Notre Dame’s option: Stop Tech or else

OK, Notre Dame, what is Justin Thomas going to do with the ball next? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

OK, Notre Dame, what is Justin Thomas going to do with the ball next? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

SOUTH BEND, IND. – Defending the triple option has become something of a scholarly pursuit for Notre Dame.

Every year the Irish play Navy and its usually effective option. Last year in winning a 49-39 shootout, Notre Dame gave up 336 rushing yards to the Midshipmen. In Brian Kelly’s first year in South Bend, 2010, Navy ran for 367 yards in a 35-17 victory.

And there was Paul Johnson’s 2007 Navy team that broke a 43-year losing streak to the Irish running you know what.

This Saturday it also must contend with Johnson’s Georgia Tech, whose version of the offense currently leads college football in rushing yardage (albeit compiling that total against light competition).

Yeah, Notre Dame knows a little bit about defending the option. It even has deployed a special coaching assistant, Bob Elliott, to compare Notre Dame’s approach to defending it with other programs’ designs. He is working on his doctorate in the field.

But does that matter?

“(Playing Navy every year) certainly helps,” Kelly said Tuesday. “But the ACC sees Georgia Tech each year and that doesn’t seem to help them very much.”

Another fellow who will be working on the option puzzle is Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Brian VanGorder. He has coached just about everywhere, including Georgia, Georgia Southern and with the Falcons. He was the man who scrapped the triple option when he replaced Johnson at Georgia Southern during a very brief head coaching stopover.

As little use as he had for the offense in Statesboro, VanGorder keeps running into it in South Bend. And he’s still uncomfortable with it.

“I don’t know who’s figured it out,” he told reporters earlier this year.

Said Kelly, anticipating an intense prep week: “If you’re lost out there (it’s trouble). You could be the greatest athlete in the world and if it doesn’t make sense to you, you can be a liability trying to defend the triple option.”

Johnson’s pet offense draws more than its share of sniping. You know the litany: It’s outdated. It can be tedious to watch. It’s hard to recruit to. It’s ineffective when playing from behind.

But when it’s working like now, the option sure seems to unsettle folks both large and small.

Reader Comments 0

76 comments
Peachs
Peachs

The probation thing hurt Tech 's recruiting worse than this offense, the same way it is hurting UNC now, and they haven't even been sentenced.  It came out of the blue and just unsettled the program for a few years while the press wrote it off as some, "I told you this bubblegum offense  wouldn't work" and we are geniuses to recognized how bad Tech is. Well now Tech has a quarterback, a stable of running backs that are pro level talent, and a defense as solid as most.  It is going on right under your nose and just now being notice, kind of like the Hawks last year. We can lose any Saturday but we are very good, at least as good as Georgia, who gets all the hype which really messes them up so we should be glad these guys don't pick this team up on their radars. 

dawg fan
dawg fan

I would add turnover prone to the list of negatives about Tech's offense.  When you're tossing around the football in the backfield like a hot potato on every play your chances of a turnover are greatly increased.  Somehow after all these years the Techies have not figured that out.  They'll still say things like "If we can just limit the turnovers . . . "  You will not be limiting the turnovers in this offense bro.  They are inevitable.  I'm sure CPJ realizes this and it's just a cost of doing business to him.  The fans need to get a clue.


Tech's option is what it is.  It's good for winning some ACC games and knocking off a big boy every now and then, but I don't think it will take them much beyond that. It's still no match for a talented and well prepared disciplined defense.  I'd rather have a more traditional offense.   

Birmingham__Jacket
Birmingham__Jacket

@dawg fan

Agree.  The offense is obviously not the best, or it would be used at the highest level.  It's prone to turnovers and it's also prone to injuries, both offensive and defensive.

It's good for Georgia Tech however, because we will never be able to consistently recruit the type of players that can line up against a semi-pro team like Alabama  or Ohio State (Georgia excluded) and run the ball between the tackles using a pro-style offense.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@Birmingham__Jacket I don't know.  It puts a lot of strain on the defense too because you don't have the personnel to emulate a more traditional offense in practice.  You get completely owned by QBs who can throw the ball down field.  That's a self-imposed recruiting problem that has absolutely nothing to do with calculus or grades.


Thanks. 

Honest and Frank
Honest and Frank

We only pitch on around 10-15 offensive plays a game anyways. No more turnover prone than a QB who throws a bunch of interceptions. We were also one of the top teams in turnover margin last year, so (knock on wood) it's usually not that bad. At least our guys know to hold on to the ball near the end zone (and no, grabbing it from JT after his forward progress is stopped doesn't count).

And you do realize that the defense practices against the scout team, right? Scout teams run the opposing teams offense, not our offense. We don't scrimmage during the season (nor does anyone else) and only scrimmage about once or twice a week in spring practice.

Not to mention that, even if our d did practice against our spread option offense, it's not fundamentally different than the hundred other spread offenses run in college football - particularly Mullen and Meyer. If running a spread offense hurts the d against I formation offenses, then Ugas antiquated I formation offense hurts it against teams that don't run the I.

Wreck13
Wreck13

@dawg fan how many INT have the last 2 UGa QBs thrown compared to TECH Fumbles?

khd713
khd713

@Birmingham__Jacket @dawg fan  Yes, B-Jacket is right on the money, and this thought process is exactly what led D-Rad to hire PJ. The truth is, Chan Gailey had actually taken Tech's recruiting to a level it had never been to before with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett, Jonathan Dwyer, Demaryus Thomas, et. al. But a handful of four-star recruits was never going to win an ACC championship, much less a national championship, especially as the SEC was beginning to consolidate all of the top national talent. PJ's scheme gives Tech a chance to be successful with a bunch of three-star recruits, and once in a while when he finds an exceptional quarterback to run the system, ACC championships and even the national playoff can become real possibilities because the scheme is so unique and different. Regardless, the triple option allows Tech to be successful year-in and year-out with a limited talent base, which is what Radakovich was looking for.


Now, here is where it gets interesting. Tech's recent success has definitely raised the profile of the program nationally. With that raised profile it's not surprising to see the recruiting start to improve as well. Just a couple of years ago when PJ almost got canned, the popular meme was that no offensive players wanted to come to Tech because of the old-school system that was so far removed from the NFL, and no defensive players wanted to come because they would be practicing against the triple option every day instead of preparing for NFL offenses. And then, like a savior from heaven, PJ found Justin Thomas to keep him employed one more year, which soon led to an Orange Bowl victory and a contract extension. The outlook went from doom and gloom to sky's the limit, and now the recruiting is picking up as well. Can you imagine how effective this system would be with 8-10 four-stars mixed in the bunch on both sides of the ball? Oh, boy. You would be talking about a new national powerhouse. Don't ever forget that PJ has won national championships with this system before, and even though the critics say, "Yeah, but that was at FCS level Ga. Southern", the concept is really the same. It's no easier to win a championship at the FCS level than it is to win one at the FBS level. There are just as many FCS schools as there are FBS schools. It can be done folks. Even with the triple option, and even at an academic institution like Ga. Tech. In three years I've gone from a PJ doubter to a PJ believer and I have no doubt that his ultimate aim is to win a national championship. I have no reason to doubt him anymore because his sole mission in life, other than winning a national title, seems to be proving the doubters wrong about his system. Keep an eye on the recruiting folks because in very short order this program could find itself at or near the top of the heap. No kidding.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@Wreck13 Hutson Mason only threw 4 INTs last year.  Georgia Tech lost 12 fumbles.  That's a lot of fumbles.


Not sure where you Techies are getting this idea that you don't fumble a lot.  You do.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@Honest and Frank  You do realize that your genius coach recruits absolutely no one who can replicate the skill set of a traditional pocket passer?  Thus, there is no one on your scout team to play this role?  You do realize that when your defense faces a traditional pocket passer in a game they are at a disadvantage because of this? 


The results speak for themselves.  More than 1,000 yards of Aaron Murray's production at UGA came against your team alone and he only played you 3 times due to injury.  He should have sent some of that signing bonus money from the Chiefs CPJ's way. 

Birmingham__Jacket
Birmingham__Jacket

@khd713 @Birmingham__Jacket @dawg fan

I'm same as you.  I was ready to move on a few years ago.  Justin Thomas literally saved Johnson's job.  But that's not the first time a 18-19 yr old QB has saved a coach's job.

Johnson and Tech's biggest hurdle to winning a National Championship is assembling something that resembles a GOOD defense.  History has shown time and again, it's almost impossible to win a NC without a GOOD DEFENSE.  We are about to see in a couple of days how far away we are from that!

On a positive note, it seems like recruiting over the past couple of years has focused more on signing good defensive players.

I agree with you.  I don't think Johnson is in it for the money.  I think he's real ornery about his offense and wants to win a NC just to prove it can work.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@Birmingham__Jacket @khd713 He will never win a national championship.  That is absolutely laughable.  Alabama's defensive front would emasculate you.  They would chew up your silly offense, spit it out and make you eat it.  Ohio State would do the same.  You have no idea what it's like to play teams like that because you never play them.  No, UGA isn't beating teams like that either but at least we play them.  You win 10 or so games in the ACC and beat Georgia once every 8 years and think you're national championship material.  It's a joke.   


You Techies never learn.  It's hysterical. 

GTPhenom
GTPhenom

@dawg fan This is beyond factually untrue. Did you do any kind of research into the ACTUAL turnover statistics for teams, or more specifically, into Georgia Tech? Yes, you are correct, Tech tends to fumble the ball more than other teams. That's the nature of the beast when you run the ball so much more than passing it. With that being said, fumbles are only one type of turnover, so let's actually break this down with STATS, and not talk out of our rear ends, shall we.


First, let's look at the average rank for turnovers per game. We'll use UGA as a relevant comparison just because it's easy to do so. Since 2008, when Johnson became GT's head coach, Tech's average rank in Turnovers per game comes out to just shy of 53rd out of all FBS teams. Not great, but not terrible either, as you clearly make it out to be. During that stretch, there were some great years (2009 at 16th nationally), and some really lean years (2013, which conveniently coincides with the year Vad Lee ran the offense. Makes sense).


For UGA during that same stretch, the aggregate came out to just shy of 43rd overall, so marginally better than Tech, certainly, but not by the wide margin you make it out to be. During that time, UGA had a very, very good year (last year, at 3rd nationally), and some leans years (like 09-10 at 99th nationally).


But let's dig deeper shall we? Let's go for the average turnovers per game over that exact same stretch of time. For GT during that same time frame, the Jackets averaged right around 1.64 turnovers per game, while UGA average right at 1.51 turnovers per game. So, to work that math for you, that means that GT would turn the ball over one more time than UGA over a stretch of about 9-10 games. So in other words, the margin of difference when it comes to turnovers between these two teams is *very* small. 


But, according to your argument, GT's "option" offense turns the ball over SO much more than the pro style offense of the pups, right? It's such an *obvious* downfall for the offense. Reality would certainly argue otherwise if you had actually spent five minutes looking up any facts for your argument buddy.


The TL;DR version of this? Actual facts suggest that Tech doesn't really turn the ball over much more than the average team in the FBS. And as is typical, irregardless of what offense you run, teams that are good, and have successful seasons, typically turn the ball over a lot less than bad teams, and numbers support that!. 

Peachs
Peachs

@Birmingham__Jacket @dawg fan it is not much difference from Auburn's except they do short passes and laterals instead of hand off.  The thing you count on is these five star recruits don't have football skills, especially Georgia.  They are like basketball players who can't shoot foul shots and then complain about being fouled all the time.  Maybe the point should be made here that a man is stupid to run a conventional offense to a defense that has been recruited and bread to handle a convention pass oriented offence and has not got the character to stick their nose in it, and make tackles.

GTPhenom
GTPhenom

@GTBob @dawg fan Yep. It literally takes less than five minutes to see that turnovers have no higher correlation with an option offense than any other typical offensive scheme. Good teams are good because they don't turn the ball over very often (among other things) and bad teams are typically bad because they do turn the ball over quite often. Simple as that.

GTBob
GTBob

@dawg fan Tech was actually in the top (or bottom) 35 last year in turnovers lost. We had less than Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, Ole Miss, and all of those other big bad guys with their amazingly awesome pro schemes. 

Bob Rodes
Bob Rodes

@Honest and Frank Sort of like what Notre Dame is doing.  Interesting.  Our scout team runs a triple option offense.

Bob Rodes
Bob Rodes

@dawg fan @Wreck13 12 fumbles is less than the 13 UGA lost, dawg fan.  But 12 is a lot.  it's the number Notre Dame lost last year.

Birmingham__Jacket
Birmingham__Jacket

Notre Dame won't stop Tech's option.  The question is will Tech's offense beat itself with turnovers.

The defense however is the biggest question.  Can we get more than 1 or 2 stops?  Can we get a stop?

HomerAdams
HomerAdams

The triple option is a play in the GT offense - it is NOT a offence scheme.

Quackmeyer
Quackmeyer

@HomerAdams  Doesn't GT refer to it's offense as an option offense?  The tv announcers use triple option because they are lazy and don't do much of their own research.

Honest and Frank
Honest and Frank

It's technically a spread option offense. The triple is run about 10-15% of the time

Wreck13
Wreck13

this is GREAT and funny article. MUST READ 

GT-UT
GT-UT

@Wreck13 FANTASTIC ARTICLE!

Sorry Ken....your stuff is great too!!

KKA
KKA

@Wreck13 Thanks for sharing this great, enjoyable article.  It's Great to be a YELLOW JACKET!!!!!!

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Yeck will stop themselves with turnovers and choke on defense when it matters most.

If you do happen to win you could have rings made.

Bob Rodes
Bob Rodes

@Wreck13 Great article, even for a Notre Dame fan.  Gotta love a guy who thumbs his nose at convention and backs it up.

Bob Rodes
Bob Rodes

@Wreck13 Gee, that reminds me of Notre Dame's attitude.  Looking forward to seeing y'all on Saturday.  Let's all hope nobody gets hurt.

Wreck13
Wreck13

Kelly said experience from playing an annual game against Navy should help the Irish a bit, but not significantly.

''The ACC sees Georgia Tech each year and that doesn't seem to help them very much,'' he said.

Johnson is not concerned about players taking the Irish lightly, but taking themselves too seriously after consecutive blowouts.

''Certainly, it's a huge step up in competition,'' Johnson said. ''It's really a tough place to play. They have a great home-field advantage, a lot of tradition, and some really good football players.

''You're never as good or bad as it seems. There's a middle ground, and it's my job to point that out to our guys. Sometimes, when everybody is telling you you're all this and the cat's meow, that's a trap and you better not fall into it.''

BFTech67
BFTech67

Still don't understand the comments boring to watch....it might be possible that tide is turning though the way Thomas has run it as no one has done it better at Tech. They used to say it wasn't a big play offense and nothing could be further from the truth.  Tech has great opportunity this year to continue making a statement - we will really get to see how much the defense has improved from this point forward....hopeful.

Wreck13
Wreck13

@BFTech67 funny the MUTT fans hate all the RUNNING Tech does but they are now telling their coaches to just run the ball with all the RB they have. 

Already_Older
Already_Older

@BFTech67 They kept pointing out in last week's telecast that last year over 1/3 of Tech's scoring drives lasted under 2 minutes.  Against our "less strong" opponents this year, it is over 1/2 (I believe).  That is not 3 yards and I pile of dust.  I challenge you to find many other offenses that can do that.

(Sorry, didn't see GT-UT's post below before posting this... Obviously I agree with him!)

SansWorld
SansWorld

@BFTech67 

I think it is a blast to watch, though  would think that the death march drive with repeated b back dives gets old for opposing fans.


I can not stand watching Run and shoot offences where they line up quickly, then the QB stares at the sidelines for 25 seconds before getting a play. that is the most tedious and boring football in my opinion. The announcers don't really know what to say because play could be run in any second.

khd713
khd713

@BFTech67  Well, it all depends on the quarterback. I'm the biggest GT fan there is, but with anybody other than Nesbitt or Thomas running the show, there were times when PJ's offense looked horrible. For this offense to work, the quarterback has to be able to pass at least a little bit. If there's no threat of a pass, which is what we saw a lot under Tevin and Vad, defenses can shut down the other options and make the offense look slow and outdated. I've always said PJ's offense is the most exciting offense in the world when it works, and the ugliest offense in the world when it doesn't.

Bob Rodes
Bob Rodes

@BFTech67 Big plays are overrated.  You can nickel and dime your way to a win more easily, especially if the other guy is looking for the big knockout.

AugustaJacket
AugustaJacket

For those who are concerned about TE coverage, GT has actually done well against TEs over the past few years.  I ran the stats last year and there's only been a couple of games where the TE has gashed us.  As @GeorgeStein said, in the UNC game against Ebron, we shut him down in the second half. 

AugustaJacket
AugustaJacket

@GT-UT @AugustaJacket @GeorgeStein Of the 21 passes completed by FSU during that game, O'Leary had 3 completions.  Unfortunately, one of them broke for a 46 yard TD.  As a matter of fact. 61 of his 97 yards came on the first FSU drive.  He was held to one more catch the entire game.  (3 1/2+ qtrs) 

Honest and Frank
Honest and Frank

I'm not as worried about their TE as much as their stud WR. He good!!

Bob Rodes
Bob Rodes

@Honest and Frank Our starting TE tore his MCL last week too.  We got a few more, though...Fuller is definitely good.  So is Torii Hunter.  Might see more of him this week.