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TOB vs. PJ: How Have Tom O’Brien’s Teams Fared Against the Triple Option?

PJ TOBing. Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire
PJ TOBing. Credit: Andrew Weber-US Presswire

Detailed below are 5 notable games pitting a (more or less) TOB-coached squad against an opponent that runs the triple option. TOB was 4-1 in those games, but his teams only significantly slowed the option attack twice in those 5 games. Two of the contests yielded an average rushing day for the opponent, and in one case TOB was lucky to avoid an upset after the Naval Acamdemy's option attack significantly over-performed but was undone by 5 lost fumbles.

2002: Boston College 46, Navy 21

Paul Johnson was just 2-10 in his first season at the Naval Academy, but the Midshipmen still managed to put up 380 yards rushing in the loss to BC. They made 5.8 yards per rush but were done in by 5 lost fumbles. Navy averaged 271 yards and 5 yards per pop overall on the season.

After that game TOB apparently decided he didn't want none. The cupcake wins over Charlie Weatherbie-coached Navy teams were suddenly a thing of the past, and what had been a yearly series disappeared from the schedule the following year.

2006: BC 25, Navy 24

Having left for N. C. State, TOB was not on the sidelines (seriously, is he ducking PJ or something?) for the 25-24 Tire Bowl win over the Midshipmen. The Spaz-led Eagles were outgained by nearly 100 yards thanks to Navy's 322 yards on the ground and 5.5 yards per rush average. But Matt Ryan rallied the non-troops for the game-winning field goal with 0:00 left on the clock. The Midshipmen averaged 327 yards and 5.6 per attempt on the season, so TOB's former team held them ever so slightly under their averages.

2010: N. C. State 45, Ga. Tech 28

TOB could not avoid PJ any more after Johnson left Navy and joined the ACC, but Russell Wilson went all Russell Wilson on the Yellow Jackets, throwing for 368 yards and 3 scores in the Pack's 45-28 win. Georgia Tech managed 5.1 yards per carry, but "only" 247 yards on the ground total as it was forced to take to the air in an effort to play catch up. Tech averaged 320+ yards and 5.6 yards per carry on the season.

2011: Ga. Tech 45, N. C. State 35

The Pack found life without RW difficult in their return engagement with the Jackets, losing 45-35 in a game that wasn't really that close. The Pack scored twice in the final minute after trailing 45-21 earlier in the final frame. The Jackets rushed for 297 yards and 5.7 per carry. They averaged a bit over 300 yards rushing per game on the season, but the 5.7 per carry mark was right on their average.

Bonus game, 2007: N. C. State 38, Wofford 17

Mike Ayers' 2007 Terriers are probably a very good comp for this year's Citadel Bulldogs. Wofford was 9-4 in 2007 and defeated then-#1 Appalachian State University and then-#2 Montana as well as a pair of other FCS top-25 teams. In TOB's first year at State, the Wolfpack handled the Terriers 38-17 despite getting outgained 353-330 for the game and despite starting some tool named Harrison Beck at quarterback. Beck was a sterling 16-for-32 for 113 yards (3.5 yards per attempt) in the game.

The Pack stifled the triple option in this one. The Terriers put up 211 yards on the ground, but that was nearly 100 yards less than their per game average (309.7), and they made just 3.7 yards per rush, a yard and a half less than their normal pace (5.2).

In 2007, State beat a very good triple option running FCS squad despite having Harrison Beck at quarterback, which should give us fan types plenty of confidence for Saturday. After all, State has a genuinely decent quarterback nowadays. However, the 2007 squad had something State sorely lacks now, a genuine running back. Andre Brown torched the Terriers for 133 yards on 21 carries and toted the mail into the end zone for 3 scores.

The key in TOB's wins over option-running teams has not been shutting down the option, but rather winning by putting up big numbers on the scoreboard. TOB squads averaged 37.8 points per game in the games detailed above. It may not take 30+ points for the Pack to avoid the upset on Saturday, but if the Pack cannot dominate the trenches and finally get some nastiness and cohesion from its offensive line, this one will be far too close for comfort.