Until it began practicing for the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Georgia Tech hadn't competitively practiced against the triple option offense since the middle of training camp. It will be a challenge for Al Groh's defense to stop Air Force, which has the nation's No. 2 rushing offense at 317.9 yards per game, especially with defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe sitting out the first half because he was one of three players who missed a team curfew.
I spoke with Groh recently (before the suspensions were announced) about his take on defending Air Force. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Is there any advantage whatsoever of being a coach and having players in the same system when you’re really not seeing it all the time?
Al Groh: We certainly do have background in it from spring practice and training camp. We are able to do competitive work for parts of the practice now. Certainly this is the offense that Georgia Tech and Air Force both run. The offense is unique. Most teams don’t see it. At this stage we’re able to get a lot more effective work and more competitive work than if we were just trying to teach these players how to run these plays against us.
How much have you retained from when you were at Virginia and coaching against Georgia Tech?
AG: Certainly I’ve gone back and reviewed our plans. We did a lot of research because it is a different kind of offense. We did a lot of research previous to our ’08 and ’09 games that we went and looked back on, and then we’ve had the opportunity here to think it through even in greater detail, but that gave us two games to analyze and ask, ‘Do we like the results we got out of it? What could we do better? What could we change?’ We’ve had the opportunity here now to watch how quite a few teams have chosen to play against Air Force. One interesting thing is to watch the Air Force defense play against Army and Navy. You kind of get an idea of what they think is the best way to play against this offense.
Has Paul Johnson weighed in at all and said, ‘Maybe we could do this or that better?’
AG: Certainly coach Johnson has had quite a few years of playing against Air Force, and Joe Speed, who is one of our defensive assistants, was on coach Johnson’s staff at Navy for quite some time and he’s been able to give us his insights and his background. We’re probably working with a little bit deeper knowledge than most nonconference teams who have to play them. I would think teams in the Mountain West who play against them every year have their own ideas of how to play against them. That’s one advantage of conference play. You understand your yearly opponents. We don’t have that circumstance, but we do have coaches who understand and they’ve been a big help to us.
Is there really that much difference in the talent level of the athletes you guys have to work with?
AG: I think the teams look fairly similar. Obviously when you have a system of this nature – as with any system – teams recruit the type of talent they need to make their systems work. In that respect, we see similar types of players who play A-back, which is the slot position. The offensive line is fairly similar. Their quarterback is a multi-purpose run and pass player as our quarterback has been and as Joshua Nesbitt has demonstrated. There certainly are similarities. The teams are similar, but they’re not the same. There are different things in each team’s offense that are unique to each team play-wise, and there’s certainly a diversity in the formations the teams use and how they deploy their personnel. For example, Air Force will play a great deal of the time with a tight end in the game. We never play with a tight end in the game.