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Yellow Jacket offense has a mighty sting

BY SCOTT MILLER | DECEMBER 16, 2009 7:30 AM

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This isn’t your grandfather’s veer offense run by Houston back in the 1960s. It’s not even the triple option your father was accustomed to seeing from Pittsburgh in the 1970s.

No, what Iowa’s defense will face in Land Shark Stadium on Jan. 5 in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech (11-2) is, for lack of a better phrase, the triple option on steroids. Second-year Yellow Jacket head coach Paul Johnson dubbed his offense the “spread option,” and it dates back to his time in the 1980s as the offensive coordinator at Division I-AA Georgia Southern.

“We have, I guess, two slot backs, or we call them A-backs, and two wide receivers,” Johnson said in a teleconference on Dec. 6. “We’re really in a one-back set like a lot of spread teams, and we run a variety of different options out of that. Certainly, we run a lot of triple option, but that’s only one facet.”

The offense is nearly as impossible to defend as it is to comprehend.

Regardless of its quirkiness, no one can argue with the efficiency with which Georgia Tech runs the ball. Averaging 307.2 rushing yards per game, the Yellow Jackets’ dynamic attack nearly eclipsed 4,000 yards on the ground and ranked No. 2 in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

As with all option offenses, junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt triggers the running game, but 235-pound junior running back Jonathan Dwyer serves as Johnson’s playmaker. Rushing for 1,300-plus yards and 14-plus touchdowns for the second-consecutive season, he has shown a penchant for wearing down opposing defenses and breaking big plays. He is one of 17 Georgia Tech players to run the ball at least once this season.

Nesbitt himself needs only nine rushing yards against the Hawkeyes to surpass the 1,000-yard mark. The quarterback also added a team-high 18 rushing touchdowns.

“I don’t know how we’re going to simulate their offensive football team,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Dec. 6. “I can’t remember us [ever] facing a pure option team.”

Junior defensive end Adrian Clayborn said he played against the option back in high school, “but it’s going to be a lot different from that. They’re a little bit faster,” he said and laughed.

As if stopping Dwyer, Nesbitt, and junior Anthony Allen in the running game wasn’t enough, Iowa defense coordinator Norm Parker will also have to key in on Georgia Tech’s wideouts, specifically Demaryius Thomas.

The Yellow Jackets don’t throw the ball often — they’ve run 910 plays this season, only 159 of which (17.5 percent) have been passes — but when they do, they’re effective “mainly because you’re so geared up to stop the run,” Ferentz said.

Thomas, who caught 46 balls for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns this year, averages more than 25 yards per reception. He’s one of four Georgia Tech wide receivers who rack up 22-plus yards per catch.

“Coach Parker, he’s been around forever,” senior linebacker A.J. Edds said. “This is old-school defense versus old-school offense. He’s seen all kinds of offenses, all different kinds of schemes — so he’ll have us in a great scheme.”

Ferentz said, “At least we’re thankful that we have a little extra time. I can’t imagine trying to get ready for them in a normal game week.”


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