July 28, 2008

Bowden: Triple option can work at Georgia Tech

There are a lot of great story lines heading into the 2008 college football season, but the best one involving X's and O's is whether Georgia Tech can be successful running a one-dimensional triple option running attack at the BCS level. New head coach Paul Johnson will implement the same offense that brought him so much success at Navy and Division I-AA Georgia Southern.

Unlike a shotgun spread attack utilized by such teams as Oregon, West Virginia and Florida where the option to pass the ball as well as run is a threat on every play, at Georgia Tech the options will be whether the QB hands off up the middle, keeps the ball off tackle or pitches it to the outside.

I'm not saying the option to pass won't be there at all, but, like Oklahoma and Alabama in the 70's and 80's, the more successful the offense is, the less passes they will throw. Navy threw the ball less than 10 times in more than half of its games last year and the more the Midshipmen were in control of the game, the less they threw the ball. Only once did they throw the ball over 15 times.

Many compare Johnson's offense to that of Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and that is true to the extent they are the exact opposites. Each of these two teams represent the truest and most successful form of one-dimensional offense in football's top division. If you look at last year's NCAA statistics, Navy was first in rushing with 349 yards per game and last in passing with 93. On the other hand, Texas Tech was first in passing with 470 yards per game and last in rushing with 59.

The important thing to remember is that the key to success in both of these offenses is not to distribute the ball equally between runs and passes, but to distribute it equally among the eligible ballcarriers and/or receivers.

So, will Johnson be successful running the triple option at Georgia Tech?


Will it happen this season?

Probably not.

Want to know why?

First, Johnson is an outstanding head coach at any level of football. He was highly successful at, not one, but two different schools running the triple option. While at the Division I-AA level, like Jim Tressel, Johnson led his team to multiple national championships.

Second, the triple option is a tried-and-true system that has been extremely successful at the highest level of football. Head coaches and offensive and defensive systems might have changed many times over the past 40 years, but the field is still 100 yards long and 53 2/3 yards wide and you can still only use 11 people at a time to play the game.

More specifically:

The triple option is a unique system that other teams will not see week in and week out making it much harder to prepare for.

Johnson has run the offense almost his entire career and he will be able to make on-the-field adjustments twice as fast as the defensive coordinators he will be facing.

He has a vast array of splits, formations and motions to alter the appearance of the exact same plays.

Because this is a system that is based upon creating as many third-and-short yardage situations as possible, they are in their comfort zone when it comes to executing critical short yardage and goal-line plays.

Since you win championships with defense, no offense in the country has the ability to control the clock better than the triple option. The more you control the clock with your offense, the more your defense is resting on the bench.

This is a true TEAM concept where every player on the offense understands that they must all work together to make it work. No running back will get all the carries and receivers must learn how to block.

The most important thing Johnson has to do is find a quarterback who can run this system. This quarterback obviously needs to be a very good runner and an adequate passer, but, more importantly, he must be a great decision-maker. He will have to make split-second decisions after the snap on every play that are much more difficult than anything a shotgun throwing quarterback has to make.

The need for the right quarterback and some of the other pieces of the puzzle might take a couple of years to put into place, so don't expect Georgia Tech to contend for the ACC title this year. But like the impact Rich Rodriguez made in the Big East and Urban Meyer in the SEC, it is just a matter of time before Johnson has this team contending for championships.

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site. Send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.


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