Duke is on a roll facing teams that run Georgia Tech’s version of the option offense.
The Blue Devils have won five consecutive games against Tech, Navy and Army, including a 13-6 win over the Black Knights less than a month ago. The Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3 ACC) will try to stop that streak when they host Duke (3-4, 0-3) at noon Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said that already playing one team that runs the spread option should help his team Saturday. But he said there’s at least one difference between the Black Knights and the Yellow Jackets.
“Army, in all due respect, is not even close to what Georgia Tech is from a weapons standpoint offensively,” he said.
Tech coach Paul Johnson acknowledges that Duke will benefit from having played the Black Knights because it will give it some familiarity with schemes and alignments that his team may use. But Johnson points out that Tech now has an idea what Duke will do on defense.
Either way, because they play each other every season as members of the Coastal Division, Johnson said Tech knows what Duke will do, and Duke knows what Tech will do. Tech is averaging 234.3 rushing yards per game this season, while the Blue Devils are allowing an average of 149.9.
“… It’s who out-executes who, really,” Johnson said.
Plus, Army coach Jeff Monken is a former assistant at Tech under Johnson. Yes, Johnson reached out to Monken to discuss Duke’s personnel, what forced changes from the plan during their game, etc. Johnson said it’s something that coaches do every week. He expects someone from Duke likely reached out to someone at Georgia Southern, Tech’s last opponent, to discuss the same topics.
Cutcliffe is 8-7 against the trio of teams since taking over in 2008, the same year Johnson began at Tech. The Jackets won their first six games against the Blue Devils, which have won the past two.
Because he hired most of his assistants from the NFL, where the option is seldom run, especially like it is at Tech, Cutcliffe said it took a lot of research and work for the Blue Devils to install game plans.
Cutcliffe said his coaching staff has a totally different playbook for option offenses, and they work on defending the option in every spring and fall practice.
The practices, combined with the games, has helped the Blue Devils have success.
“We’ve seen the offense a lot,” he said.
During Duke’s five-game winning streak against the option offense, only Tech has rushed for at least 250 yards. That occurred when the Jackets rushed for 282 in a 31-25 loss in 2014. The Blue Devils’ defense is allowing an average of 192.6 rushing yards during the five-game winning streak.
“They’ve devised a defensive scheme that’s very sound,” Monken said. “They’ve gotten their kids to execute it every well.”
Monken said the scheme isn’t philosophically different than what most teams do in trying to defend the spread option. Monken said the difference is the job the staff does in teaching the players how to execute the different responsibilities and to read which way the play may go. The Black Knights were held to 165 yards on 43 carries in their game earlier this season.
Monken said facing the offense at least once a year, and typically at least twice, helps enforce the importance of what’s being taught.
“When you see it as often as they are seeing it, it gives validity to practicing against that offense more than that week,” he said.
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