PITTSBURGH – Facing Georgia Tech used to mean one thing: facing the triple option offense, made famous by coach Paul Johnson at both Navy and Georgia Tech. A unique scheme in college football, it presented a challenge to opposing defenses.
Last year, Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi said his team had spent time on the option in summer training camp so it would be well-prepared to face the A-backs, B-backs, and a running quarterback.
Now the Panthers are tasked with facing a much different offense after the Ramblin’ Wreck leads Georgia Tech onto the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta today.
At the end of last year, Johnson retired after 11 seasons with Georgia Tech and with Johnson went the triple option. Geoff Collins was hired away from Temple as Johnson’s successor.
Under Collins, Georgia Tech is transitioning from the option to a more modern, pro-style offense. It’s quite the task considering certain players were recruited specifically to fit Johnson’s scheme. Collins inherited a roster with 13 running backs, no tight ends, and no slot receivers.
Making such a major shift from a scheme requiring certain personnel to a drastically different approach is not something Narduzzi has had to do, nor is it something he envies.
“No, not really. Thank God,” Narduzzi said when asked if he had ever been in a similar situation. “That’s a tough deal to walk into, I think. Geoff will do as good a job as anybody in the country, and he already has.”
Narduzzi has prepared his team for myriad of offensive looks, even going back to watch tape on Temple from Collins’ time as head coach there.
“I think every week there’s a new offense as far as what they try to do and try to create,” Narduzzi said. “So you kind of don’t know what you’re going to get offensively when you look at what they do.”
Narduzzi still isn’t ruling out seeing some option from the Yellow Jackets.
“You know, they’ve got a little option they run. There’s sometimes they look like they’re lining up in a spread offense and there’s sometimes they’ll run some speed option,” Narduzzi said. “Not near as much as Duke, but who knows, we may see the whole game they may line up in it. We’ll watch that Duke game and maybe put it back in.
“They’re very creative on offense.”
Georgia Tech running back Jordan Mason is one guy Pitt’s defense must keep an eye on. Mason leads the Jackets in touchdowns (6) and rushing yards (566). He posted a season-best performance against Miami, with 141 yards on 20 carries.
“They run physical. They’re trying to make you miss,” Narduzzi said. “They’ll try to truck you and run you over and get another 10 yards.”
Georgia Tech may be showing more looks offensively, but the transition away from the option has been painful. The Yellow Jackets hold a 2-5 record, and a 1-3 mark in the ACC, putting them in last place in the Coastal Division. Georgia Tech’s offense has struggled to score, averaging just 18.1 points per game. Pitt’s defense will present another challenge for Georgia Tech; the Panthers have allowed 20 points or fewer in five out of eight games this season.
Even in the Yellow Jackets’ 28-21 overtime upset of Miami two weeks ago, the offense accounted for only two touchdowns; the defense scored one after recovering a fumble in the end zone and special teams added another, a 41-yard touchdown reception by Nathan Cottrell on a fake punt.
Narduzzi mentioned Collins’ use of tricks on special teams, something the Panthers will have to be prepared for – much like they were a season ago. In last year’s meeting between the two teams, the Jackets attempted a fake punt late in the first quarter. The Panthers sniffed it out, and took a 14-0 lead three plays later.
For Pitt, today’s game will be an opportunity to rebound from a messy loss to Miami last week. The offense has been held without a touchdown for six consecutive quarters, and Miami held the Panthers to 146 yards passing – their lowest total this season.
Narduzzi thinks his players are up to the task of turning things around in Atlanta.
“I’ve got a good sense of who our players are in this room and how much they care and (they) won’t let it happen again,” he said.