April 19, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Far be it from sane to over-analyze a spring football game, yet when watching Georgia Tech’s White and Gold squads go at it Friday night in Bobby Dodd Stadium, a couple pertinent thoughts leaped to mind.
If Friday’s game – which required a form of insanity to attend as steady, cold rain fell with enough breeze to make life miserable – is to be considered in any meaningful way a harbinger of pigskins to come, the Yellow Jackets’ offense is returning to its former self in design, yet at a quicker pace.
There was no shotgun formation. We didn’t see the “Diamond,” either.
Everything was run from under center, and much of it was run without the offenses huddling, and plays being signaled in from the sideline – fairly quickly.
With clubhouse quarter leader Justin Thomas sidelined by a shoulder injury, junior Tim Byerly, redshirt freshman Ty Griffin and early enrollee Matthew Jordan took the snaps. They fumbled several of them – there were 13 combined in the scrimmage – and they did most of what they did quickly.
The White squad, which featured an approximation of the No. 1 offense, trumped the Gold squad, built around a close imitation of the No. 1 defense, 20-12.
“Actually, the first series we went no huddle, I got in a pretty good rhythm,” Byerly said after leading all rushers with 101 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries for the White. “We have to be able to control the pace. I’m comfortable with either setting, but in the no-huddle you have a chance to get yourself in a rhythm.
“There is less thinking involved. Coach calls a play, you go up to the line and see what you’ve got [and then look to the sideline for a possible formation or play change] . . . I think the key for a no-huddle offense is getting into a rhythm.”
Johnson will have you know that the no-huddle is nothing new; the Jackets have had it in their repertoire for a while now.
Asked about the nuance, he chuckled briefly before saying, “That’s nothing new; we’ve had that for six years. That’s the one-minute stuff where we signal [plays] in. We’ve done that since I started coaching, I guess. That part of it wasn’t new for them . . . we’ve always had signals.”
Yeah, but the Jackets sure ran a lot of that Friday – enough to prompt speculation that Tech’s offense may frequently be run at a quicker tempo next fall, at least at times other than the final minute or so of halves.
Senior B-back Zach Laskey, who rushed 12 times for 73 yards and a score for Byerly’s White squad, is fine with the latest tweaks (if they are indeed tweaks), and he does not appear to miss Tech’s “exotic” formations.
The Jackets slipped a bit offensively last season, when they rushed for a sliver under 300 yards per game and fell to No. 6 in the nation in rushing.
It does not take an advanced theorist to suggest that the expansion of Tech’s offensive schemes may have compromised their bread and butter by diluting the Jackets’ attention to it.
“Whenever you add something, you get something less out of something else,” Laskey said. “This spring, we really kind of focused on our core plays and getting better at what we do best.
“Taking out the shotgun, and we put in a little bit of the hurry-up which kind of gives us a different tempo. I think that is going to give us a little more of an edge. We definitely have gotten back to more of the basics.”
Johnson was not as upset by the Jackets’ ball-handling issues as he would have been if it were dry Friday. It was not; it was flat-out awful, and the coach pointed out that players were using footballs that were not switched frequently – as they would have in a game – and at times the ball, “weighed about four pounds.”
That doesn’t mean he was tickled with everything.
Both Gold scores came off of White turnovers as safety Isaiah Johnson returned one of Byerly’s fumbles 86 yards for a score (“That was a gift,” Byerly said to Johnson in post-game interviews), and defensive back Demond Smith returned a different fumble 42 yards for a touchdown.
As one might expect, there was not much passing – especially because of the conditions. Byerly completed 5-of-11 throws for 69 yards. For the Gold, Griffin was 1-for-3 and Jordan’s only throw fell incomplete.
There was a lot of Tech’s familiar offense.
Byerly and the White ran it pretty well, when they weren’t fumbling. They rushed for 304 yards on 63 carries. For the Gold, Griffin rushed 15 times for 75 yards, and he showed some quicks. Jordan added 16 yards on five totes.
Perhaps nothing stood out more than the way the Jackets were ripping off plays. Even with a running clock for much of the evening, there were 111 plays.
Byerly sounds in line with the offensive changes, or the reversal of changes. The Jackets have been better able to zero in on their baseline attack.
“We didn’t go shotgun at all this spring,” he said. “I think we’ve just gotten better quality reps in practice. There is no sense of false hope in that we’re transitioning to a shotgun offense or what have you.
“I think we’re really diving into . . . we’re a triple-option offense, we get under center, and we have to get four or five yards every play to be successful. As long as we do that, we’re going to be OK.”
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