Paul Johnson has had a rollercoaster run as the head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Johnson came into a ‘pro style’ program and installed his flexbone triple option offense. In 2008, which was year one of his regime, Johnson finished 9-4 and got the Jackets into a bowl game. The Ramblin’ Wreck has had three losing seasons and two Orange Bowl appearances since PJ rolled in to Atlanta, GA.
Miami fans would lose their minds if the flexbone came to Coral Gables, but Miami has been in less major bowls than PJ since his tenure started at Tech. When Tech has a solid defense and the right quarterback they play better football- just like everyone else in the country. Georgia Tech started 2018 with TaQuon Marshall under center once again but redshirt freshman Tobias Oliver has sparked the triple option to wins over Virginia Tech and UNC in recent weeks.
Paul Johnson makes that offense work because he truly defines clarity, confidence conviction. I preach that motto to my classes and to my football players and co-coaches. I firmly believe in the importance of clarity, confidence, conviction. Johnson is clear in his mission, vision and goals. He has the confidence that when executed properly it can work like any other great offense in America (just see his ass whooping of Louisville for proof), and he has the conviction to stick by it no matter how many detractors say it’s outdated.
SB Nation’s Alex Kirshner did an amazing job of covering the Navy-New Mexico game which became the longest drive in football history. You should read it here. But I’m not just covering a single drive, I’m covering the offensive and defensive mentality heading into a game against an offense that, as former Navy offensive lineman Tyson Stahl put it, is “...a nuanced offense that is designed for touchdowns and three yards gains off the same play.”
A Paul Johnson quarterback
The Georgia Tech triple option is much more complicated to run than people know. A lot of pressure is put on the quarterback to execute while being an undersized running back who still has to throw 4-5 times per game. The video above features Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds played for Navy after Johnson left but embodies the qualities PJ writes about in his playbook. Those qualities match Bruce Arians’ feelings regarding NFL QB’s, too. I wrote about what Bruce Arians feels makes a great NFL quarterback here, and I firmly believe this is true for high school or college football as well.
Johnson aligns with Arians in his playbook, and feels being an option quarterback means you love option football, you’re physically able to make the runs required, and you’re emotionally tough enough to take hits which would be Arians’ “grit.” First for Johnson is grit, second is ability, and third is love of the scheme.
Khalil Tate didn’t have the love of the scheme, so a marriage with Coach Ken’s triple option wouldn’t have worked in Arizona. Now Tate is 5-5 having thrown a whole 19 touchdowns with six interceptions on a mediocre Arizona team led by Kevin Sumlin. Below is a man that lived every second as an option quarterback, and holds the position as the greatest college football quarterback to ever live. Unlike our leader Cam Underwood, I believe wins are a quarterback stat.
What are the pre-snap reads?
When I bring RPO’s to new programs I’m always confronted like I’ve grown two heads or am holding a glass of the Kool-Aid with a sign that says “Jim Jones Bar & Grill” on my t-shirt. People fear the unknown and misunderstand what I’m trying do to as a play caller. I’m trying to make the defense always wrong, ever single time.
Run-Pass Options are essentially triple option and double option football. Instead of pitching the ball like a traditional option quarterback (Tommie Frazier is my all-time favorite at the position) I use my quarterback’s typical throwing motion which is overhand to throw bubble screens instead of pitch the option.
The pre-snap reads are partially in the shot above. Johnson wants his QB’s to identify where safeties are, just like I do in RPO’s. If I have 2 high safeties I can typically run at will for 4-yards. Then the QB identifies the dive read. Here it would be the non-pictured OLB’s or DT’s. In some defenses, like the Miami 4-3 from the Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson days, it’s the defensive ends.
Johnson plans to always block your outside linebackers while reading your defensive ends. That’s his plan. He wants your “pitch” defender to be a cornerback because they’re usually bad tacklers (see: Jackson, Michael). It is assignment football. I’ve read/heard people say of late, ‘Just play your typical rules,’ yeah well good luck, buddy.
Defending the triple
Manny Diaz has ran a five man line against Georgia Tech since coming to Miami. The shot above is from Georgia Southern’s playbook when PJ was the head coach. Johnson’s feeling on the matter is that the defensive tackles (4 techniques here) are dive reads while the guys lined up as ends are reading the quarterback and he wants to make safeties the pitch read here after cutting the cornerbacks with the outside receivers.
My method to stop the triple option is simple. The defensive tackles and mike linebacker stop the dive, the defensive ends stop the quarterback, the outside linebackers play the ball, the safeties play the pitchman and the cornerbacks are there for outside force.
This forces your middle linebacker, say Shaquille Quarterman, to play hard nosed football in the mold of Micheal Barrow. It works not only for triple option but double option too. The reason people like the odd front (5 man front) is to take away the midline option.
Tyson Stahl, who played both offensive and defensive line at Navy, offered his take on defending the triple option. Stahl played under Paul Johnson in the early years of Johnson’s time at Annapolis. Stahl feels (and I’m paraphrasing) the best way to defend the flexbone offense is to play your defense but keep it true to the dive, to quarterback, to pitch progression. Diaz has switched from a predominantly even front to an odd front against Georgia Tech in the past.
Stahl feels the little nuances of different plays are the key to reading the offense, such as: “Watching the QB’s eyes for reads, watching the WR’s stances, watching the tendencies of the a-backs on their various motions.” And as it’s been pointed out over time, sometimes those nuances lean on the side of being a false start or illegal motion.
“Ultimately, it’s just simple and requires defensive schemes, and therefore players, to be both patient and disciplined,” Stahl added. Patience and discipline haven’t been the methodology of the Miami defense under Manny Diaz. Diaz is a quick fix, big play-big risk coordinator that uses blitzing to solved schematic and tackling issues.
The reason some coaches want to line up in a 5 man front against the flexbone is to eliminate this play, the midline option. Midline is a double option and one of my favorite plays in football. When running midline, coaches tell their QB’s to read the 3-technique or defensive tackle. If he plays the B-gap the QB should give the football to the b-back on the dive. If the 3-tech plays inside the QB should pull and run behind the wingback who came in motion to lead block.
I wrote about this play here in 2016 and it’s a dangerous play for the Jackets if not defended. Manny definitely runs a 5-2 look against Johnson to eliminate the midline by having a big nose tackle in a 0 technique (over the center) and two tackles in 3-techniques (outside shoulder of the guard).
The QB wants to give to the B-Back to avoid being banged up but if the 3-technique can force him to give your hope is that the 0-tech and linebackers can stop the dive play. Below is a video chalk talk of running the Georgia Tech flexbone I filmed for SOTU a couple of seasons ago.
Miami can beat Georgia Tech and has the past two seasons. Both games have come down to the Hurricanes creating turnovers and either scoring on defense or finding a way to get into the end zone just enough to beat the Jackets. If Miami is going to squander possessions in 2018 they won’t score enough to beat Georgia Tech, because the ‘Canes won’t get enough possessions to make up for the three and outs they’ve become accustomed to.