversion percentage, and even with an out-dated offense, they still have the potency to score in bunches, as they’re fourth in the ACC in scoring, and lead the nation in rushing touchdowns.
Jackets can spread the wealth
Georgia Tech has had nine ball carriers amass at least 20 carries this season, led by fifth-year senior quarterback Tevin Washington. He’s the most experienced skill-position player on the Tech roster with 30 career starts under his belt, and has twice led the ACC in rushing touchdowns.
Joining Washington in the backfield is a slew of backs, all of whom have had carried the ball plenty, including sophomore fullback Zach Laskey, who leads the backs in carries despite only starting six games and currently sitting second on the depth chart behind junior David Sims, as part of Johnson’s fluid backfield rotation.
As fullbacks, or B-backs, Laskey and Sims play a big role in the triple option, as they represent the tonic of the Yellow Jackets running game, either taking a hand-off or a fake hand-off on nearly every down. The tandem has combined for 4.7 yards per carry while running predominantly up the gut and between the tackles, while A-backs Orwin Smith and Robert Godhigh both average more than eight yards per carry as slotbacks featured off the edge and on pitches.
Smith is Georgia Tech’s biggest home run threat, as he leads all FBS ball carriers–with a minimum of 100 attempts– with a career 9.4 yards per carry average, a pace that will break the NCAA career record for backs who have surpassed more than 1,000 yards. This season, Smith leads the Yellow Jackets in rushing yards with 673 on just 75 carries, and is second on the team in receptions, receiving yards and kick return yards.
An ankle injury forced Smith to miss Tech’s final two games against arch-rival Georgia and ACC champion Florida State, but the senior running back will play in the Sun Bowl and start at A-back opposite of the aforementioned Godhigh, as reported by Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.
Tech has a Lee of their own
While the Trojans have had a changing of the guard at quarterback with Max Wittek taking over for Matt Barkley, Georgia Tech has come to the mesh point of past and future with the emergence of redshirt freshman Vad Lee.
Lee has played in parts of 11 games this season, but his big break came when he took over for Washington in a 68-50 road victory at North Carolina last month. The frosh accounted for 293 total yards and three scores as he added a little murk to what’s become Paul Johnson’s slowly simmering quarterback controversy.
Washington’s role as starter has not changed at all this season, and he’ll start in the Sun Bowl, but expect to glimpses of Lee, who brings 4.4 speed to the quarterback position, a la Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Experience on the line for GT
Georgia Tech has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation, as the Jackets enter the Sun Bowl with a unit that boasts an astounding 144 career starts between them.
Leading Tech up front is senior right guard Omoregie Uzzi, who was named as a unanimous All-ACC selection in 2012, the third year in which he received all-conference honors. Uzzi has started 37 games for the Yellow Jackets, including all 13 in 2012.
While center Jay Finch and left tackle Ray Beno have combined for 52 starts and bring experience to the Sun Bowl, the Jackets do have some youth on the line in the form of two sophomores: left guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Morgan Bailey.
Mason has started 11 straight games for the Jackets at left guard after junior Will Jackson moved to right tackle in Week 3. Jackson, who has three seasons of starting experience, missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, and has split time with Bailey at tackle during the second half of the season.
Going into the Sun Bowl, Bailey lies atop of the depth chart for the Yellow Jackets, though Jackson should get his fair share of playing time against USC.
Projected Starters for Georgia Tech
QB Tevin Washington #13
BB David Sims #20
AB Orwin Smith #17
AB Robert Godhigh #25
WR Darren Waller #88
WR Jeremy Moore #83
LT Ray Beno #64
LG Shaquille Mason #70
C Jay Finch #50
RG Omoregie Uzzi #77
RT Morgan Bailey #72