CHAPEL HILL – Georgia Tech right guard Shamire Devine is 6-7 and weighs 366 pounds. Can you imagine that much man diving at your knees 25-30 times a game?
That’s what North Carolina defenders have to look forward to when the Tar Heels (3-1) travel to Atlanta to take on the Yellow Jackets (2-2). Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is the master of the triple-option offense. One staple of the triple-option offense, beside a lot of moving parts, or “eye candy” in the backfield as defensive coordinator Gene Chizik phrased it, is the cut blocking that comes from the offensive linemen and wide receivers.
Tech’s offensive linemen, besides Devine, obviously, are typically smaller than your standard Division I offensive line. They make up for the lack of size by having great technique and of course, the cut blocks. Their receivers also spring big runs for their backs by doing a great job of blocking downfield, cracking back on defenders whenever they can, and of course, cut blocking.
That’s something UNC defenders have to prepare for, if they can really simulate it in practice. After his team’s win over the Yellow Jackets last week, Duke’s David Cutcliffe said he let his team cut each other in practice at full speed, better to simulate what they would see on game day.
“We’ve cut in practice and things of those nature,” Chizik said. “I don’t know if you’re really ready for it until you get it the whole game, but we’ve done a good job trying to simulate that in practice.”
What UNC has done is used medicine balls to throw at the defenders during drills. What that drill does is teach the players to use their hands to shed blocks near the knees, all while keeping their eyes up and on the ball carrier. It’s a nice drill at half speed, but nothing like 300-hundred pound men coming at your legs during a play.
“A practice cut and a game cut are completely two different cuts,” sophomore linebacker Cayson Collins said. “The first couple of series we’re going to have to get a feel for it and get better throughout the game.”
Last year, his first time facing Georgia Tech, Collins remembers the first time he fell victim to a cut block. Even though he knew it was coming, it still caught him off guard. The play was going away from Collins, and in classic Georgia Tech style, the backside offensive lineman took Collins out at the knees.
“I’ll never forget that one.”
What happens after that first cut is what makes the Yellow Jackets so successful at running this offense. Collins admitted he played slower the remainder of the game, mainly because he was looking for the cut, doing more thinking than reading and reacting. By him playing slower, it allowed the blockers to get to him easier because his mind wasn’t fully on his assignment.
“It will make you think twice about how fast you want to run, or how high you run,” Collins said. “You start focusing on the cut block then you’re not paying attention to your read or what’s going on in the backfield. It plays into their advantage physically and mentally.”
And it’s not just limited to the front seven, the secondary get some of the cut action as well.
Sophomore cornerback M.J. Stewart remembers his first cut just as well as Collins.
“I know it hurt,” Stewart recalled from last seasons 48-43 UNC victory in Kenan Stadium. “It’s frustrating when you get cut … it’s annoying.”
“It’s been a while, it’s been a long time,” Chizik said.
He even admitted that he has been on the phone this week with coaching buddies who are a little bit more familiar with the attack, getting pointers and advice. The best pointers he could receive probably would come from right down the road at Duke. Chizik has seen that film and said the three things the Blue Devils did to be successful against Georgia Tech were – be physical, get off blocks and be discipline.
“And that’s where this gets really tricky because there’s a lot of eye candy there,” Chizik said. “Who has the ball, who doesn’t. They have answers for everything you do.”
UNC’s defense will be looking for an answer to something they know is coming. It sounds simple enough coming from Stewart, but easier said than done.
“Don’t get cut, don’t get blocked.”