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Georgia Tech Football: The Paul Johnson Special

Coach cooked up something special just for Bud Foster

Virginia Tech v Georgia Tech Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The TECHMO BOWL. The annual meeting between the Jackets and Hokies was yet another exciting matchup in ACC Play. It didn’t have the same meaning for the Coastal Division this year, but that doesn’t matter. This game was important. It always is. This game is the annual evolution of option football itself, a clash between the godfather of the flexbone, and the defensive guru who sets the standards for defending it. Each forces the other to adapt, year-in and year-out, or be left behind by the other. Survival of the fittest

The last 2 years, Paul Johnson has not only adapted to the formations and plays called by Foster, but to the way he individually coaches his players. It has resulted in 2 straight wins. This week, 1 new play and 2 special uses of the Heavy Formation paid off for Johnson.

The New A-back counter

This was the first big play of the game. Cottrell’s #Nice 69 yard run was a subtle but important redesign of a play Tech has run before: The A-back counter(Or Rocket Counter Iso depending on who you ask). In the original play, the QB fakes a rocket toss, then hands off to the other A-back coming this other way. The play diagram looks like this:

The new play looks like this:

How was this new play different? It all mostly stems from the fake. The rocket toss fake is slow-developing and isn’t subtle. It can get a couple false steps out of the defense, but usually doesn’t get huge bites. The new play works off a mesh fake, which is more subtle and disguises the true handoff better. Notice how the MLB #54 chases the wrong way for several yards.

With the mesh fake, the play loses its lead blocking B-back, and this is where the design gets complicated. As can be seen in the diagram and the gif, the play side guard (Will Bryan in this case)pulls to the edge to seal pursuit. Why? On most counter plays, the backside guard(Braun in this case) would pull. That’s where it comes back to tendencies and how Foster coaches his players. Foster coaches his players to look for backside guard pulls. When the QB opens up to the left side of the offense, the defense looks at the left guard. If he is pulling to the right, then it’s a counter. Paul Johnson exploited this with the trap last year, giving the B-back the ball running off the hip of the pulling guard. It looked like this:

This year he just pulled the play-side guard, and the Hokies weren’t watching.

Heavy Counter Speed Option

Self-scouting can be as important, if not more, than scouting the opponent. In order for Johnson to understand how to beat Foster, he has to understand how Foster will try to beat him.

How did Johnson stay unpredictable this year? Do things nobody expects from the heavy formation. What’s the heavy formation? It’s an overload formation where one OT is taken to the other side of the formation, and a WR comes in as a TE(More on that later) to make up for the vacancy on the other side.

Tech usually runs to the overloaded side because, well, that makes sense. But the Hokies were loaded up on the edge to that side, leaving sparse defenders to the weak side. Foster, expecting a power run, fired a double B-gap blitz, completely losing numbers on the edge.

Additionally, Belly is often run out of the heavy formation, and a Counter speed option to the right would have the QB make his initial turn to the left, just as he would on a Belly left. Self-Scouting.

Heavy WR Streak

This one is pretty simple. Line up in the heavy formation with a WR acting as a TE(Is Georgia Tech allowed to have those?). Run a streak/seam route right past the entire defense. Passes out of heavy are rare, and it’s easy to forget a TE when the other team isn’t supposed to have them. With Foster’s Safeties playing wide, this was too easy.

The Techmo bowl simply never disappoints. Watching the evolution of strategy surrounding this offense on a yearly basis as been fun, win or lose. It doesn’t matter if you have a horse in this race or not, this one is a treat.