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Posted: Friday May 7, 2010 12:22PM; Updated: Monday May 10, 2010 12:23AM
Cory McCartney

Georgia Tech ready to prove triple-option doubters wrong yet again

Story Highlights

Iowa stifled Paul Johnson's offense in the Orange Bowl, providing fuel for skeptics

The defending ACC champs lost star RB Dwyer to the NFL, among others

But the Yellow Jackets do return multi-talented star quarterback Josh Nesbitt

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Adrian Clayborn and Marcus Wright
Adrian Clayborn (94) and Iowa held Georgia Tech to 155 yards of total offense in a 24-14 Orange Bowl win.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

ATLANTA -- His mannerisms become more flippant, his tone slightly dismissive. Paul Johnson has clearly had it with discussing Georgia Tech's offensive struggles in the Orange Bowl.

"Are you worried other teams will view what Iowa did as a template in defending the triple option?" I asked.

It was a valid question, considering the way the Hawkeyes devoured Johnson's offense, yet the coach pounced on it much like Adrian Clayborn and Iowa's defense did in beating the Yellow Jackets 24-14 while holding them to 143 rushing yards on that January night in Miami.

"They can play an eight-man front, that would be good," Johnson said. "Nobody's ever done that against this offense before, lined up like Iowa. It's hard to play against."

But when I tried to change gears, to discuss the defensive changes or the keys to the Jackets defending their ACC crown, Johnson couldn't let it go.

"Just out of curiosity, all those people that are worried about [our offense], how many games did Iowa give up over 14 on defense?" Johnson asked.

"Michigan," I say. "Northwestern, Ohio State ..."

"That [Ohio State] was in overtime," Johnson replied. "A lot of people struggled against them."

For the record, five teams scored at least 14 points on the Hawkeyes defense. But what was alarming wasn't just that Georgia Tech labored against Iowa, which was eighth in the nation in scoring D, it was how it labored: in a BCS game, in primetime, with an opportunity to prove that the triple option was more viable than archaic. Yet the Jackets were held to a season-low nine first downs and 155 total yards of offense, or nearly one-third of their season average.

Now Johnson and Georgia Tech must pick up the pieces and move forward from that setback to defend their ACC title, and they'll be doing it without former ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer and three players picked in the first three rounds of the NFL draft: defensive end Derrick Morgan (the 16th overall pick), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (22nd overall) and safety Morgan Burnett (a third-round selection). Plus there's the matter of sweeping schematic changes on defense with the hiring of former Virginia coach Al Groh, who is installing a 3-4.

But if Johnson is harboring any concerns about the state of the program amid those changes, he isn't leading on. He's still confident-bordering-on-cocky.

It's an attitude that, to fully understand, you only need to spend a few moments with Johnson. He doesn't just believe in his offense; philosophy has become ideology. Johnson worships the Tao of the triple option and has always stayed adamant that if run precisely his offense -- which is so choreographed you could categorize it as a smashmouth ballet -- can't be stopped. Crusades have been waged over less hardened beliefs.

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