As you all know, the Georgia Bulldogs will face off this weekend against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, practitioners of occasional drug trafficking, international terrorism, poor academic oversight, and the triple option offense.
As you (and Miami coach Randy Shannon) also know, that triple option offense can gash even good defenses in a hurry. Defenses (like ours) which struggle with bruising running backs (like LSU's Charles Scott) are in danger of giving up tons of yardage to a guy like Tech's Jonathan Dwyer. None of this is even remotely mysterious.
What is a little mysterious is how you actually can stop the triple option. I propose that it can be done, assuming you first understand some basic realities. Now I'm not a football coach, but I play one on the internet. As such, I hope you'll enjoy this, my list of the six basic realities of defending the triple option:
1) It's just different from the beginning. The triple option is designed to take advantage of defenses by allowing the quarterback to make his reads during the play, not before. This has two important consequences. One is that you will rarely be in optimum position to stop the play. Because if you are, it means the opposing QB has failed to get the ball where it was supposed to be to take advantage of your location. Two, all of the presnap hoodoo in the world is basically useless. When you see Willie Martinez's defense standing stock still, don't be too surprised.
2) It will get its yards. An extension of the "rarely in optimum position rule" is that sometimes there's just not going to be anything you can do to stop this offense. It's designed to allow an astute quarterback, borrowing an old baseball axiom, to "run it where they ain't." Please do not hyperventilate when you see Dwyer and Roddy Jones break the occasional 15 yarder. The key is limiting the number of them. Holding Paul Johnson's offense under 200 rushing yards is a solid accomplishment. Keep telling yourself that.
3) It will put the ball on the ground. Especially with a young quarterback like Josh Nesbitt or Jaybo Shaw. The question is whether the defense can take advantage. North Carolina, Vrginia and Virginia Tech have each beaten the Yellow Jackets this season. Each forced three turnovers. I doubt seriously that this is a coincidence.
4) Blitzing it is a bad, bad idea. The first instinct of fans seeing a team defend the option is that you should attack. This is usually the worst thing you can do. Why? Because blitzing puts you upfield and out of position. Remember, the option is calculated to roll downhill fast and force defenders to make decisions on the fly. There's no quarterback scrambling aimlessly in the pocket. The offense will get to your personnel plenty fast enough. Blitz-heavy gameplans against the triple option mean that eventually somebody's gonna run right past their assignment. And when you're playing one-on-one assignment football, that means a touchdown. Remember this, ye acolytes of the "Willie Martinez never blitzes" faith. This is the one time we actually want Willie to dial it back.
5) The "A" and "B" gaps generally decide the ballgame. The first read the quarterback makes on most triple option running plays is whether or not to give the bal to his "A" back right up the middle on the option's version of the fullback dive. If everything went according to Hoyle in this offense, that play would be the offense. The line would drive the defensive tackles back and they would grind the opposition to a fine powder 5 yards at a time.
The only reason for the ball to ever move laterally in this offense is for the inside gaps to be unavailable. Flushing things outside allows a fast defense to catch up to the option, and it creates the need for the QB to pitch the ball, and potentially put it on the ground (see number 3 above). This means that Geno Atkins, Kade Weston, Deangelo Tyson, Corvey Irvin and Brandon Wood will be the most important guys on the field Saturday. I'm not saying that's a good or a bad thing. Just an existential reality to which you should accustom yourself. They will spend the day tackling the fullback on the dive whether he has the ball or not, and preventing Tech's mobile offensive line from getting back to the linebackers. Watching this personnel group in the early going should give you a decent idea of how this edition of Clean Old Fashioned Hate is going to go.
6) First down is the most important of all. If a decent triple option offense has 3rd and 4 or less, they will convert on a generous percentage of attempts. See Reality Number 2, above. The key to stopping this offense is to limit it to short gains on 1st down then play solid assignments on 2nd and 3rd. The triple option, like all offenses, will generally have trouble converting 3rd and 6 or longer. With the triple option you have the added problem that there's a limited passing arsenal. The goal should be to get them to 3rd and 7, give up 4 on the play, then get the heck off the field. Like so many other things in life, this is much more easily said than done.
Want to learn more? Try these sites:
Defending the Triple Option, by Nate Cochran, University of Wisconsin-Plattville
Football 101: Option Football, ESPN's Bob Davie
Until later . . .