When Johnson ran the Yellow Jackets, preparing for Tech often raised alarms for opposing defensive coordinators and coaches, who fretted over how unconventional the scheme was and how difficult it was to train the scout team to simulate its speed. Tech opponents such as Georgia and Duke committed blocks of time in the spring and preseason to give defenses (and scout teams) a head start on the Jackets.
There seem to be no such trepidations for Collins and his staff.
“Typically, in these kind of preparation weeks, everything slows down on a Tuesday and a Wednesday just to get the developmental team lined up and ready to go,” Collins said Tuesday. “But it wasn’t that way (Tuesday) or Sunday, because there is that familiarity and they kind of understand the motions, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time with those little intricacies because obviously they’re well versed because of running it so well for such a long time.”
The defense, too, knows it well, too.
“For our players, obviously we have an added advantage of a Brentavious Glanton or a David Curry or a Bruce Jordan-Swilling, who have been around here for a while and they’ve defended one billion snaps of double slot from spring ball to fall camp on, so I see it as an advantage,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said.
As such, no one knows better than Tech’s defense how quickly the offense can strike, having faced it regularly in spring practice and in the preseason. The Citadel gained attention last year for staying with Alabama for a half, going into halftime tied at 10-10, thanks in part to a 45-yard touchdown run on a triple-option play, before losing 50-17.
“Triple option is the triple option,” Thomas said. “It’s like, they can show stuff on film, but things can change fast.”
Linebacker Charlie Thomas said the habits of defeating cut blocks and keeping eyes focused on the right key are ingrained like muscle memory, although Tech’s defensive scheme is different.
“You’ve just got to focus in and really get down what you’ve got to get down, because in the option, if you aren’t there (where you’re supposed to be), it can go for 60,” Thomas said.
Collins and Thacker have experience against such offenses dating to their playing days in the Southern Conference, Collins as a linebacker at Western Carolina and Thacker as a safety at Furman. The league counts as members The Citadel and Wofford, two teams who have long employed spread-option offenses, and used to have Georgia Southern before it jumped to FBS.
When Thacker was at Furman (2004-07) and Collins was Western Carolina defensive coordinator (2002-05), they overlapped with the tenure of former Tech offensive line coach Mike Sewak at Georgia Southern (2002-05) in his succession of Johnson.
They were reacquainted with it at Temple in the past two seasons, when the Owls played Navy both years in American Athletic Conference games and Army in a non-conference game in 2017. Temple beat Navy both years, holding the Midshipmen to a season-low 136 rushing yards in 2017. The same season, Army rushed for 248 yards (more than 100 yards under the Black Knights’ season average), although they passed for a season-high 141 yards) in a 31-28 overtime win over the Owls.
“So we’ve got a bunch of experience with our staff,” Thacker said.
Given the prevalence of option principles in college football, Collins said that every scheme that Tech plays has components built into it for defending option plays.
“Because even though not everybody runs the option, you still have to be option sound every single week, so that everything that we do schematically, we have those components in there,” Collins said. “I think coach Thacker and our defensive staff, we’re very aggressive in defending it, so that’s what we do.”
For the freshman defenders who didn’t experience Johnson’s offense, Thomas had some advice about what they’ll face Saturday.
“I told ’em, ‘You’d better have your knee pads down, because they will cut (block) you,’” Thomas said.