MURFREESBORO — Omar McLendon doesn’t know why the triple-option offense isn’t run more often in college football.
Perhaps, the Middle Tennessee State defensive end believes, if more teams did implement the run heavy scheme, the style would “become more predictable” and easier to slow down.
McLendon and the Blue Raiders hope their third time is the charm when they head to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech (2-2) on Saturday.
For the third straight season, MTSU (2-1) will attempt to stop the Yellow Jackets and the triple option. So far, the Blue Raiders are 0-for-2 with 91 points and 711 rushing yards allowed.
“You don’t see that style of offense every day so you almost have to retrain your defensive guys,” coach Rick Stockstill said on Tuesday. “You have to be extremely sound in your assignments and you’ve got to play it with your eyes. You can’t say, ‘I thought I saw [the quarterback] pull the ball. I thought I saw him give the ball.’ As soon as you do that they are going to spit one out the middle or the quarterback will keep it for a big play.”
Georgia Tech, with overtime defeats against Virginia Tech and Miami, enters the game ranked third in the country with 352.2 rushing yards per game.
Led by quarterback Tevin Washington, the Yellow Jackets have scored 19 rushing touchdowns. Washington has seven scores along with a team-high 300 rushing yards to add to a 61.9 completion percentage when he throws (just 41 times in four games).
“Your mindset is different,” McLendon, a native of Temple, Ga., who grew up rooting for Georgia Tech basketball, said. “We’re normally used to putting our hand on the ground and rush the passer. Now we’re thinking dive to quarterback or chase him down from sideline-to-sideline. We’re not trying to play as much up the field. We’re trying to play side to side because we know he can pitch the ball lateral. If we can get tackles for loss and get them in third-and-long situations that will be perfect for us.”
All the attention will surround the run and whether Washington will hand it to the fullback, pitch it to the running back or keep it himself. But MTSU, winners of two straight before sitting idle last week, knows from experience to be wary of the pass.
Washington burned the Blue Raiders twice last year through the air. Two of Georgia Tech’s first three scoring drives on its way to a 49-21 rout lasted just one play and were longer than 70 yards — both touchdown passes from Washington.
“We definitely showed [the film] to them [this week] to try to correct our mistakes,” Stockstill said. “All they did was they faked the option, the quarterback comes off the line. Our safety thought he handed it off but he didn’t and the [wide receiver] runs down the sideline, hit a big play on us. ... You just got to be disciplined.”
Through three games, the Blue Raiders have excelled against the run. They’ve given up three rushing touchdowns and allowed an average of 156 rushing yards, which is the sixth-most in the Sun Belt Conference.
Of course, in most league games, with Western Kentucky the exception, the Blue Raiders face spread offenses. For one week, they’re forgetting about what they are taught the rest of the season and conforming to the Yellow Jackets’ style of play — to a certain extent.
“I think it magnifies how important it is to worry about us,” Stockstill said. “We can’t control if he goes to hand it to that fullback or not. But we can control if I’ve got [the assignment of shadowing the] fullback I’m going to be there to take him. I can’t control if he is going to pull and pitch it but if I’ve got pitch I’m going to be there to take it. It’s probably even more paramount that we worry about ourselves, do our job, do our responsibility and play our technique. All we can control is us and that’s us executing the game plan.”