This Saturday, the Ramblin’ Wreck rushing attack will face its toughest test of the season against a Florida State defense that is tops in the ACC and seventh in the nation in rush defense, allowing a meager 79.86 yards per contest.
It’s no secret that a typical game for Paul Johnson’s option-based spread offense has more runs than an Atkins dieter after a night of binging at Taqueria del Sol. The Yellow Jackets have rushed the football 389 times this season, while attempting only 98 passes.
Tech’s rushing offense is currently first in the ACC and ninth in the nation, averaging 263.3 yards per game. So will the offense work against the 'Noles?
If you ask Paul Johnson about the progression of his offense in his first year at Georgia Tech, he would probably tell you that he has only installed a small portion of that system and his players are still learning how to execute the parts they have learned.
Nowhere is Tech’s place on the learning curve more apparent than on the offensive line, which holds the key to Tech’s offensive success against Florida State. Throughout the season, Tech’s linemen, particularly the center and guards, have struggled to execute the blocking schemes required by the option-based spread.
The results have included far too many ineffective B-back dives, disrupted reads on the triple option, fumbles, and hurried pass attempts. While these issues have been addressed repeatedly by Johnson and O-line coaches Mike Sewak and Todd Spencer, there has not been significant improvement by this unit as the season has unfolded.
Make no mistake—Tech still has a chance to put up solid rushing numbers against the Seminoles. Tech’s offense is based on the fundamental principle of forcing each member of the defense to be disciplined in his assignments, and exploiting any weaknesses or missed assignments with the correct reads.
Fast, aggressive defenses like Florida State are particularly susceptible to over-pursuit, and the 'Noles aren’t exactly all whips and leather when it comes to discipline.
It all starts with QB Josh Nesbitt reading his keys on the triple option, which ultimately decides whether he hands the ball to B-back Jonathan Dwyer or keeps and heads outside.
Dwyer is so strong and fast, and because of that, FSU may decide to crash on him, thereby taking away the dive. This would make Nesbitt’s read on the pitch even more critical by allowing FSU to bring up extra defenders to extend plays laterally, which would work in the speedy FSU defense’s favor.
If FSU doesn’t focus on eliminating the dive altogether, Tech will keep plugging away to Dwyer, who has the ability to take it to the house on any given play, and the onus would be back on the O-line. Also, blocking by the receivers and A-backs will be critical in determining Tech’s success when running wide. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is ball security. Georgia Tech has fumbled 26 times and lost 14.
It is also important to keep in mind that Paul Johnson has proven himself throughout his career to be a particularly adept play caller. He has used the matchups created by the option-based spread to set up a passing game which typically has a huge per-catch average. (Tech is averaging 19.6 yards per reception this season.)
Just as the DBs are lulled into playing run support, boom. Therefore, when called upon, Josh Nesbitt will have to be more efficient than his current 46.67 percent completion percentage.
Against Virginia Tech and Virginia, Nesbitt overthrew a wide-open Roddy Jones for what would have been sure touchdowns. In Nesbitt’s defense, though, he has been running like a Cub Scout from Neverland Ranch on the majority of his pass attempts.
Unless Josh Nesbitt comes up with a monster game throwing the ball, Georgia Tech will likely need to run for at least 200 yards to win this game. If Tech holds onto the football, gets a reasonably solid game from its O-line, and Nesbitt makes more good reads than bad, 200 yards or more is not at all impossible.