After yet another bowl game loss, I have seen a number of Tech fans clamoring for Paul Johnson to be fired so we can start to establish a “normal” offense. The general claim is that we cannot succeed with the triple option, and that we will continue to lose to teams like Georgia, Virginia Tech and Clemson until we instill a traditional scheme. While I understand their frustration with our team’s recent performance in big games, I feel that they are just looking for an easy and popular scapegoat when in reality, the offense is not much of a problem at all.
Paul Johnson’s spread option, most commonly referred to as the triple option, is a unique style of offense that distinguishes us from the multitude of teams in the southeast. It generates national interest and excitement for our team, as fans across the country tune in to watch this unorthodox offense take the field.
“Tech must compete with the entire Southeastern Conference for recruits.”
It alleviates our innate recruiting disadvantages by forcing us to look for a different type of athlete compared to the majority of our competitors. Tech must compete with the entire Southeastern Conference for recruits, along with football powerhouses in the ACC such as Florida State and Clemson. We are also an academically tough school, which deters many talented recruits. If we were looking for passing quarterbacks, conventional running backs and pass blocking offensive lineman and tight ends, we would be picking from the bottom of the barrel every year. Instead, we take an alternate approach by recruiting talent that played in similar offenses in high school and are being underserved by the SEC and other ACC schools.
The reason we have been losing to our rivals lately is that we have a talent disadvantage compared to those teams. The triple option mitigates this discrepancy by forcing teams to adjust to our style of play and maximizing the output of our talent. For example, I am not sure how effective the 5’7”, 190 lb. running back Robert Godhigh would be in a regular offense, as he would be taking a pounding on any inside runs. With the triple option, he avoids those hits by going outside and straight into the secondary, usually for a big gain.
“…if we fire Johnson we will be looking at a few years of mediocrity.”
The offense slightly underperformed this past year, which may be why it seems that more fans have turned sour. Our total rushing yards were under 4,000 for the first time since Johnson’s first year in 2008, and our total first downs and total offensive production dipped compared to last year. However, our points per game this past season was the highest in the Paul Johnson era, but that was helped by the fact that we played two FCS schools instead of the usual one.
Justin Thomas will fix that problem next season, as he is a much better fit for the triple option than Vad Lee was. He has the skill set to lead the offense well—he is small, quick and agile, and he ran a similar offense in high school. Lee was a decent quarterback and showed small flashes of brilliance in the passing game, but he was not a great fit for the triple option. He was big, relatively slow and did not always make the best decisions when running the ball. I expect Thomas to lead this offense in a similar manner as Tevin Washington did when he takes the reigns next year.
Finally, although fans may not realize it or want to admit it, if we fire Johnson, we will be looking at a few years of mediocrity, or possibly worse. It will take some time to adjust to a traditional offense, as we must recruit players suited to it and phase out the players recruited by Johnson specifically for his offense. The talent gap will suddenly become very apparent as we get blown out by our rivals and lose to teams we usually beat. If the fans are this displeased with seven-win seasons every year, I can only imagine the discussion after a string of three- or four-win seasons.