The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are taking on the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday, and the two head coaches, Paul Johnson and Bronco Mendenhall, have exchanged some pleasantries ahead of kickoff. Earlier in the week, the UVA head coach said he has a passion for defending teams that run the option, which Georgia Tech runs. Johnson’s response to that comment was fantastic, to say the least.
“My passion is playing against 3-4 teams, I dunno.” — Paul Johnson with a wry laugh.— Brad Franklin (@Cavs_Corner) November 1, 2017
Never change, Paul. Never.
Now to be clear here, Johnson’s talking about the 3-4 defensive alignment that Mendenhall’s defenses run. Mendenhall has talked about defending option teams in the past.
“I love playing option football teams,” he said via The Virginian-Pilot ahead of last year’s matchup. “It’s a great challenge.”
Johnson’s teams have had mixed results against Bronco’s defenses in the past.
Last year, the Yellow Jackets ran for 6.4 yards per carry against UVA in a 31-17 victory. In 2013, when Mendenhall’s BYU team beat Tech 38-20, Johnson’s offense had 4.6 yards per carry. The year before when the two teams met in Atlanta, Bronco’s defense held the Yellow Jackets to just 3.3 yards per carry, and his offense got 7.9 yards per carry on the ground against Tech’s defense, winning 41-17.
Defending option teams is obviously no easy task, but as Johnson’s protégé and current Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo pointed out to SB Nation in July, there’s no cookie-cutter way to do it:
"[OC] Ivin [Jasper] and I have learned from the best, and we've seen everything. There's nothing you can throw at us that we haven't seen."
And if there's not a lot of film of you defending the option, Niumatalolo and Jasper take well-educated guesses.
"We've seen some guys who line up and try to keep it simple, and we see some who try to change the defense on every play. Which is fine. It's not a very complicated offense, but there are so many intricacies that we've been doing for so long. We've got certain things for slanting defenses, for even-front teams, for pressure. The last resort of the defense is to start firing people from the secondary, which we have answers for, too."
"There are so many times where we're preparing for an off front, and it's totally different. So we simply adjust, after the first snap, not at halftime. I stay parallel to the line and see all the calls, and we're all funneling information to Coach Jasper.
"I can't tell you how many games where we have had to junk our game plan. But we've been doing this for so long. Nobody panics."
Last week during the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Clemson, their offense was held to its second-lowest yards per carry of the season, averaging 4.6. We’ll see who gets the best of which defense on the ground on Saturday. Georgia Tech is currently an 8.5-point favorite.