GT's Triple Option Coming to Town

Inside Carolina takes an in-depth look at Georgia Tech, as North Carolina returns home for a primetime matchup with the Yellow Jackets and Paul Johnson’s triple option offense on Saturday.

Georgia Tech Intro
Brushing aside preseason prognostications, Georgia Tech leapt out to a 5-0 start this season and made an unlikely ascent into the top-25 polls. It took five weeks for head coach Paul Johnson’s team to achieve that status, but it took just 60 minutes to lose it with a 31-25 home loss to Duke on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets have had a soft schedule out of the gate, but everybody in the Kenan Football Center knows how much trouble this team has given the Tar Heels in recent years. UNC has dropped five straight contests to Georgia Tech, and as head coach Larry Fedora alluded to in his weekly press conference on Monday, the Tar Heels are going to have to be incredibly focused to end its losing streak against the Rambling Wreck.

By now, UNC and its fans are all too familiar with the challenges that are presented when facing Johnson’s version of the triple option attack. In 2012, the Jackets hung 68 points on the Tar Heels in Fedora’s first season at the helm. Last season UNC decreased the scoring gap, but still came up short, losing by a score of 28-20. New season, same rushing attack. Georgia Tech’s offensive backs have combined to average 298 rushing yards per game (8th nationally) and 5.7 yards per carry to go along with 98 first downs and 17 rushing touchdowns over the first five games. Senior running back Zach Laskey (105 carries, 523 yards, 3 TD) and quarterback Justin Thomas (93 carries, 633 yards, 3 TD) have taken the majority of the carries thus far. In addition to Laskey and Thomas, six of the eight players with double-digit carries have also averaged more than five yards per carry.

Tech has only lost one game, but opposing offenses have found success against this Yellow Jackets defense. On the ground, opposing offenses are averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Opponents are also averaging 8.7 yards per completion through the air. The front seven has had a tough time getting to the quarterback, having recorded just seven sacks for a total loss of 35 yards. Unlike Notre Dame, Tech’s defensive line does not possess a ton of size - not a single player at defensive end or defensive tackle is listed at over 300 pounds - which should be a welcomed relief for the Tar Heels’ offensive line. Johnson has used his offense to control the clock and protect his defense as the Yellow Jackets are allowing just 61.5 plays per game.

The Yellow Jackets rank 11th in the ACC in total defense (388.3 ypg) and scoring defense (25.0 ppg).

“Defending the triple option is very difficult, whether you’re having success or you’re not. It’s a very difficult offense to run and Paul Johnson runs it as well as any offense in the country.”- Fedora

"Their backs are up against the wall. I'm sure we're going to get their best shot on Saturday night." - Johnson

Notable Matchups
UNC’s Front Seven vs. GT’s Triple Option
North Carolina only fell to Georgia Tech by one score last year, but the numbers tell somewhat of a different story. The Yellow Jackets still ran all over UNC to the tune of 324 yards and three scores. Against Notre Dame, the UNC front seven once again had issues stopping the run, as the Irish averaged 5.1 yards per carry and tallied 219 net rushing yards. Gap integrity has been an issue for UNC up front, and that’s never a good sign entering a game with the Yellow Jackets as Johnson’s scheme is built on attacking weaknesses in defensive approach. UNC’s first task is stopping the dive, but from there playing solid gap assignment football is critical in limiting Georgia Tech’s offense. Duke forced three turnovers in its win last week and that may be a critical component if UNC expects to win on Saturday.

UNC’s Offensive Efficiency vs. GT’s Time of Possession Game
Part of what helps the Georgia Tech defense is how well its offense is able to handle the ball. The Jackets are averaging just over 32 minutes of possession time, which isn’t a terribly high number for how this offensive scheme operates. The problem last season was that UNC only had 10 possessions (one of which was under 30 seconds at the end of the half). That number is about five less possessions than UNC has on average. Against Notre Dame, the Tar Heel offense was able to find the end zone more often (they were 5-6 in the red zone) and was 9-of-17 on third down conversions. The concern now is finding that consistency. Quarterback Marquise Williams and his teammates found some things to build on. The question is whether or not they can keep it going.

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