A-backs shuttling in plays from the sideline with a push toward the huddle from coach Paul Johnson is a sight Georgia Tech fans will see no longer. The center with his non-snapping hand on the ground to keep his weight low and forward is no more. The inverted wishbone formation – the B-back right behind the quarterback with the A-backs on the outside hips of the offensive tackles – likely is relegated to highlight videos of the Johnson era.
In their place come plays signaled in from the sideline, offensive linemen with their weight more evenly distributed and a multitude of personnel groupings and formations. The hire of coach Geoff Collins ushers in a new era of offense for the Yellow Jackets, dropping the curtain on the unorthodox and highly successful run of Johnson’s offense.
Previously, “they were going to run the spread option and run it tremendously well, no matter who the guys were that they had, and then they would recruit for that system,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said.
“I think for us, it’s identifying who those guys are that are playmakers for us, or what our guys can handle up front, what the quarterbacks can handle, and then kind of tailoring everything around what each individual guy can do.”
Patenaude, who came to Tech from Temple with Collins, is at his first power-conference job in his 29th year in the business. Time will tell if Patenaude’s offense will be as efficient as Johnson’s often was. Patenaude’s overriding approach to his offense is flexibility, he said, “instead of saying, ‘Listen, this is what we do, and we’re just going to stick the pegs in and make it fit.’”
Tech will operate out of a shotgun, a change from Johnson’s playing the quarterback under center. The Jackets often will use three wide receivers and spread them all the way across the field to isolate defenders. Patenaude can use one or two running backs. He can send out one, two or no tight ends. Receivers can vary accordingly, too. Patenaude said that he can use three or four personnel groupings and 10 or 12 different formations.
“Great coaching, I think, is really identifying who you have and putting all the pieces together to put your best outfit out there,” he said.
The offense runs a lot of the same things that look familiar in college football – read-option plays, tunnel screens, jet sweeps and the like. But there also will be vestiges of Johnson’s offense. It’s likely the Jackets will scatter in some quarterback/running back option plays, given his quarterbacks’ ability to be effective with it.
Patenaude will add his own wrinkles. Given the running ability of the quarterbacks, it won’t be a surprise if he sometimes puts two on the field at a time. Collins also has toyed with using defensive tackles such as Ja’Quon Griffin as short-yardage fullbacks.
Patenaude likely will try to find ways to feature freshman slot receiver Ahmarean Brown, one of the faster players on the team. Tight end Tyler Davis, a grad transfer from Connecticut who came to fill the need for players at his position, is another player that Patenaude will try to maximize.
Said wide receiver Adonicas Sanders of Brown, “He’s very fast. I’ve never seen speed like that from a slot receiver.”
A second-quarter series in a game against Boston College last year gave a glimpse into Patenaude’s approach. In a 13-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, he used at least three different combinations of running backs, tight ends and receivers. He gave the Eagles at least six different pre-snap looks. He ran out a backup quarterback for three plays in the middle of the drive. There were six runs and seven passes.
“We have so many different formations now and different personnel (groupings) that you’ve just got to get in the film room and study, and you’ve got to know where everybody’s supposed to be,” quarterback Lucas Johnson said. “It is challenging, but it’s just like a normal playbook.”
Another puzzle – finding a way to utilize a slew of promising running backs such as Jerry Howard, Jordan Mason and Dontae Smith.
Patenaude said that “we’ve won a lot of games and moved the ball a lot with two backs in the backfield. We’re really good with that.”
Another challenge is trying to move the ball with an offensive line that is adapting to the techniques and skills of the new scheme. Left tackle Zach Quinney added about 30 pounds to handle the demands of the new offense.
“The guys are doing a good job,” offensive line coach Brent Key said. “You’re starting to see some that are doing that more consistently on a consistent basis.”
The Jackets will call plays without a huddle and play at a faster pace than they did under Paul Johnson. Last year, huddling up before every play in an effort to limit possessions, Tech averaged 2.0 plays per minute of possession. Temple cranked out 2.5 snaps per minute of possession.
At Temple, Patenaude’s offenses were average. The Owls ranked 73rd in offensive efficiency (according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index) in 2018 and 97th in 2017. (Tech was 14th in 2018 and 23rd in 2017.)
Patenaude’s offenses were far more effective at Coastal Carolina, his previous stop. In his final two of his five seasons there, 2015 and 2016, the Chanticleers ranked in the top 15 in scoring offense in FCS with vastly different offenses. In 2015, Patenaude relied upon a highly efficient passing game that threw the ball 45% of the time and scored 35.1 points per game. The next year, Coastal Carolina started four different quarterbacks, ran the ball 74% of the time and averaged 37.2 points per game in their final season before jumping to FBS.
“I feel like coach P’s going to put us in the best position to win a game,” Lucas Johnson said. “If it’s running the ball, that’s fine. He’s been doing this for a long time, and he’s had a lot of success doing it. So I’m just really trusting the process, and whatever he wants, that’s what we’re going to do.”