As the offseason rolls along, it becomes increasingly more tempting to try to predict what the 2014 rendition of the Yellow Jackets will look like (and no, I’m not talking about uniforms in this article – maybe next time!). What sort of product will Paul Johnson and company be putting on the field this year? If the past is any indication, we should be seeing a fresh look on offense. Today, we'll look at where we've been in six years under Coach Johnson, and then tomorrow we'll look at what Year 7 is most likely to look like.
In my mind, we’ve had three "option dynasties" since Paul Johnson came to Tech in 2008. Each dynasty was characterized by a handful of unique plays that best-suited our team’s strengths on offense. Let's have a look.
The Nesbitt Dynasty: 2008 - November 2010
Led by Tech legend Joshua Nesbitt, these years featured the most physical playbook we’ve had in the Paul Johnson era. At 6-1, 214 pounds, Nesbitt was a load out of the backfield and ran hard enough to almost guarantee a first down in most short yardage situations. There were games (especially in 2009) where entire drives were taken over by Nesbitt, who would pound defenses relentlessly with midline option keepers - the four-yard "Nesbitt Blast" was essentially a staple of the infamous Paul Johnson death march. Fueled by even more power from the likes of Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen, these three years were characterized by long, time-consuming drives, fourth down conversions, and above all, success; the Jackets posted a 26-13 record in this time period.
Some of the more unique plays in this time period were the midline option and the B-back draw, both plays that emphasized the physical nature of our backfield. One of my favorite plays from this dynasty is the over midline, which is demonstrated beautifully below.
The Tevin Washington Dynasty: November 2010 - 2012
Following a season-ending injury to Nesbitt was a new look for the Jackets on offense. Gone were the days of the power running of Nesbitt and Dwyer, and in were the tactical A-back sweeps and shorter passing routes. The 2011-2012 version of the offense relied more on speed and complex playcalling than on brute force. While quarterback Tevin Washington was of comparable size to Nesbitt (believe it or not, he was 6-1, 204 lbs), Paul Johnson chose to emphasize on Washington’s tremendous football IQ and knowledge of the playbook instead. Washington was a very under-appreciated quarterback in his time here, and many Tech fans failed to realize how well he ran the offense until he was already gone.
With David Sims at B-back, Orwin Smith at A-back, and Stephen Hill at receiver, the Jackets were slimmer and quicker than they had been in years past under Johnson. The B-Back draw and midline option all but disappeared from the playbook, replaced by direct A-back handoffs and the occasional shotgun set.
The New Age – 2013 - ?
With quarterback Vad Lee finally at the helms, Tech fans expected the world and more out of the offense. They called for more passing, more shotgun/pistol sets, and in general more success than the past two years had brought them. Lee was arguably the most gifted athlete to take a snap from under center for Paul Johnson, and expectations were sky high.
Lee stood in the gun almost as often as he crouched under center, and sometimes threw the ball in excess of 20 times in a game. He still ran the bread-and-butter triple option plays out of the flexbone, but he also ran zone-read plays out of the pistol. It appeared as though Paul Johnson had adapted his offense to the 21st century at the fans' request.
Unfortunately, calling more pass plays wasn’t the flawless solution that everyone had hoped for. Lee struggled with finding time and space in the pocket as Tech fans came to the sad realization that maybe those small, quick linemen that Johnson specifically recruits aren’t as good at blocking for passing plays as they are for running plays. Lee’s footwork was also often suspect, which may or may not have been due to defensive pressure.
Fortunately, quarterback Justin Thomas got a good number of snaps during the 2013 season and we were able to catch a glimpse of what he may be able to bring to the table in 2014.
Which of these renditions of Paul Johnson's offense do you think this year's version will look like most?