The offensive line sets up in wider splits, which forces the defense to work in more space. Toss in the cut blocking that makes running to the short side of the field a workplace hazard for the defensive line, and there are serious headaches assuming everyone has mastered the option.
It also does something few other schemes can manage - make the sheer total of players available tilt toward the offense.
“If you run a regular play, you’ve got 10 blockers and a ball carrier,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “They have 11 defenders. There’s always going to be one defender you can’t block. With the triple option, you read one guy and option the next guy. Now you have 10 to block nine, and now the numbers are working in your favor.”
Theoretically, it should be effective. Yet it has been out of vogue so long that at the very least, the Yellow Jackets’ results in the next few years could serve as a de facto referendum on the option’s future.
“This is kind of the litmus test of whether this offense is viable in the current age of college football,” Georgia Tech tackle Andrew Gardner said. “I think if Coach Johnson comes down and we’re successful this year or over the next few years, I think you’ll see some other colleges giving this type of offense a shot. If we flop and don’t do well and he gets fired in a few years, I think that’ll kind of squash the triple option at this level for a while.”
Johnson gamely attempts to hide some of his vexation with critics who can’t conjure up support for why they believe he will fail, even as often hears about such arguments. But his frustration about repeated questioning of something he knows will work is evident, and he curls up a slight grin when prodded on the subject.
“Can’t wait till we get to play,” Johnson said deadpan, prompting some chuckles.
With Johnson’s history, he’ll probably have the last laugh all too soon.