As the architect of Georgia Tech’s offense, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude understands the fresh ground that he’s treading and the challenges he faces. If he didn’t, all he had to do is talk with his coaching colleagues.
“Everybody was calling me and saying, ‘Dude, what are you going to do down there?’” Patenaude said. “‘All they know how to do is run the triple option.’”
It wasn’t only his friends who recognized that Patenaude faces a challenge in leading the transition from players recruited to play in former coach Paul Johnson’s option offense to a more conventional style under the direction of coach Geoff Collins. Athletic director Todd Stansbury gave Collins a seven-year contract – the standard for a coach taking over a team is five or six years – because of the potential difficulty of the shift in scheme.
Patenaude welcomes the challenge.
“I think that’s the really cool thing right there,” he said. “There’s no established recipe at Tech for this kind of offense.”
He likened it to the Food Network show “Chopped,” a game show in which contestants are given a basket of ingredients and challenged to come up with dishes using all of them.
“It’s fun to kind of put all the pieces together, kind of see what we have, see what the strengths are, see what the offensive line can do,” he said. “A lot of it will be predicated on that – the guys up front – and just kind of mixing and matching, watching what the quarterbacks can do. You can win a lot of games running the ball and running the quarterback like they have here, or throwing it.”
It has been Patenaude’s method. When he was offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina – his job before he joined Collins at Temple in 2017 – the offense had a run/pass ratio of 55/45 in 2015 and then 74/26 in 2016 after the graduation of Alex Ross, an All-American quarterback from Buford High, and then multiple injuries to his quarterbacks.
At Georgetown, the job he held before Coastal Carolina, he took over an offense that had a 38/62 run/pass ratio the previous season and had averaged 3.6 yards per play and 9.6 points per game. In his two seasons, the ratio shifted from 47/53 to 56/44. In 2011, Patenaude’s second and final season at Georgetown, the Hoyas averaged 27 points per game and finished 8-3 after going 0-11 two years earlier.
“I wouldn’t say (the offenses in Patenaude’s two years) were different, but Dave would not sit there and try and pound a round peg in a square hole,” Georgetown coach Rob Sgarlata, who was the defensive coordinator during Patenaude’s time at the school, told the AJC. “He was able to maximize the talent of the kids that we had here.”
Patenaude, 50 with 28 years of college coaching experience, is open to retaining elements of the former offense and playing to the roster’s strengths. As the team goes through winter workouts, Collins, Patenaude and the rest of the staff will be observing to gauge speed, strength and agility, and also watching game video of the roster to assess the talent and skills. Once spring practice begins, there will be more evaluation.
“What can your quarterback do? Who’s that quarterback going to be? What can he do? Can he run? Can he throw? Can he do both?” Patenaude asked. “And then just making all of that stuff fit. The option piece of it is something that makes an offense electric.”
At Temple, quarterbacks didn’t run the ball much. Last season, Temple quarterbacks ran 73 times, and 18 of those rushes were sacks. The longest run by a quarterback was 21 yards. By comparison, Tech quarterbacks TaQuon Marshall and Tobias Oliver logged a total of 368 carries, more than 40 percent of the offense’s plays this past season.
“I don’t know if it would be wise for us to just totally take (the quarterback run game) out, because that makes us harder to defend,” Patenaude said. “Maybe you do it from different formations and some different personnel groups and some stuff like that and break out of different alignments and stuff. I don’t think it’s that daunting of a task.”
Sgarlata shares Patenaude’s confidence. For one thing, he believes in his Patenaude’s system and play-calling ability. He also figures that he’ll have players athletic enough to make the switch. And he doesn’t think the jump in scheme is too vast.
“I don’t think he’ll struggle at all,” Sgarlata said. “I think a lot of the concepts that you’re running in the option game, they’re running in his offense.”
Sgarlata also believes in another strength of Patenaude’s.
“It comes down to one thing,” he said. “He’s a very, very good teacher. I think that is overlooked in our profession quite a bit, but he’s a great communicator, great teacher, and I’m not surprised that he’s been able to move up and keep doing what he’s doing.”
Patenaude’s sensibility about the transition isn’t so different from Johnson’s. As he approached his final game, Johnson said that the expectation that the transition would be difficult was a crutch.
“That’s an excuse,” he said in December. “When I came in and took the job, they weren’t doing what I did on offense. You find guys, you move ’em around.”
With a glut of running backs, a shortage of wide receivers and no returning tight ends, among other things, Patenaude will get to work.
“That’s the intriguing part about this,” he said.
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