ATHENS, Ga. -- When an option offense is clicking, it has the ability to rack up enormous play totals.
Look no further than Georgia Tech’s whopping 92 plays from its 2010 game against Georgia for evidence.
And for that reason, Georgia’s defensive coaching staff must at least be wary of the possible need to rotate players more liberally than usual in Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern (8-2), as taking on blocks down after down can be a fatiguing process if the defense is struggling to get stops.
“We kind of go by the game, but we traditionally roll our defensive linemen anyway, so we’re going to work to keep those guys fresh and play them that way,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
“Your rotations happen more often [against the option]," he added. "We kind of have a rotation with our guys to try to keep them fresh. It’s just because of the amount of plays that they can get that it happens a little more often.”
Georgia Southern’s and the highly similar Georgia Tech flexbone offense that the Bulldogs (9-1) will face the following week are content to chip away with short option runs over and over until eventually breaking a big play on the ground.
It doesn’t always produce a huge play total -- at 66.6 plays per game, Georgia Southern is actually averaging fewer plays than Georgia’s 67.4 this season -- but it’s always a distinct possibility. Georgia Tech is averaging 68.75 plays against Georgia -- with its offensive play count ranging between 51 in 2009 and 92 the next season -- in four meetings since Paul Johnson brought his unique rushing attack to the Flats.
If the Eagles or Yellow Jackets are able to consistently pick up ground in medium-sized chunks against the Bulldogs, creating lengthy drives, that’s when defensive line coach Rodney Garner might have to turn to his reserves a bit more than he might in normal circumstances.
“It’s just making sure you’re healthy because they’ll most likely go at a fast pace,” said true freshman Josh Dawson, who has appeared in nine games as a reserve outside linebacker/defensive end and special teams contributor. “Their team is going to be so fast that your big linemen, they’re going to need a few plays to get their breath back. So it’s just getting everybody rotated and making sure there’s no drop-off. Because you know when people get tired, they might not play as fast as they want to, so we have to make sure there’s no drop-off so no big plays can happen.”
That’s not to say that it always happens, however. Georgia defensive lineman John Jenkins said he didn’t remember feeling any more fatigued than normal during the Georgia Tech game last season. And defensive end Garrison Smith -- who had a big game off the bench against the Yellow Jackets a season ago -- said he has no desire to leave the game unless it’s a necessity.
“If I’m not tired I’m not coming out of the game if I can help it,” Smith said.
There is another element to his substitution patterns that Garner also must balance -- and it’s a particularly important one given the importance of playing assignment football consistently against an option team.
Garner has no desire to play a lineman he does not have faith in simply to give one of the regulars a breather.
“Obviously if you’ve got more depth that you can have that’s quality depth that you feel like you can win with and compete with, I think that’s good. But I think people think it’s real easy to play a bunch of people,” Garner said. “Well, the game’s always on the line. People can score like that, so you’re constantly trying to put guys out there that give you a chance to win it, to finish, that you have confidence in.
“We’re all creatures of habit, so if I’m confident and I know this guy right here’s going to do his assignment, then obviously you want to go with that guy that you know. With such-and-such, ‘Well he’s 50-50,’ you play the odds.”