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January 4, 2010

Iowa has hands full with Georgia Tech attack

MORE: Orange Bowl preview | Who has the edge? | Bowl schedule/results

After spending a month preparing for Georgia Tech's triple-option offense, Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker doesn't need X's and O's or game film to explain why the scheme works so well.

On one of the first days of Orange Bowl preparations in Miami, Parker stood up to demonstrate to reporters the basics of the offense using whatever he could -- a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee, a glass of water, empty glasses -- to diagram why it worked well enough to propel Georgia Tech to an ACC championship.

Parker seemed to be enjoying himself, but Georgia Tech could ruin his Tuesday night, as the Yellow Jackets did for so many ACC defensive coaches during the regular season.

That's when a glass of orange juice becomes Jonathan Dwyer and a cup of coffee becomes Josh Nesbitt.

"If you're a football purist, this thing is really sort of fun," Parker said. "I'm an old guy, and all this triple-option stuff sort of started in the late '60s. These guys have taken this offense and they've made it better and better and better."

The option has come and gone as the dominant offense in college football over the past four decades, but Tech's Paul Johnson is one of those keeping the scheme alive.

A college assistant since 1968, Parker has played against the offense in the past, but he hasn't prepared for a high-level option attack since Nebraska defeated Iowa in back-to-back seasons a decade ago. That's probably fine for Iowa fans, who watched their team lose 42-7 in 1999 and 42-13 in 2000 to the Huskers.

Tech's scheme wreaks havoc on opposing coordinators who have only a week to prepare their defenses. A bye week or a long layoff has a way of evening the odds -- or at least that's what Iowa hopes.

"The good news is we've had time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "The bad news is we can't come close to simulating what they do with the precision, speed and the expertise that they have."

On top of the month of preparation time, Iowa could be the kind of matchup that causes Georgia Tech problems. The Hawkeyes were stingy on defense this season, ranking 10th nationally in total defense and 30th against the run.

Under Parker, Iowa tends to maximize its talent by playing strong assignment football. The Hawkeyes also forced 29 turnovers this season (20 interceptions, nine fumbles).

"It's a different style of offense that we're not used to playing in the Big Ten," Iowa safety Tyler Sash said. "It's something that we've been preparing for over the past month We've been trying to get all of the looks that we can at practice and watched a lot of film. They do have a good offensive attack. We're going to have our hands full."

Tech runs a throwback offense of sorts, but that doesn't mean Parker can dust off old game plans from the '60s and '70s, when the option and wishbone were in their heydays. Parker said Johnson has refined and updated the offense.

Georgia Tech insists the scheme be called the "spread option," and Parker would agree Tech does more to spread the defense across the field than a typical option-based offense.

"They've got you defending stuff all over the field," he said.

There's evidence a week or more of prep time can cause problems for the Yellow Jackets. Miami had two weeks to prepare for its game against Georgia Tech this season and held the Yellow Jackets to 95 rushing yards in a 33-17 win. No other team held them to fewer than 205 yards.

Of course, that game comes with an asterisk. Dwyer was limited to five carries and 7 yards because of a shoulder injury.

"[The Hurricanes] didn't do anything different," Georgia Tech quarterbacks coach Brian Bohannon said. "We didn't play well. And, truthfully, that is the bottom line. I don't think it was anything schematically because they lined up the same way the majority of the teams we played this year lined up."

In last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl, LSU held Georgia Tech to 164 rushing yards in a 38-3 win. The Yellow Jackets entered the game averaging 282.3 rushing yards. LSU built a 35-3 halftime lead and forced Nesbitt to attempt 24 passes, which remains a career high.

That's one trend that seems to be in Iowa's favor, but the Hawkeyes can look at recent weeks to see that extra practice time doesn't guarantee a win against the option. Navy (over Missouri) and Air Force (Houston) upset favored opponents in their bowl games, and neither of those teams come close to the potential of Tech's offense.

The offense might have been phased out by most, but Parker knows it remains effective.

"The reason people got away from it is because it wasn't fancy enough for the public because they didn't want to see the fullback run up the middle with the ball," Parker said. "The public wants to see the ball in the air and whoop-de-doo and all that kind of stuff.

"But these guys, it's pound, pound. If they can give the ball to the fullback on that dive play and gain 4 yards, they'll do that all day. They'll do that all day and march down the field."

MORE: Orange Bowl preview | Who has the edge? | Bowl schedule/results

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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