Why All the Griping Over Paul Johnson's Option Offense for Georgia Tech?

Gerald BallCorrespondent IAugust 19, 2008

Virtually every college football pundit is asking the same question: "Will Georgia Tech's option offense work in major college football?" Pardon me, but has there ever been a time when the option has NOT worked in major college football?

A time all of these talented well coached option teams were going 2-9 every year, only to switch to the West Coast offense or the run and shoot and start winning national titles?

Let me tell you: If it happened, I seem to have missed it.

Now, the media certainly declares the option to be dead often enough, but its collective thesis is completely unproven because no major college team has tried to adopt the option and failed. (By contrast, more than a few programs abandoned their option-oriented attacks for the passing game with much fanfare, only to have less success than before.)

Teams did not abandon the option because it was ineffective. Teams adopted the passing game because it's what gets you noticed by the media. Cases in point: Cal and Texas Tech, two programs that get more exposure for going 7-4 every year than run-oriented teams get for winning a conference title.

The truth is that most university presidents, alumni, and athletics directors don't know any more about football than the average fan, much less a coach or a player. So if the media claims, year in and year out, that the option is dead and the passing game is the way to go, that is what they are going to believe, and hiring decisions are made in favor of Rick Neuheisel as a result.

That is why even option great and longtime Nebraska Cornhuskers assistant Turner Gill had to go off to the NFL and become a West Coast offense guy so that he could become a head coach at Buffalo: He knew that it was the only way to get a job in this environment. But the truth is that Gill knows that—just as his Tommie Frazier-Scott Frost teams demolished Miami, Florida, and Peyton Manning's Tennessee teams for national titles in the 1990s (all teams that had better athletes on paper), and just as even Tom Osborne's witless successor Frank Solich beat defending national champs Tennessee in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl (one of just two losses the SEC has suffered in the BCS era, the other was to West Virginia, who incidentally runs the spread option)—an option team with good talent and coaching can compete on the college level.

And that is precisely what Paul Johnson is going to prove at Georgia Tech.

The southeast is full of option talent because that is what most of the high schools in that area of the country run: the veer and the wishbone. The media would have you believe most of the great athletes from those powerhouse programs simply go to I-AA or mid-major schools, but the truth is that the better option athletes from those high schools go to the passing programs like everyone else. Those that can quickly adopt the skills for the passing game and beat out the competition get to play. Still, most of them—especially the quarterbacks—waste their careers as backups or special teamers.

And Johnson will exploit that fact in recruiting. Right now, the media claims "you can't recruit for the option because guys want to go where they can attract the attention of NFL scouts." Johnson will be able to point to all of the four- and five-star high school option stars sitting on the bench at USC, FSU, Miami, etc. because they didn't have the skills to play in a passing offense and say "you can either go to a passing offense, compete with all those four- and five-star guys who have always played the position that they will wind up moving you to, and very likely wind up on the bench, or you can come play for us in the same position that you always have!"

It isn't just limited to the running quarterbacks, either. There are plenty of running backs that cannot—or don't want to—pass protect, catch passes, or do all of the things that tailbacks have to do in a passing offense. (And even a great many of the ones who can...why go to a scheme where all you do is make the quarterback look good instead of one where you get all the carries, big stats, and glory?) Also, there are plenty of offensive linemen that are great run blockers but can't pass protect. Wide receiver is a challenge, but there are guys—who maybe don't have the size, speed, route-running ability, or consistent hands for the passing game powers to pay much attention to—who'd be glad to get an opportunity to play major college ball.

Of course, most of the top players will initially follow the "come here and showcase your wares for the NFL in a pro-style offense" pied-piper siren song. But the beauty of it is that Johnson and Tech won't need all of those guys. They only need to convince a few, and that will be relatively easy because of the lack of other programs running the option.

And even that will only be initially. After the first couple of seasons of highlight reels of their athletic—and skilled—quarterbacks dazzling people with the option and their running backs piling up big stats by actually running the ball instead of being blockers and decoys for the quarterbacks, the Southeast's better option athletes will head to the engineering school in Atlanta just as they did for Georgia Tech's 1990 national championship team. And keep in mind: There were far more teams running the option back then—including similar programs at N.C. State, North Carolina (which had Mack Brown), Clemson, and Syracuse—than there are now.

Paul Johnson will need only a few guys to choose their own interests—starring on the college level in an option offense rather than wasting away on the scout team of some passing program—to get more than enough quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive linemen than he needs to give fits to ACC teams only seeing their offense once a year (Wake Forest and Virginia Tech run some option, but refuse to commit to it).

And when other university athletics directors and presidents see Georgia Tech succeed with this offense, they will say "why not?" and adopt it themselves, much to the media's chagrin.