Florida State University

FSU braces for Georgia Tech’s triple option: ‘We’re going to be challenged’

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas (5) runs out of the pocket in the end zone as Pittsburgh linebacker Mike Caprara (30) looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas (5) runs out of the pocket in the end zone as Pittsburgh linebacker Mike Caprara (30) looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Atlanta. AP

Florida State had not seen Georgia Tech’s triple option for two years before the teams met in last season’s ACC Championship Game. And it showed as the Yellow Jackets nearly pulled off the upset by gouging the Seminoles’ defense for 331 rushing yards.

But so much has changed in the 10 months since that game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

No. 9 Florida State has solved its defensive issues from a year ago, especially up front, where it has become one of the stingiest teams to run against.

And Georgia Tech … well, everything that can go wrong has for the Yellow Jackets, who were the consensus favorite to win the Coastal Division of the ACC but have lost five consecutive games for the first time in 21 years.

Georgia Tech not only is have trouble keeping opponents under 30 points, but that once-vaunted triple option, which topped the country with 342 rushing yards per game a year ago, is averaging 255 yards on the ground against FBS opponents.

Still, with an amped-up homecoming crowd expected for Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Florida State is expecting a Georgia Tech that more resembles last season’s 11-3 team than this year’s underachieving group.

“We’re going to be challenged,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The Seminoles are one win from equaling the ACC mark for consecutive victories, a record set by FSU, which won its first 29 games when it entered the conference in 1992.

Florida State not only has that recent experience against Georgia Tech, but this defense appears much more equipped to deal with the triple option.

The Seminoles are allowing 113.5 rushing yards per game, an improvement of about 57 per game over last year. FSU has allowed one rushing touchdown (it gave up 21 last season), and the Seminoles have 15 sacks, two fewer than all of last season.

“If you played that [type of offense] six or seven times a year it would be a lot easier,” tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample said. “Having to go from one type of defense, to be able to freelance a little bit … to where you can’t do that at all, it obviously creates problems for teams. I think we’ll be fine.”

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas has not had much help from a group of newly installed skill players. Thomas’ numbers are down from last year across the board.

He is averaging 3.3 yards per rush (5.7 in 2014), completing 44.4 percent of his passes (51.3 last year) and his efficiency is 133.1 (153.9 last year).

The problem with the triple option is it’s much more difficult to play catch-up if you fall behind.

The Yellow Jackets have the sixth-worst passing offense in the country, at 128.6 yards per game. Their 50 completions are the fewest among teams from Power 5 conferences.

Still, coach Paul Johnson, though not happy with the offense, believes the Yellow Jackets have bigger problems.

“Offense hasn’t been our issue,” he said.

Georgia Tech had an opportunistic defense a year ago, leading the ACC with a plus-11 turnover margin. Currently, it is fourth in the conference with just a plus-3 margin.

“That was the difference, we got turnovers,” said Johnson, adding that Pittsburgh did not have one negative play or a turnover in its 31-28 victory over Georgia Tech last week.

Saturday: No. 9 FSU at Georgia Tech

Kickoff: 7 p.m.; Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta.

TV/radio: ESPN2; WFTL 850.

Favorite: FSU by 7.

Records: FSU 6-0 (4-0 ACC); Georgia Tech 2-5 (0-4 ACC).

Series: FSU leads 14-9-1.

FSU injuries: Questionable — DB Nate Andrews (knee); LB Terrance Smith (ankle); TE Jeremy Kerr (concussion); OG Kareem Are (knee); DB Marcus Lewis (knee). Out — DB Tyler Hunter (concussion); DB Trey Marshall (bicep); OL Abdul Bello (knee); TE Jalen Wilkerson (shoulder); RB Mario Pender (lung); DB Tyrell Lyons (ACL); DB Ryan Green (shoulder).

Georgia Tech injuries: Questionable — FB Broderick Snoddy (hand); DB Chris Milton (undisclosed); DB Demond Smith (undisclosed); LB Domonique Noble (undisclosed); OL Errin Joe (undisclosed); LB P.J. Davis (ankle). Out — LB Beau Hankins (concussion); RB C.J. Leggett (knee); OL Chris Griffin (knee); RB Nate Cottrell (knee); RB Qua Searcy (ankle); RB Quaide Weimerskirch (foot); QB Tim Byerly (knee).

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