Column: Georgia Tech has triple option and singularly skilled QB to run it

Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson has been answering the same question about his triple-option offense: Can it work on the major-college level?

Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson has been answering the same question about his triple-option offense: Can it work on the major-college level?

(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

The Times’ annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 15.

Picture Paul Johnson in retirement after a great coaching career, wearing a yellow evening jacket while sitting in rocking chair.

A stranger walks by to pronounce: “It won’t work.”

What won’t work?


“Your triple-option offense.…"

He’s heard that yarn for years. Johnson used the funky option to win two 1-AA national titles at Georgia Southern, and milked it for five straight winning seasons at Navy.

Johnson is now entering his eighth season at Georgia Tech, where he has averaged 9.14 wins per year.

But after his teams were a combined 14-13 in 2012 and 2013, the critics were sure they were right.

“I think any time you do something that’s a little bit different, everybody wants to point out why it won’t work,” Johnson said this summer. “I still get questions. ‘Will the offense work on this level?’ … after umpteen years.”

The noise lessened last season, which ended with Georgia Tech sporting an 11-3 record after hoisting the Orange Bowl trophy.

The Yellow Jackets capped the regular season by defeating Clemson and Georgia before losing to Florida State, by two points, in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

Georgia Tech rebounded with a 49-34 bowl win over Mississippi State, which had spent some time as the nation’s No. 1 team.

The knock against Johnson’s triple-option is that it is too one-dimensional to consistently produce at college football’s highest level. All you have to do as an opposing defense, cynics say, is gang up to stop the run.

Easier said than done. Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing offense at 342 yards per game last season while passing for a paltry 134 yards per game.

By season’s end, quarterback Justin Thomas was as unstoppable as any player in the nation. His 1,086 rushing yards set a school record for quarterbacks.

“It’s kind of been amusing, in a way, through the years, to hear people try to describe and talk about what we do,” Johnson said.

Opposing defensive coordinators would love to see the triple option disappear. It is a diabolical offense that features precision timing and controversial chop-blocking schemes.

When you get a quarterback as good as Thomas running it, well, look out. He enters 2015 as a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the must-watch players in college football.

“I think he’d be a really good quarterback in any system,” Johnson said. “But his skill set really fits what we like to do.”

Georgia Tech returns four of five starters on the offensive line but must replace three running backs who last year combined for 2,218 yards.

One of the options for the team’s “B” back position, junior Marcus Allen, has the name to get the job done. But he’s a converted linebacker who didn’t have a carry last season.

The defense returns nine starters, but that’s not necessarily great news. The unit finished ninth or worse in every ACC defensive category last season.

The schedule is daunting, with trips to Notre Dame, Clemson and Miami, and a game in Atlanta against Georgia, but running that gantlet would certainly impress the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Johnson is wary of any preseason adulation.

“You ought to watch them practice,” he quipped after one practice last week.

“Can we?” a reporter responded.

“No,” Johnson said.

Coaches can close practices, but they can’t close games. So we’ll find out soon enough just how good the Yellow Jackets will be.

Top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame; 16. Wisconsin.