Into The Meat Grinder

CHAPEL HILL NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Joshua Nesbitt #9 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets throws a pass against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on September 18 2010 in Chapel Hill North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
GT Offense
Yds/Play
Yds/Rush
Yds/PassAtt
2008
6.0
5.6
7.8
2009
6.2
5.2
10.6
2010
6.3
6.1
8.0

 

Paul Johnson truly is the ninja master of the wishbone/triple option offense--little doubt of that now.  Johnson's decades of experience with the offense benefited Georgia Tech immediately, his transition not without hiccups but done about as seamlessly and expertly as could be hoped.  The Jackets averaged a league-best 6 yards per snap in his first season, a 0.5 YPP improvement over the year prior.  He found an excellent option quarterback in Josh Nesbitt, and they've been a methodical, yardage-gobbling monster ever since.

Johnson's offense offered a built-in upgrade to Georgia Tech's passing game as well.  That's the beauty of running the ball 80% of the time and running it successfully--you don't need an efficient or accurate passer to wreak havoc through the air.  The surprise takes care of that.  The Jackets were second in the ACC in yards per pass attempt in 2008 and first last season despite completing less than 50% of their passes both seasons.  Nesbitt has completed barely a third of his throws in 2010 but averages 22+ yards per completion.

Coaches talk about awareness and recognition as keys to avoiding those gotcha! pass plays.  Those things are essential, no question, but there's more to being aware than simply paying close attention to the play unfolding in front of you.  It's also critical to know where you are on the field at all times, by which I mean: where is the line of scrimmage? 

When Tech throws: percentage of pass attempts by field position:

2008:

Own 1-20 YL: 9.7%
Own 21-39: 33.9%
Own 40-Opp 40: 41.2%

Opp 39-21: 10.3%
Red zone: 4.8%

(124 of 165 pass attempts occurred between GT 21 and Opp 40.)

2009:

Own 1-20 YL: 13.7%
Own 21-39: 33.9%
Own 40-Opp 40: 31%

Opp 39-21: 17.9%
Red zone: 3.6%

(109 of 168 pass attempts occurred between GT 21 and Opp 40.)

[Update: With a tip of the cap to acc_10k, I'm bringing these numbers up from the comments since their omission was a serious oversight.  The percentage of total plays, again broken down by field position, that were pass plays:

2008:

Own 1-20 YL: passed on 18.8% of all plays
Own 21-39: 26.5%
Own 40-Opp 40: 25.8%
Opp 39-21: 12.8%
Red zone: 7.1%

2009:

Own 1-20 YL: 23.8%
Own 21-39: 27.4%
Own 40-Opp 40: 18.8%
Opp 39-21: 13.8%
Red zone: 3.7%

Fortunately these numbers generally agree with my point. Dodged one there.]

Johnson prefers to stick to the bread and butter while his team is deep in its own territory; once they've established a little breathing room, not to mention a run-run-run tendency, they start to dabble.  They like to look for the quick air strike as they get closer to midfield.  Once they're in scoring territory, it's back to serious business and the bread and butter.  All of this makes good sense.

These numbers can't aid anything by themselves, because it's about play recognition first and foremost.  But if the players understand Tech's pass distribution and where the high alert zones are on the field, perhaps they'll be better equipped to avoid the big play. 

(Thanks to the indispensable cfbstats for providing these figures.)

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