November 28, 2008
There's more at stake elsewhere, but the most interesting matchup of the weekend might be Georgia Tech's bid at ending its seven-game losing streak to Georgia -- especially considering the Yellow Jackets' optimism with a surprising 8-3 record. There's no more question about whether Paul Johnson's flexbone offense can work in a major conference: Tech leads the ACC and is fourth nationally in rushing offense, is second in the ACC in total offense and even third in pass efficiency.
But if Georgia isn't the most statistically impressive the Jackets have faced, it's probably still the best in terms of personnel; last year's 317-yard, 17-point effort was Tech's best offensive effort of the Chan Gailey against UGA, and didn't keep him from getting fired after a two-touchdown loss. Paul Johnson's flexbone scheme has been more productive so far, and might be better-suited both to keep the Bulldog defense on its heels and the Bulldog offense off the field -- not because it's "quirky" or "gimmicky," but because it forces the defense to defend so many different possibilities while remaining very simple for the offense itself.
Let's Talk Game Plan Paul Johnson's veer option philosophy is based on running two or three plays extremely well, to the extent that the base offense will "never lose" if the quarterback makes the right decisions against a base defense; the defense has to adjust to take away a certain aspect of the option, and when it does, it opens itself to be exploited by another aspect of the system. Johnson is a master of in-game adjustments and play-calling, and thoroughly pantsed Miami last Thursday by spreading the ball around to the tune of 476 yards. It took about a quarter for the Jacket offense to get revved up, but when it did, Tech essentially knocked the Canes out on back-to-back snaps in the second quarter:
Dwyer scored again a few plays after Nesbitt's run to put the Jackets up 21-3, and the nation turned its attention to The Office and 30 Rock.
Let's go to the game tape. I think Craig James and Jesse Palmer are both wrong in their assignments of blame on Dwyer's long touchdown: James blamed "poor tackling," which was true only after Dwyer had broken into the open field, where a safety technically should but realistically has a very low probability of actually bringing Dwyer down one-on-one; and Palmer, seeing Randy Shannon jawing out linebacker Romeo Davis after the play, told viewers Davis was assigned to the dive. If that's true, it explains a lot about Miami's problems here, because Davis is the left outside linebacker (LOLB) in the Canes' 4-3 alignment and has a long, long way to go to cover a dive aimed at the gaping hole between Tech's center and left guard on the other side of the formation:
More likely, the dive is the assignment of middle linebacker (MLB) Glenn Cook. The key block at the snap is the cut block by the right guard against Miami defensive tackle Joe Joseph. If Joseph beats this block, he's in Dwyer's grill on the dive, or Nesbitt is forced to pull the ball out and run the option directly into the unblocked defensive end (RE) and outside linebacker. But because Tech does get the cut, it frees the center to release to the second level on Cook while the right guard and right tackle to double team the other defensive tackle, leaving the outside contain men unblocked:
The defensive tackle (RT) actually does an admirable job fighting through the double team, but he has no idea where the ball is; he winds up moving for Nesbitt, taking himself out of the play with his hesitation. Meanwhile, Joseph (LT), the victim of the successful cut block, flails hopelessly at Dwyer from the ground, and both Cook (MLB) and Davis (LOLB) overpursue themselves right out of the play; their momentum makes the blocks by the center and left tackle the easiest on the play, and Dwyer has an open cutback lane in the space vacated by Davis:
And once Dwyer is one-on-one with a safety, again, it's over:
Shannon's words to Davis was only the beginning of what must have been a long lecture to the entire front seven about stopping the dive. What did we work on all week?! Stopping the dive! So on Georgia Tech's very next snap, they let them stop the dive -- the Jackets don't even block Joseph (LT) this time, letting him pick his poison while the left guard caves inside on Cook and the left tackle kicks out the defensive end:
Nesbitt and Dwyer go through their usual dive action, baiting Joseph: If he comes too far upfield, Nesbitt can give the ball on the dive, and Dwyer will be free again. Instead, Joseph -- again, having just been burned on the dive and likely coming off the sideline with "dive" burned into his brain -- crashes down on Dwyer:
With successful blocks at every point -- the left guard has sealed the middle linebacker, the center/right guard double team has rolled the right DT out of the play and walled off the pursuit of the outside linebacker on the other side of the formation -- Joseph's reaction to tackle Dwyer on the dive means Nesbitt has a chasm to run through, with the motion man as a lead blocker:
From there, it's just wide open spaces for the next 50 yards:
Miami's just a dizzy, beaten team at this point. I have no idea who's responsible for the dive on this play:
But whoever it is (I think it's the unblocked defensive end who winds up going for Nesbitt instead, since the outside linebacker and safety are setting up to take the quarterback and pitch man), he didn't come close.
Miami is a bigger, faster team than Georgia Tech overall, but just like the Canes, Georgia's advantages in speed and athleticism won't mean as much as playing sound, assignment football. North Carolina offered a couple tutorials in the Tar Heels' 28-7 win over the Jackets earlier this month. The pictures aren't very good, but you can see as Tech goes into its usual triple option action that UNC is in perfect position -- the unblocked playside end is crashing down on the fullback dive, not running himself out of the play to hit the quarterback (in this case, freshman Jaybo Shaw) if he decides to keep, while the middle linebacker has quickly flowed to the outside to string out the keep, with the outside linebacker and safety there to clean up the pitch man:
The MLB's pursuit here may be the biggest difference in UNC's success in this case and Miami's consistent failure; where Cook was consistently lost in the wash, Mark Paschal doesn't bite for the dive at all -- he trusts the end to handle that assignment, and flies outside to meet Shaw, leaving Tech's right tackle all alone, blocking no one as the defense closes in:
And just for good measure, we get the other bugaboo of Tech's scheme this year, a fumble:
But even Carolina allowed 300-plus yards to the Jackets on the ground, including an 85-yard touchdown run by Dwyer, who now has seven runs on the year longer than 40 yards, not including a 79-yard touchdown reception against Gardner-Webb. In fact, no defense has been as successful against the option element of Tech's offense than Gardner-Webb, which is appropriate enough: Size and speed obviously helps, but it won't overcome a lack of discipline on any given down.