CHAPEL HILL, NC – Andre Smith has unfinished business with Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense.
In last year’s 38-31 win over the Yellow Jackets, Smith, a backup freshman middle linebacker at the time, subbed in for veteran Jeff Schoettmer in the first half.
“I got a series in,” Smith said on Tuesday. “The third series of the game [linebackers] coach [John Papuchis] threw me in because he knew we’d be in a situation like this where Schoett would be gone this year and I needed game experience playing against them.”
The specific drive that Smith entered the game for ended in a Georgia Tech touchdown. The linebacker said his mistake on a fourth-down conversion is what eventually led the Yellow Jackets to the end zone.
“We got them to a fourth down and then I messed up and they got the first,” Smith said. “Then they ended up scoring. It wasn’t one of my better drives but I definitely learned a lot from it…. I didn’t go from the fullback to the wings because they ran the triple-option and I was supposed to be on the pitch and I got there late.”
Junior linebacker Cayson Collins says that Smith’s exposure to last year’s game was a positive experience for the young linebacker.
“In the game last year he got a series and when he came in he did an okay job of seeing what he was supposed to see and going where he was supposed to go,” Collins said. “It’s definitely something we’ve had to work at, all of us.”
Flash forward to present day, and Smith is ready for redemption as UNC’s starting middle linebacker. He has seven starts under his belt this season, although none of which could prepare him for Georgia Tech’s triple-option. Smith’s preparation for the run-oriented offensive attack has involved an emphasis on minimizing personal mistakes.
“Right when you mess up or do someone else’s job, they can come back and hit you again,” Smith said. “If your eyes are bad, the coordinators up top are going to see it, so they’re going to hit you with the same play again and again.”
Smith says that the way to prevent those mistakes is with constant focus and keeping his eyes where they are supposed to be on every play.
“The whole game is basically on the shoulders of all 11 people, but if the Mike and the defensive end don’t have their eyes right it could be a bad game,” he said. “(Coaches) been stressing that all week to make sure my eyes are in the right place.”
As the middle man in UNC’s defense, Smith is also tasked with making sure all 10 of his teammates are where they are supposed to be each play. He says that the extra week of preparation due to the bye week has actually been easier on him since everyone has had more time to learn GT’s offense.
“Everyone already knows their job,” Smith said, “so there’s not as much communication between the linebackers and the defensive line… There’s definitely times where I’m running past the quarterback and he’s about to pitch it but I know that I’ve got pitch. You want to make a play but you’ve got to have that discipline and that focus to just do your job and trust your teammates are going to do their job.”
Trust has become a major component of UNC’s defensive preparation for Georgia Tech, and Smith’s teammates have reciprocated.
“The rules are different than any other defense that we’ve experienced,” sophomore linebacker Cole Holcomb said. “Andre is doing great. He’s one of those guys where you have to have a lot of trust in your teammates and he’s got a ton of trust in us. He just knows if he’s got to go get to the pitch, then he’s going to go get to the pitch and I’ll handle the quarterback, or I’ll handle the quarterback and dive and he’ll go get the pitch.”
With Smith being able to focus solely on his own responsibilities, he says that his biggest challenge will be to not trust his instincts and instead “play like a robot.”