Georgia Tech's Johnson explains spread-option offense

July, 21, 2009
7/21/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There are plenty of misconceptions still surrounding Paul Johnson's spread-option offense, despite the fact he's been using it for oh, about two decades. While there is a definite emphasis on the run, the offense is built around misdirection and has the potential to rack up yards and points in a hurry. The system is varied enough to adapt to the personnel he has. While he was offensive coordinator at Hawaii, the Warriors weren't afraid to throw the ball. At Navy, they ran it more. Georgia Tech provides the potential for more balance.

The foundation of his philosophy, though, is running the ball and stopping the run. Johnson, who is also the Jackets' offensive coordinator and calls all the plays, took the time to answer a few questions about his offensive system:

How similar is what you do to what Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriquez do?

 
  Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
  Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has been using the spread offense for decades.
PJ: I think it's very similar.

How so?

PJ: We run a lot of the same plays, a lot of the same schemes. They just choose to do it out of the gun and we go through under the center.

How are the receivers' responsibilities different?

PJ: I don't know that they are. What they may call their receivers sometimes we call A-backs. Their slot receivers are like our A-backs. Most of the time we're lined up tighter, not always. We change formations, and those guys are in the same spots. We probably haven't thrown it as much, certainly as much as Florida, but I can remember a couple of years ago at Navy we threw the ball more than West Virginia did. Nobody realized that because they were in the gun.

So is the job of your quarterback easier from under center?

PJ: I just think it's different. I think it hits faster under center, there's plusses and minuses, and tradeoffs to each one. They probably each have their advantages. We're operating with the ball a lot closer to the line of scrimmage. There's probably advantages to both.

So why do you prefer to do it the way you do?

PJ: Well it's just the way we've always done it. We've always had success with it, and like I said, it hits faster, the ball is closer to the line of scrimmage and for what we want to do it makes more sense. Everybody for years knocked what we were doing [saying] 'Well you can't go to the NFL doing that, you can't do this,' and I find it interesting now the NFL is coming out and saying they're having a problem with all of the quarterbacks being in the gun. They don't know how to take a snap or drop back to pass.

Why do you think then, that most college football fans, when they think of your offense, probably don't automatically think of what Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriquez do?

PJ: Because one is under the gun and the other is under the center.

That's it?

PJ: Yeah, and most fans, quite honestly, couldn't tell you what plays they ran out of the gun. It's like anything else -- if you're successful and you have big plays, then it's great. If you're not moving the ball and you're not scoring then it's no good. If you look at last year with what Rich did at Michigan, it's the same offense they ran at West Virginia, but it was a learning process, different personnel and they didn't have near the success. In fact they had very little success. But nobody was questioning whether it would work or not. As soon as we have one game where we don't score 30 points, boy it's like, I told you this wouldn't work, everybody figured it out. That's what drives you nuts.

Because it's going to be the second year, a lot of players feel so much more comfortable in the system, would you like to pass it more?

PJ: We could pass anytime we want. The objective is to try and win the game. We're going to do whatever it takes to win the game, and hopefully we'll be a lot more efficient at running the ball. If we become more efficient at running the ball, then the passing game will open up because people will say we have to play the run.

That's usually how it works. Do you think that you guys will be more efficient running the ball because it's the second year?

PJ: We're way better right now then we were a year ago. It's not even close. If you took the first spring and this spring, it's like two different teams. Do we have a ways to go? Yeah, we're still not there yet, but we're a lot better off than we were a year ago, no question.

Have you always called all the plays?

PJ: Yeah.

Is it true you don't script it?

PJ: No, I don't script it.

Not even the first 15 plays or so?

PJ: No.

Wow. Ok. Is there anything else I didn't ask you that would help explain any misconceptions about the offense to fans?

PJ: Well it's like anything else. If you execute it properly it's going to be good, and if you don't, it won't. There are no magic ways to line up and play the offense. There's nothing magical about the offense. If we don't block people and execute right, it's not going to work. It's no different than the BYU passing or anything else. It's a system and if you do it correctly you'll be successful and if not you won't. We've done it for 26 years. It's not like it was a one-time thing. I get a kick out of people saying, 'Well they'll have another year of defending it.' Gosh, they've got 25 years, and we haven't changed much.

Anytime you do something different, people want to make more out of it than it is, but if you go back and look over the years, look at the averages and what we've done, it's been very efficient for us. If there comes a time when it's not efficient then we'll adapt and change, that's what you do. That's why we don't script plays. I want to look out and see what you're doing on defense and then I'll call the plays accordingly. It doesn't make sense to me to script 15 plays and then I look out there and you're not lined up where I thought you were going to be.

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