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IN AN AGE of shotgun formations and five-receiver sets, first-year Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson—to paraphrase the late conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.—stands athwart college football, yelling, Stop! at a time when few are inclined to do so. Indeed, of the 18 Division I-A coaches in new positions this year, nine installed a variation of the spread, the pass-happy system that has swept college football (SI, Aug. 11). Then there's Johnson, who in six years at Navy won 45 games and went to five bowls before bringing his triple-option offense to Atlanta last December.
Last Thursday night the Yellow Jackets successfully rolled out their old-fashioned, ground-based attack—"the perfect option," as Johnson calls it—in a 41--14 drubbing of Division I-AA Jacksonville State at Bobby Dodd Stadium. After opening with a long pass that fell incomplete (one of only 15 attempts by Georgia Tech), the Jackets ran the ball 46 times for 349 yards and six touchdowns. "There's just too many issues with this offense for people to deal with," Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said after the game. "We had two and a half weeks. The rest of these folks will get two days. Good luck, ACC."
That's a far cry from what was heard before the season opener, when Johnson—who also used the triple option in winning consecutive I-AA championships in 1999 and 2000 as coach at Georgia Southern—was besieged by a legion of vociferous doubters. The Ramblin' Wreck's shaky performance in its spring game, replete with fumbles and missed blocking assignments, didn't do anything to silence critics. But Johnson is quick to point out that his system has already been ACC-tested: In his last four seasons at Annapolis, he went 4--3 against teams in the conference. And at Georgia Tech he will be running the option with some of the best athletes to whom he's ever had access, including fullback Jonathan Dwyer, a 6-foot, 228-pound sophomore who scored twice against Jacksonville State and averaged 10.2 yards on 11 up-the-gut carries.
Afterward, Johnson talked earnestly about how much work his team still has to do before facing Boston College and Virginia Tech in the next two weeks. But Dwyer didn't hesitate to give his unit credit: "We showed our fans and the nation what this offense can do."
Here's how six other marquee coaching debuts turned out last weekend.
ARKANSAS Bobby Petrino
Defeated Western Illinois 28--24
Narrowly avoiding a disaster in front of a stunned home crowd, Petrino's squad overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to the Division I-AA Leathernecks. Casey Dick's limited ability as a passer might force Petrino to rely more on the running game.
MICHIGAN Rich Rodriguez
Lost to Utah 25--23