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Assignment football: it was a common theme among the Maryland football team this week, as it's the only strategy to try and contain Georgia Tech's triple-option. And different than the prototypical triple-option, there's a serious passing element involved.
Georgia Tech owns the nation's top rushing offense and ranks second in scoring, not to mention their quarterback, Tevin Washington, orchestrates the most efficient pass offense.
A dual-threat quarterback, Washington has 10 touchdowns compared to just one interception. He's also racked up 248 yards on the ground and four rushing scores. Running back Orwin Smith is averaging more than 15 yards per carry and leads the ACC with eight total touchdown, and wide receiver Stephen Hill averages 33.5 yards per reception, good for tops in the nation.
It's quite obvious; the Terps need to play keep away.
"You have to take advantage of every possession that you have because you might not have a lot of possessions," Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said. "They move the ball and they can eat up a lot of time sometimes on drives, so you've got to be very efficient with every drive that you have.
The last time the team faced a triple-option offense, it was the opener against Navy, in which Ricky Dobbs and Co. torched the Terps defense for 412 rushing yards, but were held to just 14 points. On the season, the Midshipmen averaged nearly 30 points per game.
Defensive tackle Joe Vellano, who had five tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks in the Navy game, said containing the triple-option is pretty simple.
"I actually don't think it's that hard. You just got to do your job – when it comes your way, it comes your way," he said. "The biggest thing on option is that if you get caught … just stay alive and get in and out of the play. It's assignment football."
Maryland, though, ranks 11th in the conference in defending the rush and passing efficiency, allowing nearly 180 yards per game and opposing quarterbacks a 133.3 rating. A perfect storm for Georgia Tech; a nightmare for the Terps.
The key, according to Vellano, is forcing Washington to turn the ball over. Vellano called turnovers "game-changers," explaining that a bad pitch could completely destroy momentum. He also said that despite their dominant rushing game, it's their aerial attack that produces touchdowns.
"When they throw, they throw to score. They get you always thinking the option, and you play out of your assignment," Vellano said. "When they throw the ball, it's not crazy routes. It's nothing that we haven't seen. It's just when they throw, they throw to score because you really got to respect the run so much. When they throw it's going to be big plays. You really have to keep everything in front of you."
Meanwhile, the offense is focusing on defense. After rediscovering their ground-and-pound attack last week against Towson, the Terps aim to win the time of possession battle, keeping that prolific Yellow Jackets offense off the field.
"You go against an offense like Georgia Tech," offensive guard Andrew Gonnella said, "time management and ball control usually ends up being one of the biggest factors in the game."
Quarterback Danny O'Brien echoed that notion, then added that converting third downs would be especially crucial this week. This season, Maryland is converting third downs just under 38 percent of the time. And despite the victory last week, the offense was just three-for-nine in those situations.
To try and improve their efficiency, especially on the road, Gary Crowton is implementing some cadence changes and silent counts, which will also play to the crowd noise at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Posters featuring the likes of Scott Van Pelt, Torrey Smith, even Regis Philbin will be used.
Though O'Brien wouldn't provide any insight to what any of the posters stood for, he did offer some strategy.
"Every week you want to convert on third downs, but it's magnified now because when you punt the ball you don't know when you're going to get it back in this kind of offense. We're going to have be really, really sharp on third downs, staying out of third-and-longs and keeping them off the field because that could be our best defense."