Is Georgia Tech's Option Toast?



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We were very skeptical of Paul Johnson's option offense being able to work in big time college football. Yes, you can get a lot done at a place like Navy or Air Force with that approach...particularly when it's executed by disciplined military kids.

But, Texas and Oklahoma stopped running the option many years ago because big time defenses figured out how to stop it. You could be a good independent or mid major by running the option, but you weren't going to succeed in a MAJOR conference with that approach. The evidence seemed pretty clear.


So much for that theory. Well, actually, we still believe it. We think it's an indictment of ACC defenses that they were so befuddled by the run-based offense once they had seen a lot of it on film and in person. We are starting to see some chinks in the armor this season for Georgia Tech, even though talented Josh Nesbitt is still the quarterback leading the attack.

Of note, heading into tonight's national TV tussle at Virginia Tech:

*Georgia Tech ranked 26th nationally last year in total offense, on the way to a surprising ACC championship. This year's team ranks only 49th right now.

*Tech ranks 49th right now despite playing a VERY easy schedule (more on that in a minute).

*Tech also ranks 50th in scoring offense, so it's not like there's some illusion in the yardage stats that is hiding Tech's greatness. The offense just isn't producing the way it had been in the past.

*Tech's non-conference slate thus far has included South Carolina State (41 points), Middle Tennessee State (42 points), and Kansas. Kansas is certifiably horrible this year, yet beat Georgia Tech outright! SCSU and MTSU aren't anyone to be afraid of. Keep in mind that Tech ranks 50th in scoring offense even with those 40-point performances against bad teams in the mix.

*Tech's conference slate has included Wake Forest (2-6 overall, 1-4 in the ACC), and Virginia (1-3 in the ACC because an opposing quarterback got hurt). We told you it was an easy schedule! It hasn't been nothing but cupcakes because Clemson, NC State, and North Carolina have been on the ledger. It's been mostly cupcakes, and Tech is struggling to impress.

The most recent outing was a 27-13 loss at Clemson in a game that was expected to be close (and preceded Clemson's dismal showing against mediocre Boston College). Let's take a look at those numbers.

Total Yardage: Georgia Tech 325, Clemson 403
Rushing Yardage: Georgia Tech 242, Clemson 236
Passing Stats: Georgia Tech 6-19-1-83, Clemson 17-27-0-167
Turnovers: Georgia Tech 1, Clemson 0
Third Downs: Georgia Tech 38%, Clemson 60%
Halftime Score: Georgia Tech 3, Clemson 17

You have to recall here that option-based teams usually pop huge rushing numbers when things are going well. A number like 242 is strong for most teams, but doesn't register as a good game when you're running ALL the time. The total yardage mark of 325 doesn't impress for a big game. It's okay if you're defense is playing great. Tech's defense wasn't up to the task. This is most obvious in total yardage, third down conversions, and turnovers forced. In fact, Tech's defense was so passive that they allowed 60% third down conversions and forced no turnovers against a team that wouldn't score an offensive TD the next week at Boston College!

Tech's offense? Only three points in the first half of a very important game. The only TD drive came after they had fallen way behind and the Clemson defense relaxed a bit. The option attack wasn't scaring anybody. And, given how poorly option QB's usually pass, Tech just isn't much of a threat to do anything right now against a decent opponent.

How's THAT for an outlook heading into a national TV road game at revenge-minded Virginia Tech!


Georgia Tech obviously has to lift its game significantly to compete with a Hokies group that's been breathing fire after that inexplicable 0-2 start against Boise State and James Madison. Here's what Virginia Tech has done since:

Tech (-20) beat East Carolina 49-27
Tech (-3.5) beat Boston College 19-0
Tech (-3.5) beat NC State 41-30
Tech (-21) beat Central Michigan 45-21
Tech (-23) beat Wake Forest 52-21
Tech (-27) beat Duke 44-7

You know what? That's not as scary as we thought it was going to be! Wake Forest, Duke, and Boston College are having mostly down years with occasional flashes of acceptability. East Carolina has no defense. Central Michigan isn't anything special this year. NC State is solid...and Tech deserves credit for rallying to win going away in a pointspread cover.

Virginia Tech is good, and a legitimate favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division, and probably the ACC too. They're good, but beatable if you avoid mistakes and force a few from a volatile offense that struggles to find consistency in big games.

It's worth noting that Virginia Tech ranks 32nd in offense right now, and 33rd in defense, despite playing a fairly week schedule all things considered (unless James Madison is a secret juggernaut). Many polls and computers have the Hokies higher than that. Georgia Tech will be well-served to study game film and stats rather than believe pollsters.

Las Vegas has made Virginia Tech a 12-point favorite. If an angry, fired up, MEAN, revenge-minded team of Hokies brings peak intensity against the not-so-rambling wreck that really was a wreck at Clemson, then this is going to be one ugly game. Tech will have that spread covered by the end of the first quarter, doubled by halftime, and nobody will even be watching the fourth quarter on ESPN. But...Virginia Tech's defense isn't shutting people down the way they have in the past. Should Georgia Tech bring a gut-check mentality, this game could easily be a replay of last year's 28-23 Yellowjacket victory...won by Georgia Tech as a home underdog of 3.5 points.

JIM HURLEY owns prime time football, and has a very strong side or total opinion in tonight's game. We might also have something for you in Buffalo/Ohio on ESPNU, so make a few clicks here at the website to get locked in for tonight's card. Game day releases are always available a few hours before kickoff. Sign up for the full season and start your winning with tonight's ticket. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about our early season NBA when you call. Note that TNT has a double header tonight with Knicks/Bulls and Thunder/Blazers.

We'll be back tomorrow here in the NOTEBOOK for the first of two mid-major previews. We'll be discussing TCU/Utah and Hawaii/Boise State this week since those games are looming so large in the BCS picture (one on Friday and the other on Saturday). NETWORK will be all over the Friday Night card that includes Western Michigan/Central Michigan, Central Florida/Houston (BIG GAME in CUSA!), and a busy 12-game NBA slate. Saturday's BIG PLAY BONANZA currently has these games and more under consideration (along with TCU/Utah and Hawaii/Boise):

Alabama at LSU
Arkansas at South Carolina
Oklahoma at Texas A&M
Arizona at Stanford
North Carolina at Florida State
Illinois at Michigan
NC State at Clemson

It's going to be a huge weekend in college football for us. We hope you join the fun online or with a quick call to the office.

September was sweet...
October was awesome...

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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