USF defense looking to stop triple-option against Georgia Tech

Kirk Livingstone (94) hoists Greg Reaves (4) into the air in warm-ups before USF's 34-14 win over Elon. The Bulls take on Georgia Tech and its triple-option rushing attack this weekend at Raymond James Stadium. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

In college football, there are few guarantees.

However, one thing USF football is guaranteed to see Saturday at noon is Georgia Tech’s triple-option rushing attack in Raymond James Stadium.

The Bulls, however, feel ready, as they have prepared for the triple-option since the spring.

“Any time you’re going against something as unique as the triple-option, you have to be able to start the process and game planning for it early,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. “We just wanted to make sure we were familiar with some of the base formations.”

While the Yellow Jackets posted a 5-6 record in 2017, finishing third in the ACC Coastal, they still rushed for 3,622 yards, thanks to their triple-option offense. Georgia Tech returns its top-two rushers from last season, quarterback TaQuon Marshall and blocking back — which is similar to a fullback — KirVonte Benson, who each rushed for over 1,000 yards.

“I think it’s definitely a challenge that we’re up for,” defensive end Greg Reaves said. “Our coaches are doing an excellent job going over our jobs, going over our tasks. Basically just trying to put us in the right position to make plays, to feed off each other, to read off each other and feed off each other out there on Saturday.”

The triple-option isn’t going to be anything new to USF defensive veterans — AAC-opponent Navy employs a similar offensive scheme.

“Both are really great teams,” Reaves said. “It’s just really adjusting to the offense because it’s something that you don’t see every Saturday.”

Linebacker Khalid McGee agreed, but added that Georgia Tech is slightly different than the Navy team USF beat 52-45 in 2016.

“(Georgia Tech) is basically Navy with athletes,” McGee said. “We’re going at it with the same approach.”

Given that Georgia Tech’s run game is its bread-and-butter — and that the Yellow Jackets ran for 452 yards last weekend against Alcorn State — fans might be concerned with the number of rushing yards USF allowed last week.

The Bulls let Elon rush for 194 yards on Saturday. Only two teams rushed for more yards in a single game against USF last season, Tulane (194) and Houston (255).

Last week, USF’s game against Elon was shown on the online-only network ESPN3. This weekend, though, USF will be playing on national television on ABC and ESPN2.

“They’re going to be satisfied,” McGee said about the national audience. “They’re going to see a hard, 11-player defense, everyone running to the ball and a fast defense. They’re going to be satisfied.”

If McGee plays the way he did against Elon last Saturday, the satisfaction is sure to be mutual. McGee set a new career high with 11 tackles against the Phoenix.

USF has won five of its last six games against Power-Five opponents — including two Birmingham Bowl victories against South Carolina and Texas Tech. The last time the Bulls lost to a Power Five opponent was Florida State, then ranked No. 13, in 2016.