Running All the Way

Who needs the spread? Not Paul Johnson, who fired up his triple-option offense in Georgia Tech's opening win
September 07, 2008

IN AN AGE ofshotgun formations and five-receiver sets, first-year Georgia Tech coach PaulJohnson—to paraphrase the late conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.—standsathwart college football, yelling, Stop! at a time when few are inclined to doso. Indeed, of the 18 Division I-A coaches in new positions this year, nineinstalled a variation of the spread, the pass-happy system that has sweptcollege football (SI, Aug. 11). Then there's Johnson, who in six years at Navywon 45 games and went to five bowls before bringing his triple-option offenseto Atlanta last December.

Last Thursdaynight the Yellow Jackets successfully rolled out their old-fashioned,ground-based attack—"the perfect option," as Johnson calls it—in a41--14 drubbing of Division I-AA Jacksonville State at Bobby Dodd Stadium.After opening with a long pass that fell incomplete (one of only 15 attempts byGeorgia Tech), the Jackets ran the ball 46 times for 349 yards and sixtouchdowns. "There's just too many issues with this offense for people todeal with," Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said after the game. "We had twoand a half weeks. The rest of these folks will get two days. Good luck,ACC."

That's a far cryfrom what was heard before the season opener, when Johnson—who also used thetriple option in winning consecutive I-AA championships in 1999 and 2000 ascoach at Georgia Southern—was besieged by a legion of vociferous doubters. TheRamblin' Wreck's shaky performance in its spring game, replete with fumbles andmissed blocking assignments, didn't do anything to silence critics. But Johnsonis quick to point out that his system has already been ACC-tested: In his lastfour seasons at Annapolis, he went 4--3 against teams in the conference. And atGeorgia Tech he will be running the option with some of the best athletes towhom he's ever had access, including fullback Jonathan Dwyer, a 6-foot,228-pound sophomore who scored twice against Jacksonville State and averaged10.2 yards on 11 up-the-gut carries.

Afterward, Johnsontalked earnestly about how much work his team still has to do before facingBoston College and Virginia Tech in the next two weeks. But Dwyer didn'thesitate to give his unit credit: "We showed our fans and the nation whatthis offense can do."

Here's how sixother marquee coaching debuts turned out last weekend.

ARKANSAS BobbyPetrino

Defeated WesternIllinois 28--24

Narrowly avoidinga disaster in front of a stunned home crowd, Petrino's squad overcame a10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to the Division I-AA Leathernecks. CaseyDick's limited ability as a passer might force Petrino to rely more on therunning game.

MICHIGAN RichRodriguez

Lost to Utah25--23

Nick Sheridan andSteven Threet fulfilled the concern that they were ill-suited to runRodriguez's spread attack, completing 19 of 38 passes combined in generatingonly 203 yards of offense. The weekend wasn't a total loss for RichRod: OnSunday he got a verbal commitment from Tate Forcier, a four-star, dual-threatQB from San Diego.

MISSISSIPPIHouston Nutt

Defeated Memphis41--24

QB Jevan Snead, aTexas transfer, struggled at times, and RB Dexter McCluster stole the show.Playing out of the Wildhog direct-snap formation that Nutt installed atArkansas for Darren McFadden—and redubbed the Wild Rebel on Saturday—McClusterran for 65 yards on six carries, including a 32-yard touchdown dash.

NEBRASKA BoPelini

Defeated WesternMichigan 47--24

Though the Huskersgave up three 80-yard touchdown drives, their defense, with the likes of LBCody Glenn, should be better than last year's. The converted RB had 12 tackles(2 1/2 for losses), three pass breakups and a forced fumble.

SMU June Jones

Lost to Rice56--27

The Mustangs hadtheir moments in their new run-and-shoot offense, just not enough of them.Freshman QB Bo Levi Mitchell threw three touchdown passes—and threeinterceptions.

TEXAS A&M MikeSherman

Lost to ArkansasState 18--14

The folly ofSherman's forcing a pro-style system on QB Stephen McGee, an option whiz who'sat his best on the run, was plain to see. The senior threw two interceptionsand was sacked four times.

PHOTOTODD KIRKLAND/ICON SMIRAMBLIN' Dwyer needed only 11 carries to gain 112 yards and score two touchdowns. SIX PHOTOS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)