Commodores in for challenge against Georgia Tech offense

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Commodores in for challenge against Georgia Tech offense

September 10th, 2016 – Oren Burks (20) returns an interception during the Commodores' 47-24 win against MTSU Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.

September 10th, 2016 – Oren Burks (20) returns an interception during the Commodores' 47-24 win against MTSU Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Blake Dover

September 10th, 2016 – Oren Burks (20) returns an interception during the Commodores' 47-24 win against MTSU Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Blake Dover

Blake Dover

September 10th, 2016 – Oren Burks (20) returns an interception during the Commodores' 47-24 win against MTSU Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

The hallmark of the 2016 Vanderbilt football team is the defensive unit under head coach Derek Mason. In its second season under Mason acting as defensive coordinator, the defense has garnered national attention for its prowess at slowing down even the most high-powered offenses.

However, this week against Georgia Tech, it’ll face a completely foreign offensive style: the triple option.

For those who are not football junkies, the triple option is an offensive scheme based on the slightly more common read option, in which a quarterback has a choice to keep the ball or pitch it off to one of his tailbacks on the run. In the triple option, the quarterback has three options: give the ball to his fullback off the snap, run the ball outside and keep it or shovel it off to his running back. The quarterback usually makes these judgments based on the movement of the defensive end.

It’s a run-heavy and complex system that can present a nightmare for opposing defenses. Georgia Tech has run this scheme since Paul Johnson took over as head coach in 2007, and Mason understands the unique challenge he faces this week.

“When you’re facing a triple-option team, they do present problems,” he said at his press conference on Tuesday. “You have to stop the run, and they do lull you to sleep. Explosive plays on both run and play action are out there. We’re going to have to be good all the way around.”

Mason said his coaching staff has put in “a lot more” preparation time into studying this defense, even though they did plenty of homework over the summer on the Yellow Jackets.

“You’re facing a team that does something remotely different than almost everybody else you play,” Mason said. “The emphasis is on being able to tackle and being able to do your job. Coaches say that every week, but when you face this type of football team, it really is about doing your job, tackling, eye control and communication.”

One of the ways he plans on slowing down the triple option is throwing as many coverage looks out as possible.

“We’re 3-4, 4-3 and 3-3-5,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to attack in different platforms. That’s predicated on just trying to get different looks, because you can’t stay in the same look against this offense because, much like the offense we played last week, they’ve got answers for what you do if they just catch you in one thing.”

One advantage the Commodores may have on the defensive side of the ball is safety/linebacker Oren Burks, who has been playing at a special position dubbed “Star” by Mason. He can play up at the line on one play and drop back into coverage on the next. His adaptability on the field may be able to help in slowing down a high-octane Georgia Tech offense.

Burks himself said he’s ready to be the wild card for the Commodores against the triple option.

“Just being able to be on the line, be off the ball gives us a couple of different looks,” he said Wednesday after practice. “At the end of the day, we just have to execute and be disciplined in our defense.”

He also knows the challenge Georgia Tech will give them in their pre-snap looks.

“They challenge your eyes,” Burks said. “They have a lot of eye candy, motions in the backfield, quarterbacks going this way, linemen going the other way. It’s about discipline and knowing who you have.”

“One man is responsible for the dive, the next is responsible for the quarterback, and the other is responsible for the pitch. If you know that at the beginning of the play, you’ll be successful.”

Other Commodore News and Notes

-After a solid performance against Middle Tennessee State, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said that quarterback Kyle Shurmur is much more confident in himself.

“I think he feels good about his production in the second half after the weather delay,” he said. “I think he always comes out on the field with confidence, but he’s excited about the progress he’s shown. We’ll look forward to showing more as we go through it.”

Shurmur threw for 133 yards on 15 completions with one touchdown last Saturday.

-One thing that the offense has not been very successful with is the deep throw. They have tried it numerous times through the first two weeks, but it has yet to work.

“As part of establishing the run game on the early downs, the ability to loosen up the secondary is a big part of our success,” Ludwig said. “We have not hooked up on one of those passes, so if we’re to make progress from Week 2 to Week 3, that’s obviously the next step we need to take as a unit.”

-This will be the first time the Commodores have taken on the Yellow Jackets since 2009, when the ‘Dores lost 56-31. It’s the first time they’ve met in Atlanta since 2002, a 45-3 loss for Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 0-9-1 in their last 10 games against Georgia Tech and haven’t beaten the Yellow Jackets since 1941.

The matchup also has a lot of history. Georgia Tech was a founding member of the SEC, and the two teams played regularly until the Yellow Jackets left the conference in 1964.

The Commodores and Yellow Jackets kick off at 11:30 a.m. CT on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network and available to stream on the WatchESPN app.

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