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Watching Film: Georgia Tech

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What can we expect from the Yellow Jackets under first year head coach Geoff Collins?

Georgia Tech v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Georgia Tech is a team in a somewhat similar situation to that of USF coming into their Week 2 matchup. The Yellow Jackets played on national television and were soundly beaten in Week 1 by a superior opponent.

Much like USF, the final score was not totally indicative of the caliber of team they have this season. The Yellow Jackets, like USF, are also installing a new offense, but their switch from the flexbone to a more spread style attack is much more drastic than the changes the Bulls are making.

However, unlike USF, Georgia Tech is also installing a new defense under first year head coach Geoff Collins. The schemes shouldn’t be too foreign to USF fans, as Collins has brought both his offensive and defensive coordinators with him from AAC rival Temple. Collins is bringing a high energy, positive culture to Atlanta and his team seems to be responding to his new leadership. However, transition years (especially with such a large schematic shift) are always difficult. How will his team respond coming off a big loss and what will they try to do schematically against USF?


General Game Management

The Marino Rule

Last week when previewing the Wisconsin game, we looked at turnovers and third down conversion percentage as key indicators in winning. Let’s see how USF and GT stacked up in these two categories last week.

Week 1 Marino Rule

Neither team had particularly good week by the Marino rule. Against Clemson, Georgia Tech converted five of sixteen third down attempts. USF was worse, converting only three of 14 third down attempts.

Third Down Stats After Week1

Staying true to those triple option roots, Tech was much better at converting third and short/mediums. When faced with longer distances, their offense struggled. USF wasn’t great at any particular distance. Getting into manageable third down situations will obviously be key for both sides.

Against Wisconsin, USF turned the ball over three times and was only able to force one turnover defensively. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, was able to force three Clemson turnovers in game one. Collins’ defenses have always been good at turning opponents over. In fact, his Temple defense was tied for third in the nation last year in turnovers generated. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, their offense turned the ball over four times in game one. Turnovers will obviously be another key.

Hidden Yardage

Football has been referred to as a “war game” in the past because, in the simplest terms, it is a game of land acquisition. The offense is invading and acquiring the defense’s territory until it meets the endzone. A smaller piece of land is easier to overtake than a large piece. A team is obviously more likely to score the closer their drive starts to the endzone. For two teams who struggled last week on offense, field position will be very important.

When looking the average starting field position, it was no wonder USF was soundly beaten by Wisconsin. The average USF drive started on their own 23-yard line, whereas the average Wisconsin drive started on their 42 yard line. Bill Connelly, of SP+ fame, named field position one of college football’s most important stats. He looked at season stats and showed the effect that the difference in field position had on winning games.

Bill Connelly’s Field Position Margin Stats

The chart shows us just how important field position is. USF gave up nearly 20 yards in average starting field position to Wisconsin. When this happens, you will lose 97% of the time. Georgia Tech fared better than USF, but still gave Clemson an extra six yards in field position. If you take out the drive starting at the Clemson two yard line after an interception, it turns into closer to 11 yards. This is a losing situation nearly 87% of the time. Field position will be another key.

Georgia Tech Offense: The more things change, the more they stay the same

One of the biggest storylines surrounding Georgia Tech this season is the stark change in offensive scheme from Paul Johnson’s flexbone to new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s spread. After watching game one against Clemson, the change is happening a lot more gradually than many expected. Patenaude has combined his spread formations with some of the same concepts the team ran in the flexbone last year.

Midline

Midline from the Flexbone

A staple play of the flexbone is Midline. Midline is an option play where the offense is reading the first defensive lineman outside the A gap (between guard and center). This is typically a defensive tackle. This play was a staple of Paul Johnson’s offense and they ran it in a variety of ways for a ton of yards.

Some spread teams have co-opted midline and added it to their zone read packages. Florida used this under Urban Meyer when playing great interior lineman like Glenn Dorsey of LSU in 2007. Georgia Tech used a version of midline several times against Clemson in game one. Their best result with it came to start their third drive of the game.

Ga Tech has the ball first-and-fifteen at their own nine yard line after a pre-snap penalty. They come out in 11 personnel (1 back and 1 tight end) with a spread formation with two receivers on both sides.

In this defensive look, Georgia Tech is going to read the defensive tackle to the bottom of the screen. Reading a defensive tackle can provide a small advantage to the offense on top of the normal advantages gained by the zone read. Interior defensive linemen typically don’t get the same amount of practice looks at combating the read as the defensive ends do. In my experience, they are more likely to attack the back allowing for an easy pull by the QB. Here the Yellow Jackets will run their back on a flat outside zone/stretch path.

Modified Midline

Besides the formation, another change in the play for GT from last year to this year is who is the dive back. In the flexbone the B Back, lined up directly behind the QB, would be the dive player going vertical through the A gap. The quarterback would work horizontally down the line until the read is made. In the shotgun, the roles are reversed. At the snap the QB will get his eyes on his read. The defensive tackle is already declaring his intentions, turning his shoulder to chase the running back. The Clemson linebackers are also in hot pursuit. The right tackle does a good job one-on-one and a giant hole appears. All that’s left is for the QB to make the correct read.

This isn’t a new concept to the QB so he makes the correct read. You can see the read man (black arrow) has totally taken himself out of the play, while the right guard gets just enough of the linebacker (white arrow) to spring the quarterback. He goes nearly untouched until he is pushed out of bounds after a 39 yard gain.

Veer

Another staple of option offenses is the Veer. Veer might be a dirty word for some South Florida fans, but it has been a key part of many option offenses since it was introduced at the University of Houston in the 1960’s. While Georgia Tech reads an interior lineman on Midline, they will often read an end when running veer.

Flexbone Veer

Against Clemson, Georgia Tech runs a modified version of veer on a third-and-one early in the second quarter. They have coupled the read the quarterback made on veer last year with a more zone style blocking scheme.

Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, the play ends up in a fumble. It appears that the left guard may have messed up his assignment on this play. That coupled with a low snap gave the play no chance.

Georgia Tech comes out in 20 personnel (2 backs and 0 tight ends) with two receivers on the right, one on the left and a back on either side of the quarterback.

Georgia Tech will be looking to run the modified veer to the left, reading the defensive end to that side. The lineman will be stepping right like a zone run to that side. The play doesn’t appear to be a true veer because the right tackle is engaging the end instead of climbing to the second level.

Modified Veer

As the ball is snap, Georgia Teach appears to have a good play. If the left guard and tackle get to the second level defenders, the QB only has to read the end correctly for a nice gain. However, you can see the left guard steps down and helps put the defensive tackle back on the center. Since the tackle lined up in between the guard and center, the guard wants to make sure the center has the DT handled before he climbs. This moment of assistance allows the linebacker to fill.

The Clemson linebacker recognizes the dive and flies into kill the play. The Outside Linebacker also avoids the block of the left tackle. Clemson now has a player for every phase of the triple option. The poor snap leads to rushed handoff. The back never seems to totally take possession of the ball and the hit of the unblocked linebacker knocks the ball loose for a fumble.

Waggle

Waggle

Waggle, one of the favorite passing plays in many flexbone attacks, is a great play action concept. Georgia Tech used it a lot in the past and continues to use it with the new staff. They ran a couple different variations of it against Clemson.

On the first play of their second drive, Georgia Tech has first-and-10 at the 41 yard line. The Yellow Jackets come out in 20 personnel with two receivers on the left of the formation, one on the right and a back on either side of the QB.

The back on the right will assume the role of the man in motion faking the handoff. The back on the left will cross the formation and leak out into the flat. The lone receiver on the right will run a deep comeback. On the left, the inside receiver will run a 10-15 yard crosser with the outside receiver running a post.

Post-snap you can see the fake attracts some attention from the linebackers allowing the crossing back to out flank them. Clemson is playing a Tite front with one of their defensive ends playing as a wide overhang. The end recognizes the quarterback rolling out and flies right at him.

There is space for the QB to throw the ball into, but the overhang defender is bearing down on him.

The QB is forced to throw the ball over a taller defender. He is unable to find a good throwing angle and the pass falls incomplete.

New Wrinkles

Nobody would have ever confused Georgia Tech and Washington State over the last few seasons. The Mike Leach led Cougars run the pure Air Raid offense, throwing the ball all over the field. This season’s version of the Yellow Jackets have taken some schemes from Coach Leach and used one to great effect last week.

Mesh Diagram

On their first offensive play following a Clemson touchdown, Georgia Tech has a first-and-ten from their own 25. They come out in 11 personnel and spread formation with two receivers to both sides.

The Yellow Jackets are going to run what looks to be a variation of the Mesh concept with the back running a wheel out of the backfield. The inside receivers will both run shallow routes crossing the formation. The outside receiver on the right will run a deep curl over the ball. The outside receiver on the left will run a dig.

Mesh with HB Wheel

Mesh is a great concept to run against man or zone. Against zone, you have horizontal stretches being created across the field. Against man, you make defenders run through a lot of traffic to follow their receiver. On this play, a Clemson linebacker gets caught up in traffic while trying to match the back on the wheel route.

This small delay allows the back to run by the linebacker into open space. The back catches the ball with room to run and the play turns into a 54 yard gain sparking the Yellow Jackets first touchdown drive.

Georgia Tech Defense: Mayhem Through Movement and Disguise

When Geoff Collins was a defensive coordinator he was nicknamed the “Minister of Mayhem”. This moniker has followed him into his head coaching career and his defenses are the reason why. Collins and his defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker run a 4-2-5 defense based on movement and disguise.

Up Front

Collins and Thacker like to use movement and disguise up front to create mayhem. This movement can be accompanied by a blitz or just involve the down lineman. We can look at some examples from last season at Temple, as well a game one against Clemson.

Last year against USF, Thacker was able to use movement coupled with the blitz to get some pressure on the quarterback. In this example, USF is in 10 personnel and motion to a Trips open formation. Temple has six players on the line of scrimmage. They are playing Cover 1 behind the blitz, or man coverage with a single safety over the top. They walk one linebacker up between the right guard and center and the other outside the tackle. The defensive tackles are both in three techniques between the guard and tackle. The ends are lines up outside the offensive tackles.

Out of this alignment, Tacker will call for both Ends and Tackles to execute a TEX stunt. TEX is a Tackle End Exchange. Both defensive tackles will attack the “B gap”, the space between the guard and tackle, trying to occupy both. The Ends will loop around into the A gap, between the guard and center. Thacker also adds an extra blitzer outside the tackle up top and in the A gap.

The alignment gets USF to call a 3 man slide to the right with a two man protection with the back. The blitzing middle linebacker will cross the center’s face into the open A gap and is soon followed by the looping end. The edge blitzer keeps the back occupied while the defensive tackles occupy both guards and tackles. The blitz was schemed to get the three man slide to the left based on initial alignment knowing that post-snap movement would be able to overwhelm the A gaps.

On this third down, Thacker’s defense gets exactly what he wanted and ends up with a sack.

The next example is also from the USF-Temple game last season. USF comes out in an empty formation on a third-and-eight. Temple has three down linemen, with a walkup linebacker on the either side.

With this scheme, Thacker is hoping to bait the Quarterback into throwing the ball quickly to his dropping linebacker. He is also looking to get pressure through unconventionally bringing four rushers from a side. The end on top of the left tackle and the nose on top of the center will slant to their left. The walk up linebacker at the top will rush to occupy the tackle. The walk up at the bottom drop in to coverage trying to jump into a quick throwing lane. The end at the bottom will loop around to the opposite side of the center.

The slanting of the down lineman and the blitz from the linebacker opens a gap for the looping end. You can see the linebacker at the bottom turning to run underneath a throw.

You can see the hole that has been open and the looping end about to come free. The quarterback does a good job getting the ball out of his hand and avoiding the sack. However, Temple was able to rally to the quick throw and tackle the receiver short of the first down.

The final example is from game one against Clemson. Clemson has the ball first-and-ten at the 27 yard line.

Clemson will come out in 11 personnel with two receivers to the right and one receiver and wing/sniffer tight end to the left. Georgia Tech comes out in it’s favored 4-2 Over front look with a stand up end to the boundary side.

USF used the same formation in their first game. I would expect to see it again Saturday.

Georgia Tech decides to bring a blitz with its two box linebackers. The defensive tackles will widen trying to create an opportunity for the linebackers to get the center two-on-one. The stand up end will drop into coverage. Clemson has a type of double post play on. The outside receiver on the two receiver side will run a deep post. The inside receiver will run a shallow post/deep crosser. Much like the Mills concept we have discussed previously, the QB will make a “high/low” read on the safety. If the safety takes the inside receiver, you can throw the post over the top. The lone receiver on the left will run a deep curl/comeback to hold the corner.

Clemson gets what they want schematically on the back end. The safety is eying number two as he releases vertical. They should be able to hit the post over the top. However, Georgia Tech gets what they want and more up font. The defensive tackle to the bottom of the screen actually splits the left guard and tackle. The first blitzing linebacker occupies the center and the tight end who has come across the formation. The linebacker looping around will come free.

While Clemson has the post getting ready to run behind the safety for a huge play, the pressure flushes the quarterback out of the pocket. The defensive tackle and looping linebacker have both come free.

The quarterback still tries to make the post throw downfield because he knows it was going to be open. He is unable to really set his feet and the throw sails long for an incompletion.

In Coverage

Georgia Tech also used movement and disguise in coverage to confuse Clemson. All everything, presumptive number one pick whenever he comes out quarterback Trevor Lawrence didn’t have his best game against the Yellow Jackets. Some of that may have been first game of the season rust, but Georgia Tech also presented some schemes that confused the young quarterback.

Clemson has the ball first-and-ten late in the first quarter. They come out in 11 personnel with two receivers to the left and a wing/sniffer tight end and receiver to the right. Georgia Tech is in their typical 4-2-5 alignment except the field nickel is a little further off and the corners are peeking inside. The field safety is also in a much tighter alignment than normal where he is typically lined up over the number two receiver.

Clemson has a run play called, but Lawrence will pull the ball for what he thinks is a free throw to the outside. Lawrence and his receiver on the right both think that the corner from the boundary is going to blitz based on alignment and tendency. Collins and Thacker like to blitz the corner from the boundary. They did it three times against USF least year and at least that many times against Clemson.

The corner will not be blitzing, however. Both corners are going to jump inside and play the flat. The field nickel will rotate to the deep half on his side while the safety to the boundary will do the same to his side. The field safety that was shaded towards the middle of the field will stay there in a robber type role, allowing him to play run and adjust to pass if anybody comes into his area.

At the snap, both corners jump inside. You can see the receiver for Clemson running a slow, wide vertical which is a common tactic to counteract the Corner blitz. Lawrence has pulled the ball and will need to throw it in the highlighted space before the boundary safety gets over the top. The middle safety appears to be playing more of a robber type role allowing him to sit at ten yards instead of automatically gaining depth like the other safeties. You can already see the boundary corner starting to sink back underneath the receiver. Clemson appears to be playing a modified Tampa 2 with the middle safety replacing the mike linebacker running the pipe.

The original play call appears to be a zone read with a tight end arc. It’s the same play that Clemson used to score their first touchdown. Since Lawrence has decide to pull and throw, seemingly pre-snap, he will get the unblocked end, his read, in his face unabated. The corner has continued to sink back into the throw window. Lawrence tries to fit the throw in any way.

The pressure causes the ball to be a little underthrown. The throw would have to be near perfect to get over the corner and in front of the expanding safety. The corner gets his hands on the throw but is unable to hold on. Georgia Tech nearly schemed themselves into a possible game-changing turnover.

Georgia Tech runs another disguised coverage early in the second quarter. Clemson has a third-and-eight from the 48 yard line. Clemson comes out in 11 personnel with two receivers split out to both sides of the formation. The Yellow Jackets will counter with an odd front and two linebackers showing blitz at the line of scrimmage. There are two more players (field nickel and third safety) at linebacker depth, while the defensive backfield shows two high safeties and man coverage on the outside.

Georgia Tech will not be playing man though, or even a two high safety coverage. They will be running a modified version of Cover 3. The Stand up end at the bottom of the screen and the field nickel will both fly to the flats on the snap. The corners will bail into their deep third zone. The two high safeties will come down and play the curl area around the first down marker. The linebacker walked up over the left guard will drop to the hook area with the third safety sprinting back to play the deep middle third.

After the ball is snapped, Lawrence sees the corner bailing and is looking to throw a deep out to the outside receiver to the left. You can see the defenders moving to their zone responsibilities.

Lawrence locks onto the deep out and may not see the flat defender until just before the throw. The flat player is about to sneak under the out route. Like the previous play, he will have to make a near perfect throw to complete the pass.

Lawrence misses on his throw, but it’s a safe miss. The ball sails out of bounds and Clemson is forced to punt. A worse throw by Lawrence could have easily ended in an interception.


When speaking with the media this week, Georgia Tech coaches emphasized the run game as an important factor. They will be leaning in the run game offensively. They specifically mentioned pass protection as an area that needed a lot of improvement. I would expect them to lean on some of the schemes they have incorporated from last year’s offense. They will possibly play three quarterbacks, all of whom are a little different. One is a great runner, the other a better thrower, and the youngest one is a mix of both. USF will need to be prepared to see all three.

Defensively, they will look to stop the run game on early downs and get USF into third-and-long situations. They will then try to use movement and disguise to cause mayhem for the offense. If USF can hit a couple of plays down the field early, it could help open running lanes up for the backs. If the Bulls can’t win one-on-one matchups again, it will be a tough game.

Georgia Tech has a really good coaching staff and some talented players. They currently have the 45th rated roster according to the 247 Team Talent Composite, while USF ranks 69th. But, they are transitioning to not only new schemes, but also a new culture. How will the team respond after being blown out on national tv? Culture takes time to develop. How will USF respond in a similar situation? Who will have the leaders that step up?

After watching both of these teams, I think they are probably underrated based on week one. Unfortunately, they have to play each other. One team will get some positive momentum, while the other will stay winless. I think this week will tell us a lot more about each team than game one. Hopefully the Bulls can get some momentum from this game and the SC State game before heading into their early bye. But, like last week, it’s not going to be easy.