Keep­ing it sim­ple jump-starts Jack­ets’ of­fense

Play­ers have greater con­fi­dence, cer­tainty in their as­sign­ments.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS - By Ken Sugiura ksug­iura@ajc.com

One of the more in­trigu­ing el­e­ments of Ge­or­gia Tech’s op­tion of­fense is its po­ten­tial to break a huge gain out of a seem­ingly pedes­trian triple-op­tion play or toss to an A-back. When blocked and ex­e­cuted right, any play in coach Paul John­son’s play­book can gash a de­fense.

This sea­son alone, Yel­low Jack­ets fans have seen it with backup quar­ter­back To­bias Oliver hav­ing two runs of 60 yards or more — tied for third na­tion­ally — de­spite only hav­ing a to­tal of 54 car­ries. From 2013 to 2017, Tech broke a play of 40 yards or more once ev­ery 44 snaps. For Duke, Tech’s

op­po­nent to­day at Bobby Dodd Sta­dium, the rate was one ev­ery 76 plays.

But Tech’s of­fen­sive resur­gence in the past two games has been cat­alyzed in part by an ac­cep­tance that not ev­ery play has to break so dra­mat­i­cally. The Jack­ets have re­duced their po­ten­tial to pick up a huge gain, which some­times brought the risk of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion and fouled-up ex­e­cu­tion, in ex­change for an in­creased like­li­hood the play will be run ef­fec­tively.

That switch has been el­e­men­tal in the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the of­fense John­son and Jack­ets play-

ers have de­scribed.

“Less con­tin­gen­cies for each play and a will­ing­ness to run it only to get 5 or 6 yards, as op­posed to al­ways look­ing for that per­fect play,” left guard Parker Braun told the AJC. “I think that’s re­ally im­por­tant be­cause if we stress about, ‘Oh, we need a 40-yard gain right here’ or ‘We need a score in the next few plays,’ that’s not re­ally what the of­fense is de­signed to do.”

Typ­i­cally, the o ffense has two op­tions on how to block a play based on how the de­fense aligns. But the line call­ing out a change also means ad­just­ments for other play­ers, as well.

A change in block­ing as­sign­ments on the line “tells the B-back to do some­thing else, too,” Braun said. “So (J ohn­son) didn’t re­ally want us to mess up any other po­si­tion groups like that.”

Fol­low­ing the sim­pli­fica- tion of the of­fense af­ter the team’s 49-21 loss to Clem­son, John­son said on his ra­dio show vet­eran line­men were out­smart­ing them­selves by chang­ing their calls at the line and were mak­ing things harder on them­selves.

As John­son put it this week, “We took away some calls, and we just kind of play. Go out there, come off the ball, play fast.”

Be­fore the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, A-back Clin­ton Lynch said there were prob­lems with play­ers not know­ing as­sign­ments as the de­fense shifted pre-snap and plays were checked. The change has given play­ers greater con­fi­dence and cer­tainty in their as­sign­ments.

“I would say ev­ery­body’s more re­laxed now in just know­ing their job,” Lynch said.

Braun gave an ex­am­ple of a play from the win over Louisville on Fri­day. Braun said the way the of­fense was to block a par­tic­u­lar run play, the back­side safety would not be ac­counted for, mean­ing he would be free to make the tackle. But, where a call might have pre­vi­ously been made to switch block- ing as­sign­ments to get the safety blocked, Tech stuck with the orig­i­nal call. With all 11 play­ers on the same page, it still turned into a solid pickup.

The sim­pli­fi­ca­tion has eased some of the bur­den on quar­ter­back TaQuon Mar­shall. At the same time, John- son has worked with him to im­prove his fun­damen- tal play — such as mak­ing the cor­rect read on op­tion plays, cut­ting up­field sooner and pitch­ing the ball safely to the A-backs — and tried to clear his head. John­son felt Mar­shall was forc­ing plays.

“Worry about things you can con­trol,” John­son said, para­phras­ing his mes­sage to his quar­ter­back. “Fo­cus on what you can con­trol and let the noise and let all the other stuff go, be­cause that’s all it is. You can’t con­trol it.”

Mar­shall rec­og­nized per- haps he was try­ing to do too much, bear­ing the re­spon- sibil­ity placed upon him as quar­ter­back and cap­tain.

“Just try­ing to make too many things hap­pen,” he said. “I think I calmed down a lit­tle bit. My nerves are down a lit­tle bit. More just try­ing to go out and have fun and play be­cause it’s my last go-round.”

To Braun, the dif­fer­ence in Mar­shall has been per­cep­ti­ble.

“Just dif­fer­ent vibes from him,” Braun said. “And it feels more like Ten­nessee last year.”

The Te n nessee game, you’ll re­call, was Mar­shall’s start­ing de­but, when he ran for 249 yards (the most by a Tech quar­ter­back) and a school-record five touch- downs as he nearly led the Jack­ets to a win in the 2017 sea­son opener.

The re­sults have been star- tling. Not count­ing clock-killing pos­ses­sions at the end of the Bowl­ing Green and Louisville games, the Tech of­fense has scored 16 touch­downs in 18 pos­ses­sions. In the past two games, the Tech of­fense has had two fum­bles and one (post-play) penalty. In the first four, the num­bers were 14 and eight.

“Of­fen­sively, they’re maybe as good as I’ve seen them,” said Duke coach David Cut­cliffe, who has op­posed the Jack­ets for the en­tirety of John­son’s 11-sea- son ten­ure.

Cut­cliffe will get a first­hand look to­day, and he’ll bring a de­fense sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than Bowl­ing Green or Louisville fea­tured. It will be a se­vere test for both sides.

“I think ev­ery­thing’s go­ing the way we want it to go,” Mar­shall said. “I think every­one knows what they’re do­ing. We’re keep­ing it re­ally sim­ple right now, so it’s kind of hard to mess it up.”

HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

“I think every­one knows what they’re do­ing. We’re keep­ing it re­ally sim­ple right now, so it’s kind of hard to mess it up,” says QB TaQuon Mar­shall (with coach Paul John­son).

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