By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Like all of Georgia Tech’s opponents, the Florida State Seminoles know exactly what they’re in for on Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets (10-2, 6-2 ACC) are going to run, run and run some more.
Georgia Tech enters this week’s ACC Championship Game with the nation’s third-best rushing offense at nearly 334 yards per game.
Behind a spread-option offense run out of the flexbone formation, the Jackets racked up 399 rushing yards in last week’s overtime win at No. 9 Georgia. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher believes they’re even better than their record and No. 12 national ranking suggest.
“I think they’re very underrated at 12,” Fisher said. “I think they’re underrated with the wins and the quality of our league.”
The Seminoles have had a heavy dose of run-heavy teams in recent weeks – Miami, Boston College and Florida all rank in the national Top 50.
But the closest comparison to what the Seminoles will see Saturday actually came in Week 2 against The Citadel, an FCS school that FSU beat soundly on Sept. 6.
The Bulldogs run an offense that Fisher said is nearly identical to Georgia Tech’s.
“If they’re not, they’re first cousins,” he said.
“That’s what one the reasons I put Citadel on the schedule.”
What separates Georgia Tech from The Citadel, though, is the caliber of the players they field.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas is a 5-foot-11, 189-pound former safety who is physical enough to run between the tackles but fast enough to burst into the open field.
He leads the Yellow Jackets with 861 rushing yards and has added 1,460 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air.
“We recruited Justin Thomas in high school, in Prattville, (Ala.),” Fisher said. “Thought he was a heck of a player.”
Tech coach Paul Johnson has several capable running backs at his disposal, too.
Fullback Zach Laskey (known in triple-option parlance as the “B-back”) handles most runs up the middle and has accounted for 748 yards and eight TDs.
And Synjyn Days, who splits time between “A-Back” (wide of the quarterback) and B-back, has added 686 yards and three scores.
“You’re going to get some of the same plays, but it’s a different level of athlete,” FSU defensive lineman Derrick Mitchell said. “A different level of offensive lineman we’re going to see.”
Discipline is the key to defending the triple-option. Every player on defense has an individual assignment that, if done properly, can keep things under wraps.
Tech’s results, though, suggest that that’s far easier said than done. As many as four players can get the ball on a typical play, and it can be virtually impossible for a defender to tell which until the play has unfolded.
A series of pre- and post-snap motion and misdirection only complicates things.
“It’s all tricks,” defensive end Mario Edwards said. “You never know if he’s going to give it, keep it or bootleg it out, throw it or toss it to one of the A-backs.
“There’s so many different things (Tech) can do with people in the backfield, and if you’re not assignment-sound and reading your keys, it can mix you up.”
The Seminoles do have something of an ace up their sleeve. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly held the same post at Georgia Tech during the second half of 2012 and served as an assistant there for six seasons before leaving for FSU in 2013.
So, if anyone in Tallahassee knows the ins and outs of Tech’s offense, it’s Kelly.
“It gives you a lot of confidence,” Mitchell said. “You trust everything he said because you know he was around it for so long. He knows just how Coach Paul Johnson thinks. He knows how the option works. He knows all the tricks and schemes to it.
“It helps us a lot.”
Fisher, though, downplayed any extra significance to having Kelly on staff.
Coaches, he said, switch teams all the time – he noted FSU former assistants James Coley at Miami and Dameyune Craig at Auburn – and the impact is usually negligible.
Besides, Fisher believes there isn’t some secret to shutting down the Jackets. It’s just a matter of execution.
“Everybody wants a magical defense that you’re going to run against Georgia Tech, but there isn’t one,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to take on a blocker and beat him. You’ve got to be sound in what you do and make tackles.
“Great football players that play great usually are the things that stop other offenses.”