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Option Strategy Report: Bowling Green

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We shouldn’t get too excited yet, but the offense showed a lot of improvement this week

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Georgia Tech Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech’s 63-17 beatdown of the Bowling Green Falcons went pretty much how everyone predicted. Following Saturday’s slate of games the Falcons remained ranked 128th (out of 130 teams) in the S&P+ rankings while the Jackets moved up 12 spots to 58th. We can’t learn much from a blowout win against one of the worst teams in the FBS, but there are still some positive takeaways that the Jackets will try to build upon as they enter the heart of their ACC schedule.

Bowling Green’s Defense

Bowling Green came out in a 4-2-5 defensive formation (four linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs) with two of the defensive backs lined up on the line of scrimmage, essentially as outside linebackers. By replacing a linebacker with a defensive back, Bowling Green revealed that they were more concerned with matching Georgia Tech’s speed on the perimeter than defending the run up the middle.

It seemed okay in theory, but in practice, Bowling Green’s defense couldn’t really stop anything. The Jackets racked up 532 yards of offense and scored a touchdown on their first seven possessions of the game. Tech’s 9.5 yards per play was their highest against an FBS opponent since their clobbering of Virginia in 2012. It didn’t matter what the play call was, everything the offense tried worked to near perfection:

Improvements in the Passing Game

When looking at Bowling Green’s defensive formation, the first thing that jumps out is the fact that both of Tech’s receivers are being guarded in man-to-man coverage. The Georgia Tech passing game hasn’t exactly been stellar this year, and quarterback TaQuon Marshall had only passed for 95 yards in Tech’s previous two games combined, so the Falcons decided to take their chances in single coverage on the outside. But once again, while that sounded like a sound defensive strategy, on Saturday it looked like the Falcons had never really considered the possibility that Tech would throw the ball. On all five of Marshall’s completions the Bowling Green defenders were slow to react and sometimes even looked clueless about their assignments. Never was it more obvious than on the play-action pass Paul Johnson dialed up with 2:04 remaining in the 1st Quarter:

By the time TaQuon Marshall completes his drop back, three Bowling Green defensive backs find themselves standing around facing each other while not guarding anyone. Marshall takes full advantage of the single coverage on the outside and connects with Jalen Camp, who does a great job of using his 6’2, 217 lbs frame to box out the defender and haul in the 37-yard completion:

It’s great to see Marshall and Camp starting to build some chemistry in the passing game, but at the same time, we need to stay grounded in reality. The rest of the teams on Georgia Tech’s schedule are much better than Bowling Green, and better teams will likely line up with two deep safeties and have defenders who actually know their assignments. The only reliable way to have a strong passing game is to maintain a steady ground attack, and as we saw in the game against USF, attack through the air once the defense commits too hard to stopping the run.

Doing the Little Things Right

One week ago against Clemson, Tech’s offense turned in one of its sloppiest performances in recent memory. They missed key reads, committed dumb penalties, and fumbled the ball eight (!) times. Saturday presented Paul Johnson’s offense with a chance to hit the reset button and get back to playing simple, fundamental football. The Jackets executed their blocks, made the correct reads, and only put the ball on the ground once on a botched snap by center Jahaziel Lee. The offense much more closely resembled what fans expected prior to the season from a unit that returned nearly all of its starters. Now, the real test for the Jackets will be whether they can keep playing mistake-free football when the competition gets tougher.

Up Next: Louisville

All of a sudden, this week’s Friday night matchup against the Louisville Cardinals has huge implications for the trajectory of Tech’s season. Currently 0-2 in ACC play, one more conference loss will effectively eliminate the Jackets from ACC Coastal contention. The Cardinals are having their own issues this season, and like Georgia Tech, they need this win to have any real hopes of making a bowl game.

Adding a bit of drama to the game is Paul Johnson’s history with Louisville defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The last time these two met was in 2015 when the Jackets fell 30-22 to Notre Dame in South Bend. The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score implies, with the Jackets only scoring a single touchdown prior to the game’s final minute. Tech was an abysmal 3-for-15 on 3rd down conversions and over 40% of their total yards came in the 4th Quarter when the game was already out of hand.

After Tech’s offense scored in 2nd Quarter, VanGorder had his defense switch to a 3-5-3 formation. Doing so gave Notre Dame’s linebackers more space to move, and they were athletic enough that they could defend against runs both up the middle and to the outside. The issue for VanGorder this time around is that he no longer has the same level of talent he had with Notre Dame’s 2015 squad that won 10 games. It will be interesting to see if he again tries running a 3-5-3 scheme, and if so, how successful it will be at slowing the Jackets down. No matter what happens, we’re going to learn a lot on Friday night about where Georgia Tech is at as a football team and what we can expect from them for the remainder of the season.