ATLANTA — North Carolina began spending extra practice time on Georgia Tech’s spread option offense over the summer. More opportunity for added preparation came with an off week before today’s game.
Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora had good motivation to devote the extra attention to the game. North Carolina’s defense was overwhelmed in a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech last season that was the highest-scoring game in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
This week the Yellow Jackets are bringing more than the spread attack with the triple-option wizardry. Coach Paul Johnson has introduced a diamond alignment out of the shotgun that caused concerns for Fedora.
“The triple-option obviously with what they do is enough,” Fedora said. “Then they added the new formation. They’re doing some really good things out of it. They’re running four or five different running plays out of it. They’re throwing the ball out of it.”
North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC) will try for its first win at Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0) since 1997.
Normally, Georgia Tech has a fullback called a B-back lined up behind quarterback Vad Lee. Two more running backs called A-backs are spread outside. In the diamond, Lee lines up in the shotgun and the running backs are all in the backfield for the snap.
Johnson was cagy as he called the new formation “just a little change-up.”
“We can run most of the same plays that we run from under center out of it,” Johnson said. “In the game Saturday, we only ran a couple plays. So how much we’ll use it, who knows. We’ll see. If we feel like we need it, it’s there, available, a change of pace. We may line up in it and run a whole game, or may line up in it and run none. So it’s just kind of the way the game’s flowing.”
North Carolina is expecting to see the Yellow Jackets emphasize the spread option plays that have been Johnson’s trademark through his years at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. Johnson is so immersed in the offense he doesn’t even hold a list of the plays on the sideline. He’s had his playbook memorized for years.
“Paul has been running this offense since he was probably in diapers and he knows all the answers,” Fedora said. “He knows all the answers. He’s not tinkering with his offense year in and year out and changing it. This is what he does. He knows the answers. Whatever you throw at him, he’s seen it I promise you. He’s going to find a way.”
Johnson’s offense has more yards rushing than any FBS team since he took the Georgia Tech job in 2008. Lee has added more balance with his passing skills. Last week Lee became the first Georgia Tech quarterback since Reggie Ball in 2006 to throw four touchdown passes in a game.
North Carolina associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said he has challenged the Tar Heels to avoid a repeat of last year’s defensive breakdowns against Georgia Tech.
“This year we’ve been preaching toughness, we’ve been preaching hard edge, we’ve been preaching testing their manhood,” Koenning said.
Koenning said there will be no excuses after all the extra practice time devoted to the game.
“I mean, we can’t have shown them more than we’ve shown them,” Koenning said. “We can’t have prepared them harder. We can’t have paid more attention to detail than we have. We’re almost to the point of, let’s just go play. That’s where it’s at.”
The more important new look for Georgia Tech is first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s 4-3 scheme. Defense has been the Yellow Jackets’ weakness in recent seasons. The new defense has allowed only 14 points in two games.
The Tar Heels opened with a 27-10 loss at South Carolina before beating Middle Tennessee 40-20 two weeks ago. North Carolina’s 511 total yards in the win marked the 13th time in Fedora’s 14 games as coach the Tar Heels have gained at least 400 yards. It was the team’s seventh game under Fedora with at least 40 points.
Quarterback Bryn Renner’s two touchdown passes this year give him 56 for his career, two behind T.J. Yates for second place on the school records.