UNC Football Preview: Georgia Tech’s Triple Option Always a Test

For the first time during Head Coach Larry Fedora’s four-year tenure, the UNC Football team is 3-1 after its first four games. This week the Tar Heels take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta—a place they have not won since 1997.

To come away with the victory, UNC will have to show improvement in its run defense—which ranks 113th in the nation–against Tech’s triple option offensive system.

Last season’s ACC Coastal Division Champions, the Yellow Jackets sit at 2-2 (0-1 in ACC play) so far in 2015—coming off back-to-back losses at the hands of Notre Dame and Duke. This is nothing new for Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson and his team, though, as they took a similar pathway to the conference title game a year ago, losing to Duke and UNC in consecutive weeks before rattling off a five-game win streak to close out the year.

Fedora knows Johnson will use that to motivate his squad going into this game.

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas works the triple option. (Bleacher Report)

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas works the triple option. (Bleacher Report)

“I don’t think Paul is gonna panic by any means,” Fedora said. “He is not that kind of guy. He knows they’re gonna keep doing what they do. He’s gonna get things going in the right direction. I don’t think he’s in any panic mode at all.”

Georgia Tech is known for their unique, old-school triple option offense, which pounds the ball in the running game using clever deception to throw off the defense—with the three options being a run up the middle, a quarterback keeper, or a pitch to the outside.

Currently giving up 228 yards per game on the ground, UNC senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer says he and his group will have to do better–both mentally and physically– to hold the Yellow Jacket running game in check.

“Their offense is unlike any other that we’ve faced so far, or will face [this season]” Schoettmer said. “The triple option’s all about eye discipline and doing your job.

“On any given play you can have a dive player, a quarterback player, and a pitch player. Guys can’t be greedy with their eyes. They gotta keep their eyes in the right place, and really take care of their job, and trust that the other guy is gonna take care of their job.”

One of the other keys for Georgia Tech is that its offense keeps the clock running, shortening the overall length of the game. The Yellow Jackets are highly allergic to passing the ball, as evidenced by the fact that quarterback Justin Thomas has thrown just 58 passes this year—completing just 24 of them for 415 yards.

It'll be important for the Tar Heels to stay in their tackling lanes if they want to slow down the run. (UNC Athletics)

It’ll be important for the Tar Heels to stay in their tackling lanes if they want to slow down the run. (UNC Athletics)

Tar Heel offensive guard Landon Turner sees that as their biggest weakness.

“With those kinds of teams, when they want to control the clock, they’re not really built to come from behind,” Turner said. “When we get the ball we need to make sure we’re taking advantage of our opportunities and start to get up and put pressure on their offense and not the other way around—with them putting pressure on the clock for us.”

For UNC to jump out to the early lead Turner talked about, they’ll need a clean game from senior quarterback Marquise Williams. Williams, who gets another shot to maintain his hold on the starting job, realizes that with the way Georgia Tech plays—milking the clock down–he may not see the ball as much as he would in other games.

“It’s more important to take care of the football and seizing every possession we get,” Williams said about the offensive strategy. “I think last year [against Georgia Tech] we got maybe 10 or 11 possessions and we seized every possession we got. So we have to take care of the football, move the chains, and try to help our defense not stay on the field that long.”

One thing is for sure heading into this Saturday. Williams and the Tar Heels are fired up to be done with their non-conference schedule. Now it’s on to the big boys, as the cupcakes have all been eaten. With that said, Williams can be forgiven for sleepwalking a bit against Delaware, but Tar Heel fans can rest easy knowing he has a much different attitude about Georgia Tech.

Marquise Williams (12) will be starting at quarterback this weekend, despite the controversy around the position. (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams (12) will be starting at quarterback this weekend, despite the controversy around the position. (UNC Athletics)

“That’s a great football team,” the senior quarterback said about his opponent. “Two losses, that doesn’t mean nothing. They still got a chance to win the ACC Championship just like we do, in the Coastal.

“Those guys’ll come back. They’re back at home now, in front of their fans, and we’re coming up there. It just seems like every ACC school that plays us comes out bangin’ and ready to go. And we’re excited for another opportunity.”

Broadcast Information:

The game is set to kickoff at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves. TV coverage will be shown on ESPNU.

Game Notes:

  • The Tar Heels have yet to win an ACC opener under Fedora, going 0-3 so far during his tenure.
  • UNC won a 48-43 shootout against the Yellow Jackets at Kenan Stadium in 2014. Marquise Williams led the way with 390 yards passing, 73 yards rushing, and 5 total touchdowns.
  • Despite the team’s woes defending the run, they rank third in the nation in passing yards allowed, and are 16th in total scoring defense. They have yet to allow more than 17 points in a game in 2015.
  • It was announced on Thursday that junior linebacker Joe Jackson has suffered a career-ending neck injury, and will no longer be with the team.

Scouting Report: A Chat With GT Coach Paul Johnson

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket head coach Paul Johnson to discuss the state of GT football, the parity in the ACC, the triple-option offense and his matchup with the Tar Heels this weekend in Chapel Hill.

***Listen to the conversation***


Gentle Giants

I’m going to take this week’s column from a different angle mostly because I don’t really feel like addressing the onslaught of giving up 68 points to Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech this past weekend.  On top of that, I can’t believe we have lost 13 of the last 15 matchups with the Yellow Jackets — it’s just mind boggling that this dominance is occurring and the tide must stop now (well at least next year)!

With that out of the way, the purpose of this week’s article is to address the great work that our student-athletes do out in the community, much of which goes unnoticed and underappreciated.  Unless you’ve been a player in a big time college program, it’s hard to really understand what the rigors of being a college athlete are — long weeks of practice with hours of film study, coaches on your back critiquing and always judging you, keeping up with your academic progress and just having a normal social life in general (keeping up with friends and trying to date.) 

And on top of all that, our Tar Heel football players find extra time to take part in community service efforts of all kinds.  Anything from hospital visits at UNC Children’s Hospital or the UNC Hospital Burn Center to speaking to our local youth football programs about the importance of an education, our past, current and future football players make us proud by doing the right thing.  One of many examples where a difference is being made was this year’s UNC Blood Drive where we spearheaded the collection of 784 productive units of blood.  The impact is significant when you realize that each unit of blood can help three different patients so if my math is correct, 2,352 sick or injured human beings just got a helping hand that they might not have otherwise received.  That’s the kind of outcome that transcends first downs and three-and-outs.

In a recent visit to the Burn Center that was covered by Megan Morketter from goheels.com, she really captures the influence our guys had in their recent visit and how they can lift the spirits of the center’s patients, and give them untapped strength to continue on in their recovery:

The recurring theme of the visit was one of lasting impressions. Throughout the Tar Heels’ stay, medical staff reiterated the increased motivation they see in their patients after meeting the athletes.

“The patients may take a few more steps during physical therapy; they might eat a little more. Their (the athletes’) presence here lasts so much longer… just look in the room, look at that,” Dr. Cairns said pointing to a mother beginning to decorate her 15-year-old son’s hospital room with a football helmet and poster gifted to the boy by Cooper, Williams, Johnson and company.

“I know that there are people who are thinking about Carolina athletics and what it really stands for,” Dr. Caims said. “Well I wish they could see this, and then they would know.”

One of those players Dr. Cairns is referring to is offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper who was a midseason All-American selection by SI.com, ESPN.com, Phil Steele and the Sporting News.  Additionally, Cooper is one of 117 college football players nationally to be recognized for community service contributions by the American Football Coaches Association “Good Works Team.” 

Among Cooper’s community service highlights are offering golf lessons to underprivileged youth, actively participating in the “Share Your Holiday” campaign which fundraises to provide assistance for local families in need, and building a home for Habitat for Humanity.  Many of you Tar Heel fans know about Jonathan’s accolades on the field, but this fellow O lineman is just as impressed with how he handles his business off the field.  But, hey, that’s how we lineman roll.  An offensive lineman is smart, nasty and violent on the field but off it, caring, compassionate, community oriented and are labeled by many (just ask my Mom and wife) that know us best as “Gentle Giants.” 

As much as the O line loves to pancake an opponent or make a block on the final play against NC State to score the winning touchdown, nothing compares to the feeling you get when you can put a smile on the face of a sick young child or helping a complete stranger in need.  I know these young men understand the honor and privilege of giving back because I felt the same way when I was in their shoes at Carolina six years ago.  These are the moments that help shape you as a man and make your fans truly proud of what the University of North Carolina stands for.


Smart. Fast. Physical


To This Place As To No Other

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?”

At every home game, Charles Kuralt’s iconic quote is played from the speakers as the band walks out onto the field at Kenan Satdium, but on no other day is it as moving as on Homecoming. Returning alumni wear their emotions proudly on their sleeves, as the thrill of cheering for one’s school and seeing old pals overtakes all else. Nothing is as important to me as the interpersonal connections that I have made here at Chapel Hill, and in that respect, UNC will always be the “University of the People” to me. Many others probably feel the same way.

It is appropriate, however, that Kuralt did not mention football in explaining the mystique of the University of North Carolina given the performance of the Tar Heels on Saturday. Coming off a bye week and a huge win over NC State, many UNC fans were expecting an easy victory over a Georgia Tech squad that has struggled this season. Instead of a happy Homecoming, they were treated to “the most boring 68-50 game in the history of college football,” to quote the guy standing beside me in the Tar Pit.

What happened? Basically, the Yellow Jackets executed their high school triple-option offense to near perfection, and the UNC defense failed miserably in its efforts to stop the run. The poor tackling that has plagued the Tar Heels all season long was particularly evident, as GT piled up 380 rushing yards. Fans loudly booed the dangerous chop-block tactics of Tech’s offensive line, but to no avail. This was all really a new verse of the same song; the Heels haven’t beaten Georgia Tech since 2008, when Paul Johnson was first installing his offensive system in Atlanta. Boring but effective, the Jackets pounded away per usual and ultimately made the Heels pay with seven rushing touchdowns.

As bad as the rush defense was, the pass defense wasn’t much better. The defensive backs, particularly Tre Boston and Gene Robinson, gave up several deep completions on play-action fakes that ultimately led to Yellow Jacket scores. Not to be outdone, the special teams allowed a 100-yard kick return touchdown and were stopped on a botched fake where punter Tommy Hibbard decided to try to run for a first down on 4th and 10 from the Tar Heels’ 25 yard line. Giving up 380 rushing yards makes it hard to win, and playing poorly in other phases of the game certainly doesn’t help.

There were bright spots for the offense, though, as might be expected in such a shootout. Gio Bernard continued his dark-horse Heisman campaign with two touchdowns, including a dazzling 78-yard reception where he broke several tackles and threw some wicked stiff arms on his way to the end zone. Romar Morris and AJ Blue looked like capable replacements should Bernard declare for the NFL draft, with three touchdowns between the two. There were several nice grabs made by Quinshad Davis, who has displayed flashes of brilliance that suggest he could be a serious downfield threat for the Heels for next season. In short, not all was bad.

Then again, Georgia Tech lost to Middle Tennessee State by the score of 49-28 earlier this year.



In a season that will be defined by Gio’s punt return to claim an emphatic victory over the Wolfpack, most Tar Heel fans will probably forget the 2012 Homecoming Game. As the seasons turn and basketball begins, the annual ritual of neglecting football is upon us. With no chance at an ACC title or a bowl game, it’s not hard to see why the excitement is gone. There are still some positive elements on which to build, some sparks that could ignite the team going forward, though. And thus the refrain of a Cleveland childhood echoes through my mind: Things will be different next year.