Florida State Football: How Do 'Noles Stop Georgia Tech's Triple-Option?

Bob Ferrante@@bobferranteContributor IDecember 3, 2014

Quarterback Justin Thomas is Georgia Tech's leading rusher and he's excellent at analyzing defenses and deciding if he will keep the ball, hand off or pitch.
Quarterback Justin Thomas is Georgia Tech's leading rusher and he's excellent at analyzing defenses and deciding if he will keep the ball, hand off or pitch.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Georgia Tech averages 333 rushing yards per game, better than all but just Navy (357 yards) and Wisconsin (334 yards) in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Yellow Jackets wear defenses out with the triple-option attack, converting on third down 57 percent of the time (which leads the FBS).

It's a tough matchup on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game for Florida State (12-0), which has had mixed success against the run in 2014. How will FSU fare against Georgia Tech's triple-option? 

"Everybody wants a magical defense that you're going to run against Georgia Tech, but there isn't one," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "You've got to take on a blocker and beat him. You have to be sound in what you do, and make tackles."

The challenge with the triple-option offense is that there are too many things to watch in the moments right after the ball is snapped. Quarterback Justin Thomas reads the alignment of the defense and can tuck it and run, hand off on a fullback dive (B-back) or pitch to one of two wingbacks (A-back).

On a normal play, a defensive lineman or linebacker may have to watch just one tailback. And life is easier (in some respects) if a defense faces a dropback passer.

Georgia Tech (10-2) runs the triple-option well. Thomas is the leading rusher with 861 yards and five touchdowns. B-back Zach Laskey has run for 748 yards and seven touchdowns, and A-back Synjyn Days has run for 686 yards and three touchdowns. 

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But it starts up front. Offensive linemen will cut-block, a legal football move where the goal is to tackle a defensive lineman low and cause him to fall down.

To counter this, defensive linemen have a strategy.

"You bend your knees, you shoot your hands on his back," FSU defensive tackle Eddie Goldman said. "He's going to try to cut you, so his face is going to be down. So you shoot your hands out on his back and throw your knees back and get your eyes up and hop over him."

It's a matter of who can be successful more often: Can Georgia Tech cut or can FSU counter the cut-blocking?

FSU has an advantage in that it has faced a triple-option offense already this year. The Citadel is a Football Championship Subdivision team with less talent and fewer scholarships, of course. But the Bulldogs ran for 250 yards on 56 carries on Sept. 6. 

It was a strange game for a number of reasons. The Citadel was able to run the ball often and efficiently, converting 11 of 17 third-down opportunities. There were plenty of long drives, but The Citadel didn't put points on the board until the fourth quarter.

FSU's defensive tackles, led by Eddie Goldman, must prevent being cut by Georgia Tech linemen and stay upright to make tackles.
FSU's defensive tackles, led by Eddie Goldman, must prevent being cut by Georgia Tech linemen and stay upright to make tackles.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

FSU also lost two of its top defensive tackles in the first quarter that night as a result of cut-blocks. Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample were both out of the game early, leaving second- and third-team defensive tackles to fill in at the interior of the line.

"You're going to get some of the same plays," FSU defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell said. "But it's a different level of athlete, different level of offensive lineman. Citadel had a couple smaller guys but they were agile. Georgia Tech has a couple bigger guys that are quick and can move."

Having played a triple-option offense helps the defensive linemen. They know what they are in for on Saturday. But so does FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, who was on Georgia Tech's staff from 2006-12. When Paul Johnson was hired in 2008, he retained Kelly and they coached together for five seasons.

Kelly has helped FSU's linemen review film of Georgia Tech in 2014. And he has also shown FSU players film of the 2012 ACC Championship Game, in which FSU held the Yellow Jackets to 183 rushes on 52 carries.

"It gives you confidence," Mitchell said. "You trust everything he's saying because he was around it for so long. He knows how the option works."

If Kelly has FSU prepared for the triple-option, the Seminoles will be 13-0 and will likely be on their way to the College Football Playoff.

But if Georgia Tech is able to run, and convert on third down, the Yellow Jackets may pull off the upset that no team has been able to achieve this season.

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Bob on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com and ramblinwreck.com.