If the Tulane football team appeared unprepared for what hit it against Duke last Thursday, a lack of familiarity should not be a problem this Saturday at Georgia Tech.
The Green Wave defense has been practicing for the Yellow Jackets’ triple option since the beginning of spring drills, taking extra time to get ready for a throwback style it will face repeatedly this season.
Four FBS teams use the run-happy system that bears zero resemblance to anything other teams employ, and Tulane plays three of them — Georgia Tech, Navy and Army — missing only New Mexico.
“It’s tough,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “They are all good, and they all have answers. It’s just a headache. We’re going to practice it every day until the end of the season.”
Georgia Tech ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing last season, averaging 342.1 yards per game and 6.06 yards per carry.
Navy was right behind the Yellow Jackets at No. 2, averaging 338.1 yards per game and 6.05 yards per carry.
Army finished fifth, averaging 296.5 yards per game and 5.35 per carry.
The same teams all finished among the bottom five in pass attempts and passing yards, so the Green Wave will know exactly what to expect on almost every down: a quarterback keeper, a dive play or a pitch.
The Yellow Jackets threw for 19 touchdowns last year — the same number as Navy, Army and New Mexico combined. But when they faced Tulane, they were only 3-of-8 passing for 15 yards.
It’s all about stopping the run.
“Everybody has to do their key and handle their assignment,” said senior safety Darion Monroe, who made eight tackles in Tulane’s 38-21 loss to Georgia Tech last year. “If one person misses their assignment, then it can be a 60-yard run. We all have to be disciplined.”
Tulane co-defensive coordinator Lionel Washington never faced the triple option in 12 years as an NFL assistant. He admits when Tulane began preparing for Georgia Tech in the 2014 offseason, he underestimated how many unique challenges the Yellow Jackets presented, figuring football was football.
He learned he was wrong pretty quickly.
“It is different than anything else,” he said. “They are going to run the hell out of the football. We just have to be physical and be patient, keep it close and don’t give up the big plays. If they have to grind it out, then we’re going to be successful. It they are able to make big plays, then it’s going to be a long day.”
Washington leaned heavily on secondary coach Jason Rollins for the game plan a year ago because Rollins saw the triple option regularly in a 10-year stretch when he coached at McNeese State, Northwestern State and at Texas high schools. Rollins’ input will be even heavier this season now that he has been promoted to co-defensive coordinator.
His task is tweaking a plan that worked fairly well last year. Georgia Tech gained 344 yards on the ground, barely above its average, but benefitted from three Tulane turnovers and a blocked punt to break open a tight contest in the second half.
“We are taking a good look at what we did last year and seeing what we can improve on and what we could possibly keep,” Rollins said. “It’s going to be a chess match. If we can limit their explosive plays, then we have a chance.”
Georgia Tech rushed 52 times for 476 yards and nine touchdowns in its 69-6 season-opening victory against Alcorn State on Thursday, scoring 34 points in the first quarter. Tulane lost 37-7 as a one-touchdown underdog to Duke.
As good as the defending Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champions are, it might benefit the Wave to face a completely different style of offense.
Johnson said Tulane researched high school and college teams that were successful defending the option. All of that information went into the game plan last year, and the Wave has had an extra 12 months of preparation this time.
“Jason (Rollins) taught me some of the things he knew about it, and I put my little two cents in there, we pooled it all together and it worked pretty well,” Washington said. “It made me start looking back so I could see how option teams are trying to attack you. This year, we will have an even better plan, and hopefully we can get it done.”
Johnson said after Monday’s practice that sophomore defensive tackle Sean Wilson would be out one to two weeks with a left knee sprain. Wilson, wearing a brace on his knee, was injured against Duke. Senior Corey Redwine, who started the first five games a year ago before Wilson supplanted him, will start against Georgia Tech. … Johnson said freshman running back Devin Glenn, a 5-foot-8, 164-pound speedster from Warren Easton, definitely would play this Saturday after missing the Duke game with a shoulder injury. Glenn, nicknamed “Jet,” will not be part of the regular rotation but will get spot duty.