The Miami Hurricanes welcome the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to Sun Life Stadium this weekend and while "The U" has won four straight against the Ramblin' Wreck, something about the quirky triple option attack always seems worrisome—even with UM undefeated entering October.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson brought his triple option attack to Atlanta from Navy in 2008 and caught the Atlantic Coast Conference by surprise. The Yellow Jackets opened 20-7 in two seasons under Johnson but are 24-20 since, with the unique, one-dimensional offense posing less of a threat than it did in years past.
Miami has had success against the triple option over the past four years—the biggest reasons being a solid Hurricanes offense, combined with the Yellow Jackets' lack of an aerial attack—but what former quarterback Tevin Washington wasn't, Vad Lee appears to be.
Still, despite Lee's 562 passing yards and seven touchdowns on the season, the first-year signal-caller will have a tough time beating Miami with his arm. Lee's execution of the triple option ground attack and proper decision-making is the ultimate key to an upset of the Hurricanes.
Miami cornerback Corn Elder is emulating Lee and leading the scout team offense this week, as the Hurricanes shift their focus from defending a standard attack to the game plan Georgia Tech will bring south.
As the Hurricanes prepare for the Yellow Jackets, there are three key things Miami must do to shut down the triple option and reach 5-0 for the first time since 2004.
Force the Quarterback to Beat "U"
Georgia Tech's offense will run through Lee on Saturday and his checklist of options. Pitch to the fullback or running back? Tuck and run? Drop back and throw?
The Yellow Jackets often run a flexbone formation, meaning that Lee will usually line up with five offensive linemen, three running backs and varying numbers of wide receivers and tight ends.
Lee will send one of his slotbacks in motion. From there, he'll either hand off to the fullback, or fake the exchange, roll out, with the slotback in tow, and again decide whether to pitch, throw or run.
Should Lee chose to run, this is where Miami must punish the sophomore. Hurricane linebackers and defensive linemen will only get so many opportunities to get in their licks. When Lee does decide to tuck and runs, make him pay and think twice about what he'll do next.
The more Miami can rattle Lee, the more it will affect the quarterback's overall stamina and decision-making process.
Lee is averaging just over 124 passing yards per game against ACC foes this season, but against Virginia Tech, a more stout defense that Duke or North Carolina brought in early September, Lee threw two interceptions. The Hokies kept Lee out of the end zone all night in the loss.
Get in some licks, force some overthinking and mistakes can happen. This type of offense relies on repetition and perfection, and it can easily get out of sync. Especially over the course of the game if Miami can keep Lee off-balance and second-guessing out the gate.
Focus and Play Assignment Football
Miami defenders need to know what gaps to defend and which players to hit. Simple as that sounds, instinct doesn't always dictate such discipline, especially against the triple option.
Prior to Miami's showdown with Florida early September, head coach Al Golden voiced his concerns with players not sticking to their assignments, as Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald reported:
The biggest thing that jumps out to me is we had too many guys freelance, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. You can’t abandon your technique and you have to bring your skills to the game, not just your talent.
Abandoning technique can do a defense in against a standard offense. When going up against the triple option, proper technique is the only way to shut the opposition down.
Hurricanes linebackers must be in position, cannot be duped and have to immediately recognize what's coming. Make the proper read—but stay on assignment, no matter what.
Georgia Tech last beat Miami in 2008, rushing for 472 total yards and taking advantage of linebackers Glenn Cook, Romeo Davis and Darryl Sharpton. This year, the Hurricanes boast heavier hitters in Denzel Perryman, Tyriq McCord, Jimmy Gaines and Thurston Armbrister, who will pin their ears back and make a difference.
A deeper and more talented group at linebacker should be able to read what Lee and the Yellow Jackets are bringing, while possessing the discipline to buckle down, slowing the ground attack.
Get a Early Lead as Offense Is the Best Defense
The biggest key to stopping the triple option is the most obvious one—get an early lead, make the opposition abandon the run and force a non-passing team to throw.
In 2010, Miami jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter advantage and went ahead 21-10 early in the third quarter, changing Georgia Tech's offensive game plan. A year later, another early 14-0 lead that became 21-7 by halftime. Over the course of both games, a combined seven points in the third and fourth quarters for the Yellow Jackets.
The triple option is generally an ineffective come-from-behind offense, so the best defense is scoring fast and often. Mount an early lead and put Georgia Tech in catch-up mode as this team is known to struggle when needing to rally from a large deficit.
The triple offense can be a monster when run to perfection, which is why disruption is the ultimate key in shutting it down.
If Miami plays disciplined football, avoids getting faked out, creates turnovers and can get it done on the offense front, the Hurricanes should win their fifth straight over the Yellow Jackets
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog