Preparing for the option
You’ll hear it said a lot that playing against an option team is all about assignments. That’s true in part – defense against any scheme won’t have much success with guys out of position. But you can have everyone in the right place and still give up a big play because successful option plays also create a numbers advantage.
So the key for defenses, in addition to being in the right place, is disruption. If the offense is able to make and execute their reads without much harassment, they’ll get their numbers advantage and end up with a positive play. Successful defenses manage not to be taken out by the cut blocks and affect the play before the offense can get its pieces to the right places, forcing sub-optimal and rushed decisions. Preparing for the option then is as much about fundamentals as it is assignments. Gap control, shedding blocks, and sound tackling are basics that won’t just aid the defense against their next two opponents. Georgia has gone full pads this week because it’s that kind of physical pounding that will get the defense ready to attack the option rather than passively react to it.
We heard a lot about true freshman Josh Harvey-Clemons in August. He seemed suited for the “star” position – a hybrid linebacker-safety that Todd Grantham likes to use. Harvey-Clemons has seen mostly special teams duty in 2012, but that’s no knock on him – which linebacker or safety would you take out? But the loss of Chase Vasser since the Kentucky game has opened things up for a few freshmen, especially Jordan Jenkins, and now Harvey-Clemons is back in the news. He’s been seeing work as an outside linebacker as Georgia prepares for consecutive option teams, though he expects to return to safety in the future.
The question then is what the Georgia defense might look like with JHC in there. He’s not going to displace starting OLBs Jarvis Jones or Jordan Jenkins, but he could certainly give either a breather. It makes me wonder if we’re going to see either of Jones or Jenkins as a down lineman in certain situations. We’ve seen that look before with a Jenkins-CWash-Jenkins combination on the line, so that line with Jones and Harvey-Clemons behind it (rather than a nickel back you might see with that group against other offenses) would give Georgia an additional quick but physical defender to penetrate upfield.
I’m also interested to watch Garrison Smith these next two weeks. Smith was instrumental in Georgia’s defensive success against Tech last year after taking over when a Tech lineman targeted DeAngelo Tyson’s ankle. Smith ended up with 7 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, as Georgia’s defensive linemen combined for 24 tackles to snuff out the interior run. Smith has again answered the call this year since Abry Jones went out injured. He was responsible for 5 tackles and 3 QB hits against Florida as well as 7 tackles and a sack against Ole Miss. Georgia’s defensive success will flow from the ability of Smith and the other linemen to get off their blocks and change either the timing or the position of the quarterback’s read. They did very well in that job against Tech last year, but each time out against this offense is a unique experience and challenge.
About that GaSou-Alabama game
We’ve heard a lot this week about Georgia Southern’s 302 yards rushing and 21 points posted at Alabama last year (both were season-worst results for the excellent Alabama defense). It’s both a warning that this offense can make even the best defenses look sloppy, and it’s an illustration of some specifics that can be useful for Georgia. Here’s how Southern got those 21 points:
- An 82-yard run by fullback Dominique Swope on a dive play. That’s the danger of the option – you can defend it well 30 times, but your few mistakes can turn into big plays.
- A 39-yard play-action pass. Georgia Southern only attempted five passes in the game and only completed this one. They won’t pass much, but selling out against the run always leaves you vulnerable to a well-timed play-action pass.
- A 95-yard kickoff return. Not much to take from that.
Without Swope’s run, the Eagles put up a more reasonable 220 yards of rushing. You can’t ignore the long run, though – it’s a legitimate by-product of that offense that can occur on even the most straightforward of runs. If Georgia can limit the big gains – and it’s a big if – a target of around 200-225 rushing yards by Georgia Southern seems achievable for the Georgia defense. The Dawgs gave up just two runs over 20 yards and none over 30 yards in their win at Tech last November, and the Jackets were held to around 250 yards on the ground.
(The Eagles also went for it on 4th down three times, succeeding twice. Don’t assume that 4th-and-short means a punt.)