The reason why people claim that Georgia Tech's option attack won't work in major college football is that they have no real football knowledge. The reason for the success of the offense is NOT the option.
What is it? The running game.
The bread and butter of an option offense is a diverse, complex, and effective running attack.
Still, even with the near ubiquity of the spread and west coast offenses, some programs—most notably Auburn and Wisconsin—were very successful the past few years by primarily running the football and doing just enough passing to get by.
What types of running attacks am I talking about? It consists of straight handoffs, draws, sweeps, counters, treys, and traps out of different formations with different personnel groupings. If you had watched Big 10, SEC, or even NFC East football in the 80s and 90s, you would have seen a lot of that.
Regrettably, since then, even with teams that rely on the run, have made their rushing attacks much simpler with fewer plays and formations. This also includes some of the newer flavors of the option i.e. the freeze, read, and spread. But the wishbone, flexbone, I - bone, and veer will retain it.
Diverse running attacks have always worked, especially on the college level. Why? Because the only way to stop it is with superior personnel.
It is not a matter of "knowing what they are going to do, but still not being able to stop it" per se, although if you do have superior run-blocking offensive linemen and talented tailbacks—which again, option offenses will recruit and coach by definition—it will be difficult for defenders to stop. Instead, it really is not knowing WHICH of a ton of possible running plays that you are going to have to stop. The idea that pass - oriented teams have these telephone book - thick playbooks and option teams run high school offenses that basically only run the same 8 or 9 plays over and over again is a myth. Tom Osborne's playbook at Nebraska was HUGE (as was Ralph Friedgen's option offense that won a national title at Georgia Tech in 1990) while Jimmy Johnson's playbook at Oklahoma State and Miami was slender. (Even his Dallas Cowboys offense was one of the simplest in the NFL. Johnson believed in talent and execution, not complexity.) The media just made sure that you never heard about it.
And that brings us back to why the claims of the option being outdated are ridiculous. For teams that rely on the run game, especially on the college level, there are only 5-10 consequential passing plays on offense per contest.
Now in the 70s and 80s, many allegedly pro-style programs honestly didn't throw the ball more than 15 times a game. In recent years they throw it a little more, of course, but it is still vanilla, and any effectiveness that the passing game is going to have is based on the fact that the defense is primarily concerned with the run.
For that reason, guys like Jay Barker, Brian Griese, Craig Krenzel, Matt Mauck, and Matt Flynn on recent Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, and LSU national teams really didn't have to do much.
So all the option has to do is replace a passing game that does not contribute to the team's success —as was the case in whoever was the quarterback for those Ron Dayne Rose Bowl teams for Wisconsin—with the option element. In both cases—whether you are defending a pro-style offense that relies on the run or an option offense—the core job of the defense is going to be the same: defending the runs that will make up the bulk of the play calls on offense.
If you have potential NFL players at both defensive tackle spots and at one linebacker position (preferably middle linebacker) and can shut this down by playing defense like you normally do, you are in good shape.
But if you are like the 90 percent of college football programs that ARE NOT farm teams for the NFL, you are going to have to either take extra measures to stop a robust running attack or get flattened. Thus, the very same element that opens up play action or the deep ball in the nominal pro-style offenses will allow a team to run the option.
If anything, the option gives you more to defend than the vanilla passing game, because with the latter the QB will only have two or three places where he throw the football. Meanwhile an option QB can pitch it to one of two backs or take off himself, and moreover the option can either attack the interior (the pitch lanes remain between the tackles) or attack the edges (despite what is commonly believed, in the better option attacks the option rarely attacks the edges or calls for the QB to run it himself; a good option attack will have the QB creating running lanes for his tailbacks between the tackles).
And don't forget that most option attacks do in fact throw the football. It works pretty well because defenses are so concerned with stopping the basic run and the option that effectively defending the pass is a pipe dream.
This problem is usually solved for them because option offenses generally have bad passers and worse WRs. However, more and more true dual threat QBs that can both run the option and pass are produced by high schools each year, and any Division I-A program in a BCS conference can recruit good enough WRs to get by (despite what is commonly portrayed not every Division I-A football prospect believes himself to have a shot at the NFL; more than a few are actually looking to find a situation where they will get an education and playing time).
Unfortunately, Paul Johnson's version of the option is one of the least conducive towards any real success passing the ball. However, Johnson will almost certainly adapt it to take advantage of running QBs with real passing ability, which are the sort that Georgia Tech has successfully recruited ever since winning a national title with the dual threat Shawn Jones in 1990. (Incidentally, Georgia Tech also signed Charlie Ward, but he did not academically qualify and ultimately wound up at FSU.)
Is that enough to beat a loaded defense like Miami in the 1980s, FSU in the 1990s, or LSU this decade? That isn't the point, really, because no one else beats those defenses either. If you have seven future NFL players on your defense, you aren't just going to stop the option; you are going to stop EVERYBODY.
Case in point: when USC beat Auburn in 2003 and Virginia Tech in 2004, they actually didn't do a whole lot on offense. Forcing turnovers and big plays on special teams set up most of their points. Had either Auburn and Virginia Tech held onto the football and contained Reggie Bush on kickoff and punt returns, both teams would have held mighty USC under 14 points.
We already know that Paul Johnson has the coaching angle covered. As for the players: well there are tons of great option QBs, RBs, and run blocking offensive linemen produced by high school football in Georgia and all over the southeast. Not only will Johnson do just fine, but within five years he will have spawned several imitators.
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