Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Jackets' offense stumps Virginia

Jackets' offense stumps Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Al Groh stood in the driving rain, his arms outstretched and his palms to the sky -- the waterlogged pose of a desperate man.

The Virginia coach was seeking an explanation for a critical personal foul call against his team, but he just as easily could have been asking the question so many before him have pondered:

How, exactly, do you get this Georgia Tech offense off the field?

The Cavaliers had no answer Saturday. Neither did Virginia Tech last week. But somebody's got to solve it because the Yellow Jackets are becoming more destructive by the day.

Their October sweep of the state's two Division I-A programs -- punctuated by a 34-9 trouncing of UVa at Scott Stadium -- confirmed what Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson already knew: This offense is not a gimmick. It's not a freak show. It's a legitimate, effective beast that gobbles up first downs, swallows the game clock and then belches all over a tired defense.

And the worst part for Georgia Tech's ACC rivals? The offense is evolving.

Not long ago, the Jackets would beat you by fooling you early with scheme. By the time you adjusted, you were too far behind. Panicked. Mistake prone.

But look at what has happened the past two weeks: The Jackets have started slowly on offense, then unloaded in the second half. The Hokies and Cavaliers each showed up with solid defensive game plans and kept the first half close. Then both held the ball under eight minutes after halftime. That's nearly a 3-to-1 disparity -- a brutal disadvantage to try to overcome.

"Just too many explosive plays," UVa defensive lineman Zane Parr said. "A lot of cut blocks getting guys on the ground. It was hard for us to get to the ball. Too many guys were on the ground. People were missing tackles. They ran real hard. Their line did what they needed to do."

Read that last quote again. See the way Parr structured his sentences? Short and to the point. One sentence about what went wrong. Then another. Then another.

That's how Georgia Tech's offense does it. Five yards. Then 6. Then 3. Yes, the Jackets have the athletes to break a big one, but what they do better than anyone is grind you. They'll gain 4 yards on their first two snaps of a series, dangling a carrot in front of the hopeful crowd, allowing the defense to dream of a stop.

Then they'll break off a 7-yard run. Nothing spectacular, but the chains move again.

Johnson's instant success last year raised a valid question: Would ACC defenses catch up to the offense in 2009, diminishing its effectiveness? Or would the opposite happen? Would the Jackets gain more confidence in the system, making it more lethal?

That's been answered. The faith Georgia Tech's players have in the spread option now matches the certainty Johnson had in it all along. As Groh would say, "confidence is a result of demonstrated performance." And said performance has been demonstrated in Atlanta.

According to Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen, this is what Johnson tells the team before every game, including this one: "We're going to run our base play, and they're going to have to stop it." That's basically it. And once again, the other team couldn't.

Now, we can't give all the credit to scheme. Anybody who saw the 6-foot, 231-pound Allen collide head-on with UVa cornerback Ras-I Dowling at the line of scrimmage, reverse field without a trace of lost balance and pick up 6 yards knows that's talent.

Anybody who saw Jackets receiver Demaryius Thomas reach up and pluck a 42-yard pass away from safety Corey Mosely -- mere moments after Mosely had broken up a similar play -- knows that's a tough matchup for any defensive back.

Allen is a junior. So is Thomas. So are Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer, the other two guys who make this offense go.

And Johnson? He's going to be around for a while.

Somebody had better figure him out, though, or there's going to be a lot of ACC coaches feeling like Groh did Saturday -- frustrated, answerless, and all wet.

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