Georgia finishes off the season with a pair of games against purveyors of the triple option. Willie Fritz’s Georgia Southern Eagles travel to Athens this weekend, then the Bulldogs travel to an abandoned structure in Atlanta to take on Sir Jowls-a lot and his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The prevailing wisdom is that scheduling Georgia Southern the week before Georgia Tech affords some sort of advantage for the Bulldog defense. The triple option is a novel attack, goes the old saw, and it helps to see it more than once to defend it. Playing this sort of "tune up" gets you ready for both the plays and the techniques (read: I’m going to crack your kneecap while my friend here grabs your jersey) that are employed in an option scheme.
Logically there’s something to this argument. Empirically the jury is still out. Georgia is 2-1 under Mark Richt when playing Georgia Southern before Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. One of those wins occurred before Johnson brought his scheme to North Avenue. The loss occurred in 2008 and followed an open date. Georgia had opened up with the Eagles some three months prior, and the visitors from Staesboro were coached at the time by current Samford boss Chris Hatcher, whose Hal Mumme-influenced offense is about as far from the triple option as Bret Bielema is from Henry Kissinger.
It pains me to the bottom of my empiricist heart that I can’t point to direct evidence that playing GSU won’t help against Starfleet Academy. So I’m going to employ logic, and ask a probing question. Do you think Georgia’s defenders, many of whom saw the triple option last season, will learn more from playing against the Eagles than Paul Johnson, who knows his offense better than anyone on Earth, will learn from watching how they try to defend something like it?
I don’t. I think the Red and Black are about to give the Gnats a solid four quarters of film to digest on Sunday. I think Johnson’s going to get a better idea of which personnel matchups he likes and dislikes. I think he’s going to fake the looks Georgia Southern gives and then do something entirely different immediately afterwards. At some point eleven days hence, Johnson will grin at a "gotcha moment" made possible by the Bulldog defense doing exactly what they’ve been taught.
Here’s the thing. I’ve watched Johnson talk about his flexbone attack. I’ve heard him describe how versatile it is, how it allows him to camouflage his intensions even after the snap. I’m not saying the guy’s as much of a genius as Tech fans once made him out to be. But he’s smarter than some Georgia fans give him credit for.
The guy tasked with stopping him is no slouch either. Jeremy Pruitt’s unit is 10th in total defense nationally, yielding 302 yards per game. They’re 4th in passing defense, 9th best in third down defense, and ranked 6th in red zone defense. Some could argue based on the past couple of weeks results that whatever argument Pruitt may have had after the Florida game, and whoever he may have had it with, he should have blown his stack sooner. But Tracy Ham as my witness, I am still just a little nervous about this defense taking on a Georgia Tech offense truly committed to the run. Because if we’ve seen Georgia struggle to do anything defensively this season, it’s been stopping the run. Though even there the news isn’t horrible: the Red and Black are ranked 37th nationally against the run, yielding 139.6 yards per game on the ground, most of them seemingly to Josh Dobbs.
Maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe our old friend depressive Kyle is squatting in my basement and his vibes are rubbing off. But either way, I tend to think Georgia is about to show Georgia Tech a lot more about the Georgia defense than Georgia Southern is about to show the Georgia defense about the Georgia Tech offense.