Get ready. It’s back again.
The terror that is the triple-option, in all its cut-blocking glory, returns to Miami Gardens on Saturday when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets take on the Miami Hurricanes.
After a rebound season in 2016, the Yellow Jackets have started strong in 2017, going 3-1 with 2 ACC Coastal victories, and find themselves sitting just outside of the Top 25. Miami and GT have been ACC Coastal rivals since Miami joined the ACC and have played every year since 2004, with the all-time series deadlocked at 11-11. However, the Canes have owned the Yellow Jackets lately, winning 7 of their past 8 meetings, including 35-21 win in Atlanta in 2016.
For their part, Miami finds itself in relatively new territory: coming off a win against FSU. The Canes have traditionally struggled after losses to FSU and have gone on long losing streaks 3 out of the past 5 years. But now, after a thrilling last second win in Tallahassee, the Canes have to stay humble and stay focused on the Yellow Jackets. UM’s leaders in the locker room plan on doing just that.
"Florida State was a great win, but it ended Saturday night," linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. "We woke up Sunday and had to come to the facilities for practice and meetings. We broke down Georgia Tech that night. We can't be satisfied with a win over Florida State – it was a great win, but that's not the only win we seek to accomplish this season."
While the Canes have their sights set on eventually playing for their first ACC Championship, they must win their division first, and the winner of this game will have quite a foothold in the ACC Coastal. However, Miami will be short-handed against Georgia Tech and will have to pull off a win without 4 key starters, including star RB Mark Walton, who is out for the season after suffering an ankle injury against FSU.
Walton's successor in the backfield is sophomore Travis Homer, who has played the role of backup running back and been a valuable performer on Miami's special teams so far in 2017. Homer has rushed for 207 yards this season behind Walton, averaging 8.3 yards a carry and catching five passes for 71 yards. He’ll get a chance to improve upon those numbers Saturday in his first career start and his coaches are confident that he’ll be able to carry the load.
"He can run, he's agile, he's tough, he can tackle, he's smart and he tends to have a lot of stamina,” said Miami head coach Mark Richt.
"I think he is in phenomenal shape," Miami offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said. "He's taken a bunch of snaps on special teams. He played 25-30 snaps in the Florida State game, so I think he is in great condition. We've pulled back on some special teams for him because of the load he's going to take on offense. That's the biggest thing. Obviously, we need him to continue to be consistent."
Meanwhile, Miami’s front seven has been struggling a bit stopping the run, consistently vacating gaps and running too far upfield. FSU gashed the Canes #62 ranked rushing defense last week and, this week, guys like Quarterman, Joe Jackson, and Mike Pinckney will be tasked with playing assignment football and slowing down one of the best rushing offenses in the nation.
Georgia Tech's triple-option offense has been humming along as usual, leading the ACC in rushing while coming in at second in the country on the ground with 396 yards per game. The quarterback is what makes the triple-option really go and TaQuon Marshall is the new starter at QB for GT. It seems as if he hasn’t missed a beat out there, consistently making the right reads and showing explosion in the open field.
The Yellow Jackets actually have the top two rushers in the conference at their disposal. While Marshall leads the ACC with 130.8 rushing yards per game, RB Kirvonte Benson is right behind with 119 rushing yards per game. The pair are extremely difficult for any defensive coordinator to contain and the Yellow Jackets' ability to control the pace of the game with its devastating ground attack is what makes them a nightmare.
That’s not to say GT is all running, though. While they only have 33 attempts, the Yellow Jackets can also create explosive plays through the air, averaging an ACC-best 17.52 yards per completion. Tech WR Ricky Jeune is probably the biggest threat in that department, catching 3 touchdowns along with 171 yards in 2017. The Miami secondary will be hard pressed to keep Jeune and the running game under control, especially with starting cornerback Dee Delaney and starting safety Sheldrick Redwine being held out due to injuries. Wrapping up and limiting yards after contact will be key for replacements Michael Jackson and Robert Knowles, who will be playing this whacky Tech offense for the first time.
"It's about explosive plays, which is really their greatest threat," Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "Everyone thinks about the run game, I think they're fifth in the country in yards per pass attempt and they normally are. They've only thrown it 33 times in four games, but when they do, they get yards. They've got guys down the field that can go get it. The quarterback throws it down the field better than you wish he did. It's the constant threat of explosive plays. Tackling is super important. Our secondary was outstanding tackling in that game a year ago, and will have to be again. There's very little margin for error."
Kickoff against the Yellow Jackets is set for 3:30 p.m., from Hard Rock Stadium and will be broadcast on ABC.