This week, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson neatly summarized the basic theme of Saturday’s game between the Yellow Jackets and Miami Hurricanes.
“We’re going to run the ball,” said Johnson, master of the spread option offense. “If they can stop the run, they’re going to win the game.”
Miami Hurricanes fans might have screamed in terror if they saw that statement two weeks ago, when UM allowed 343 rushing yards at Nebraska. But the dominant defensive performance the Canes exhibited last Saturday against Duke – they allowed just 85 yards rushing and 264 total – did wonders to calm frayed nerves.
Now, the question remains: Can the Canes (3-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) pull off a sixth consecutive victory against the Jackets (4-0, 1-0) when the two meet at 7:30 p.m. in Atlanta?
The last time Georgia Tech defeated UM, at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2008, Randy Shannon was the coach and UM allowed 472 yards rushing – second-most in school history. The record for most rushing yards against the Hurricanes is 536 by Auburn on Nov. 24, 1944.
Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio and Golden have been coaching against the triple-option and other branches of Johnson’s offense since they were together at Temple.
“We faced it every year,” Golden said. “But you’ve got to make a lot of things happen. You need tackles for loss, you need some takeaways.”
Golden said D’Onofrio “works hard at it and believes in what we’re doing. He also know that we’re going to see some things this week that we didn’t see or have not seen, given the time off in the preparation and where it is in the season. … It’s going to be a great challenge given them coming off the bye week and being on the road.
“We can’t adjust on the fly if we’re not tackling well, if we’re not playing the defense that we called well.”
Tech labels what most would call the fullback as the “B-back,” played by 6-1, 218-pound senior Zach Laskey. Fellow senior “A-back” Charles Perkins is averaging 12.3 yards per carry after a 63-yard run on the first play against Georgia Southern.
And quarterback Justin Thomas, a 5-11, 189-pound sophomore, ranks 17th nationally at 6.82 yards per carry and leads the nation with 19.06 yards per completion.
Basically, Thomas can hand off, or has the option of running, pitching or throwing the ball. If players don’t zoom in on their assignments, this deceptive offense can produce huge chunks of yardage.
Thomas had his second straight 100-yard rushing game with a career-high 165 yards in the Yellow Jackets’ last game Sept. 20 at Virginia Tech.
“He’s fast,” said UM cornerback Artie Burns, “so we have to put a couple of hits on him, hit him hard when he does throw.”
Middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who had a game-high 11 tackles last season against Georgia Tech, will be integral in UM’s quest for another win against an ACC Coastal Division opponent.
Perryman said the Yellow Jackets’ offense is “tricky,” and it’s crucial to be disciplined and “gap-sound.” He described Thomas as “very fast” and “elusive – almost like a running back playing quarterback. We’ve got to do a good job of tackling.”
Perryman was asked what would happen if the Hurricanes’ defense wasn’t disciplined.
“Same thing that happened at Nebraska,” he said. “They’re going to get a chunk of yards and it’ll end up bad.”
The Georgia Tech coach noted this week that the last couple of games against Miami have been “quasi-shootout games. They haven’t been low-scoring affairs. If we don’t play a little better on defense, it’s not going to matter what we do offensively.”
Last year, on Oct. 5, UM defeated the Yellow Jackets 45-30 at Sun Life Stadium, gaining 551 total yards – and allowing 401.
The last time the teams met in Atlanta, in September 2012, UM blew a 19-0 lead but won 42-36 in overtime when then-senior Mike James scored on a 25-yard run.