Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Defending Georgia Tech's flexbone

Georgia Tech's path to a BCS bowl got a whole lot harder with their recent loss at the hands of a Miami team that is much, much better than anyone had expected. Still, I expect Paul Johnson to turn this outfit of ninja backs, the singular bowling ball back, and less than functional college quarterback, into a BCS worthy team. Johnson is an incredible coach capable of incredible things, but most importantly, he plays in a conference that isn't really full of teams capable of bringing down his schemes. The jury is still out on a Florida State Team that could be great but for now, looks to be idling in "very decent". Virginia Tech is another team, like Alabama, that hasn't really sold me yet--especially given their pounding at the hands of Alabama and meager win over Nebraska. And the other difficult game on their schedule is against a Georgia outfit that took a noticeable dip (from a rather tentative position to begin with) after losing Matthew "Baby Fat" Stafford to the Draft.

In short, I think that GT is the second-best team in the ACC (Miami leads the pack and North Carolina is not far behind GT). And while being the second-best team in a second-tier division is not really BCS worthy, Johnson has the kind of ingenuity that can lead this team to some big wins, catapulting them into top 5 territory. It can also lead to some serious flops like the one against Miami last week.

The biggest fear that GT has now is dealing with teams that use the Miami game as a template for how to stop Johnson's flexbone offense. Below are some screen shots of what Miami did to defend the unique offense.

Here you can see that Miami is lined up in what looks to be a traditional 4-3 set, however, you can see that three of the defensive linemen are bunched on the strong side of the field. This was done to clog that side of the field and force Josh Nesbitt to pull the ball more often instead of handing it off the Jonathan Dwyer for the dive play up the middle that he routinely turns into a big gain. But as you can start to see, the safety/LB on top of the screen is starting to take a few steps in, turning the defensive front into more of a 4-4 look. Then this happens:

You can see that Miami is now lined up in a full 4-4 set, the gap that would normally be there for Dwyer is occupied by the defensive tackle because of the overload (as well as the guard pulling across the formation to give extra blockers in case Nesbitt decide to pull the ball), and Nesbitt is forced to pull the ball and run the option himself. And because of Nesbitt's inability to throw the ball, there are now four linebackers spying him, creating favorable numbers for Miami. You can see where this is going.

Nesbitt is now staring at four unblocked defenders standing a yard or so beyond the line of scrimmage, all watching to see what he does with the ball--to say nothing of the defensive linemen who are breaking free. These linebackers crash down on the play behind the line of scrimmage and overwhelm the blockers. It ends like this:

Death. The hapless guard who pulled across the formation has to block two players while the rest of the Miami defense is giving chase in case Nesbitt pitches the ball to his option (RB Marcus Wright, #3). Even if Nesbitt does pitch it, the play is likely to end in zero yards. Instead, Nesbitt is brought down behind the line of scrimmage.

This is how Miami defensed the flexbone the entire game. And Johnson, for all of his wisdom and matchup abilities, seemed completely unable to do anything about it. Because Nesbitt is exactly zero threat to throw the ball, GT's offensive output turned out exactly how you'd expect: 95 yards rushing (39 attempts) and 2.4 YPC. An ugly outing.

I don't know that all the teams GT is going to face this year are going to have this level of talent or ingenuity on defense, and they'd better hope not. Because if they have any chance at making a BCS bowl this year, they have to avoid something like this from being replicated.

If you want to see it in action, in all it's high-def glory, the Internets have been gracious enough to afford us these things. Here.


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