Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson called it “just a little change-up.”
No doubt he’s thrown the UNC defense more of a curveball this week.
In an offense that hasn’t changed much in decades, any new wrinkle is worth some attention from opposing defenses. The diamond formation, in which the quarterback is flanked closely by the A-backs and B-backs, is the latest tweak in Georgia Tech’s spread option offense -- and the latest challenge for the North Carolina defense.
“It’s out of the gun ... and this year we’ve just got ‘em all in the backfield,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “For lack of anything better to call it, we called it a diamond formation. We can run most of the same plays we run from under center out of it. In the game Saturday we only ran a couple of plays. How much we’ll use it, who knows? We’ll see. If we feel like we need it, it’s there, available for a change of pace. We may line up in it for the whole game; we may line up and run none.”
Let the chess match begin.
“It’s a totally different style of offense,” said UNC coach Larry Fedora. “You have to prepare for the triple option, and you spend your time preparing for the triple option. Then they get into the gun and a three-back set back there, and that’s kind of en vogue right now in college football. It makes it difficult. It’s two different styles of offense, and they’re able to that because of Vad Lee. Vad’s a very talented young man who can beat you with his legs or his arm, and what they’ve done is put together pieces of both of those offenses to be very successful, and it makes it really hard on your defense.”
North Carolina’s defense, which allowed 406 total yards in the season-opening loss at South Carolina, doesn’t need things to get any more difficult -- nor does it need a reminder about what happened last season against the Yellow Jackets in a 68-50 loss, the highest-scoring game in ACC history. Georgia Tech ran for 380 yards against the Heels, and it was a breakout game for Lee, who last week threw four touchdown passes in the win over Duke.
Remember: North Carolina had a bye week to prepare for the Jackets last fall, too.
While Georgia Tech is in the midst of a grueling four-game lineup against Coastal Division opponents, the onus is on the Tar Heels’ defense to try and slow down the Jackets.
And, apparently, not throw in the towel in the process.
UNC defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said there were about five or six starters who “raised the white flag” in the first half last year.
“We don’t need that to happen again to us,” he said.
Koenning said some players have already been griping about sore hamstrings and groins this week, and questioned whether some of his players are “tough enough and man enough to play.” UNC safety Tre Boston said “Coach Vic is a firey guy” who likes to motivate them, but he need look no further than last season's score.
“I definitely think we’re up for the challenge,” Boston said. “As a team we know what happened last year. We know we don’t want that to ever happen again. It’s one of those things we take to heart and we remember what happened and we want redemption. That’s pretty much how it is on this defense. I think coach is trying to make sure we’re ready for this game, and as one of the captains on the team, our defense is definitely ready for the game and we’re ready for the hype.”
The question is if they’re ready for Lee, who is averaging 62.5 rushing yards, 157 passing yards and is responsible for eight of Tech’s 14 offensive touchdowns this season. Koenning said the keys will be eliminating big plays and not allowing Georgia Tech to sustain six or seven drives of 10 plays or more.
“We either have to create takeaways, or we have to get them off the field,” Koenning said.
Boston said the defense is ready to play a fundamentally sound, disciplined game, and they’ll have to if they want to leapfrog Georgia Tech in the Coastal Division standings.
“I think this year will be the year that we do it,” Boston said. “With the new schemes we’ve put in and the stuff we’re running, it’s pretty good. Guys have to stay disciplined and stay to their techniques because this offense is dynamic.”
No change-up in that regard.