Assignment Football

ATHENS – Georgia Tech has three losses, so Georgia defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said he's certain the Yellow Jackets' vaunted triple-option offense can be stopped. Whether the Bulldogs defense is able to do it, however, remains to be seen.

While the Bulldogs figure to be the faster team on the field in Saturday's showdown, they're quickly learning that beating the Yellow Jackets is more about patience than speed, and patience hasn't exactly been their strong point during the past month.

"Hustle can overcome some things with other teams," linebacker Rennie Curran said, "but with an offense like this, if one guy messes up, it's going to be a big gash."

Georgia Tech's triple option offense thrives on confusion, Curran said. The Yellow Jackets prey on defenders who grow impatient and find themselves out of position.

Georgia has had two weeks to prepare for Tech, however, and Curran insists that is the key to winning. The more Georgia's defenders are able to recognize a play and know their assignment, the better the chance they'll have of slowing down the Tech offense.

"Assignments are going to be big," Irvin said. "They don't have a lot of plays they're going to run, but if you can't stop it, they're going to kill you."

That hasn't been an easy task for many of Tech's foes this season.

The Yellow Jackets are second in the ACC in total offense and lead the conference in rushing offense. Their 270 yard-per-game average on the ground is the fourth-best in the nation and a full 80 yards per game better than their closest ACC competition.

Against Miami last week, Tech exploited the Hurricanes' lack of patience to the tune of 486 yards of rushing offense in a 41-23 win.

"When you play this offense, you have to have discipline in your assignments," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "Certain guys are assigned to handle different parts of this option, and if one guy tries to do someone else's job, then you've got problems. I think sometimes guys get a little impatient and they want to just go get the quarterback or get the pitch back and that might not be their assignment."

That has been an ongoing problem for the Bulldogs this season.

Each of Georgia's past four opponents have run for at least 120 yards, including a 226-yard gashing at the hands of Kentucky's offense, which frequently featured an option attack.

After escaping with a 42-38 win over the Wildcats, Curran said the game wasn't a large-scale disaster, but rather a function of one or two players being out of place. That's something Georgia has focused on over the past three weeks, and Curran said the improvements have been noticeable.

"We've been getting better at playing assignment football," Curran said, "and this game is going to test us to see how much we're able to be disciplined with each guy taking on his assignment and doing things right."

Leaving an assignment to pursue the football, however, can be tempting against Tech. While the triple option offers a high-reward outcome, it's high risk, too.

The Yellow Jackets have 33 fumbles this season – three per game – and Curran said recognizing the right key can allow a defender to shoot the gap and create a turnover. The problem, however, arises when a player comes off his assignment too soon.

"If you've got one guy doing something wrong, it's going to leave a hole in the defense, and they'll exploit it sooner or later," Curran said. "From what I've seen, they're going to keep on running that same play until you stop it. So if you're not disciplined, it can really hurt you."

Patience will be a virtue for Georgia's secondary, too.

Tech has thrown the ball just 134 times this season, and against Miami last week, Yellow Jackets quarterback Josh Nesbitt completed just three passes for 24 yards.

The lack of a passing game not only causes opposing corners to play a more physical brand of football against wide receivers more intent on blocking downfield than getting open for a big play, but it also has a tendency to lull the secondary to sleep at times.

"You've got to be even more aware now because they only pass the ball a few times a game," cornerback Asher Allen said. "But they're setting it up, and when they choose to pass, it's going to be the perfect time to."

Preparation is the key, Irvin said, and the team's work in the film room and on the practice field needs to translate to the game if Georgia hopes to slow down the option.

The bottom line is that no one matchup is crucial to this week's game, Irvin said. Success for the defense must come from the entire unit, not one big play by an individual.

"You really can't freelance this game," Irvin said. "You need to make sure you're stepping the right way, you're reading your guard. You just have to play good assignment football, going through key drills, making sure you know the personnel, you know the down and distance, where you are on the field, that'll be big."

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