ATLANTA — Jonathan Leifheit covers Georgia Tech football for GoJackets.com and knows the team as well as anyone. We asked Leifheit five questions to gain better perspective on BYU's next opponent.
1. Georgia Tech seems to be a bit up and down this season. It's proven to be a team that can hang with the likes of Clemson on the road, but drop a game at home against Middle Tennessee State. What has led to the inconsistency and what have coaches done to address it?
The inconsistency has largely been a function of the defense and to a lesser extent poor special teams play. The defense has largely been confused and out of position for most of the year. Also, the Miami game was a very emotional loss and I believe the resulting hangover/loss of focus led directly to the MTSU loss. It’s not often you see a team as flat as Georgia Tech was against MTSU.
Clearly, the biggest thing that has been done to address the inconsistency was to fire Al Groh and elevate Charles Kelly to the defensive coordinator position. There’s only been one game (vs Boston College) since that change. But, the defense did fare somewhat better — allowing the Yellow Jackets to build a 31-3 lead before allowing 2 touchdowns. Can they sustain that improvement? That is the million-dollar question.
2. Georgia Tech runs an unusual and highly effective offensive system. Describe the system it runs and what makes it so productive? Who are the primary playmakers?
The system is called a spread option offense by coach Paul Johnson. Most television commentators will refer to it as a triple option offense. The basic formation is a double slot and single tailback formation. Some call the formation a flex-bone formation.
The bread and butter play (which will be called about 20-30 percent typically) is a triple option play. Option 1 is a quarterback give to the fullback, option 2 is for the quarterback to keep it himself, and the last option is for the quarterback to pitch to an A-back (aka slot back). All of the decisions on whether to give or keep are predicated on how the defense plays that particular play.
The success is due to a number of factors. First, teams are not accustomed to facing an offense like this. They will try to replicate it in practice. But, it takes a bit to get used to the speed at which the plays are run.
Second, (coach) Paul Johnson has been running the system for over 25 years and has learned how to adjust very well during the game to what the defense is giving him. These adjustments are not limited to simply calling different plays. It also means changing up who is blocking who and keeping the defense guessing against the same plays.
Third, the nature of the offense leaves the receivers typically in a one-on-one matchup with the defense and quite frequently the offense is able to take advantage of this and hit for big pass plays. The offense doesn’t typically pass much. But, they are very effective when they do.
Playmakers on the offensive side are primarily quarterback Tevin Washington and A-back Orwin Smith. But, the other A-backs (Robbie Godhigh, BJ Bostic, and Tony Zenon) along with freshman wide receiver Anthony Autry are also very capable as you would expect many playmakers from an offense as good as this one. Washington is like football’s version of the point guard. He doesn’t wow you with his athleticism but he almost always makes the right decision in running plays (which is a huge component of running this offense). This year his passing has also been very effective — if not very pretty.
The A-backs will all see the ball on the perimeter when rushing and also they are the best receivers for this year’s version of the offense. Outside of the recent emergence of Anthony Autry, the wide receivers have not been as big a part of the offense as years past.
3. What type of defense does Georgia Tech run and who are the primary playmakers on that side of the football?
Georgia Tech primarily plays a 3-4 defense. One will see them move to a 4-3 on obvious passing downs — but that is somewhat rare. The primary playmakers are Jeremiah Attaochu (outside linebacker), Rod Sweeting (cornerback), and Jemea Thomas (safety/cornerback). As noted previously, this group has struggled this season. But, it will be interesting to see if the improvement seen versus Boston College carries over or not.
4. How does Georgia Tech regard BYU, and what could potentially give the Yellowjackets difficulties come Saturday? What does Georgia Tech need to do to ensure a victory?
There is plenty of respect for BYU. BYU has an outstanding front 7 on defense and everyone in Atlanta fully expects to see them give the GT offense fits. Blocking the BYU front 7 one-on-one is not going to be an easy task.
To win, GT needs to hang on to the ball (nothing unusual there) and also do a good job of blocking in space. If they are able to block, then they should have some opportunities for big plays. The GT offense is among the nation’s best in big plays – either leading or second in plays of over 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 yards.
Last, the defense needs to continue its progress from last week and improve – particularly with regard to getting pressure on the quarterback.
All in all, this is a game that matches strength vs. strength (the GT O vs. the BYU D) and weakness vs. weakness (the BYU O vs. the GT D.)
5. BYU fans travel well and there are sure to be many who make the trip down to see the game. What type of atmosphere can BYU fans expect and what are some of the game-time traditions?
Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field is the oldest on-campus stadium in the country. So, there is a lot of history there and the stadium itself is a unique mixture of architectures. Georgia Tech also has a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe (aka the Rambling Wreck) that leads the team out before the game. Typically, he Wreck can be found driving all over campus before games – visiting fans everywhere.
Additionally, the Georgia Tech band sends groups all over campus as well to play for tailgaters. The fight song – “I’m a Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech” - is also a song with much history having been part of Georgia Tech history for about 100 years and was actually sung by Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev back in the 50s at a famous meeting. It’s a great song and usually rated by most as one of the best fight songs in the country. Another great game tradition is the playing of “Bud” at the end of the 3rd quarter by the Georgia Tech band. Fans join in by bobbing up and down and all yell in unison at the appropriate time.
Georgia Tech has a somewhat smaller fan base than many schools. But, I think one can expect that there will be about 45,000 fans in attendance (plus or minus) and the acoustics at Bobby Dodd Stadium contain the noise fairly well. So, it can get fairly loud in the stadium – even with the somewhat smaller numbers. Capacity is 55,000 but the somewhat disappointing results to date will limit the turnout.