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College football: unusual test faces Syracuse

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The Syracuse University and Georgia Tech football teams couldn’t be more evenly matched.

Both enter today’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., with a .500 record, tied for third in their respective divisions within the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Their per-game average of total offense is nearly identical: SU is at 421 and Georgia Tech averages 423.

And though they do it in different ways, both teams play with the same philosophy — run the ball as often as possible and stop the other team from doing the same.

Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast locally on WSTM (Channel 3).

“I think they want to run the ball. They try to spread you out but I think they want to run the ball. I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team enters as a 7-point favorite despite losing its last three.

SU (3-3 overall, 1-1 ACC) approaches its run game by more traditional means — a dynamic one-two running back punch of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley.

Georgia Tech runs a unique option-style offense, a version of which is essentially only run by the Yellow Jackets (3-3, 2-2) and service academies like Army and Navy.

Both game plans have worked so far.

Georgia Tech ranks first in the ACC and sixth nationally with 290 rushing yards per game. SU is third in the conference and 22nd in the country with an average of 220 rushing yards. SU’s average has climbed to 342 in its two ACC games, including a season-high 362 yards in a win over North Carolina State last Saturday.

Johnson’s offense is similar to many of the read-option schemes seen around college football except the quarterback lines up under center rather than out of the shotgun. It relies heavily on misdirection run plays and chop blocks from the offensive line, which teams rarely use as often as Georgia Tech does.

“You can explain (their offense), you can tell them, you can describe it (and) you can watch it on tape. But until you’re in the fight, you don’t realize how fast it happens to you as a player,” SU coach Scott Shafer said.

Johnson has been utilizing the system for 20-plus years as a head coach and offensive coordinator. Since he took over before the 2008 season, the Yellow Jackets have rushed for more yards than any team in the country and are the only team averaging more than 300 rushing yards in that span.

Shafer said that, after accepting the head coaching position in January, Georgia Tech jumped off the schedule because of its unique offense.

“That one was really important because you had to think outside of your comfort zone, outside of the box and take a look at a very unique offense and a group of coaches that really know what they are doing under Coach Johnson,” Shafer said. “So early on we started looking at it and started talking to people that have defended it or run it in similar ways and try to come up with ideas that fit the personnel that we have on our team.”

Both teams are also among the ACC’s best at stopping the opposition’s run game.

SU ranks second in the conference and 22nd in the nation, allowing just 120 rushing yards per game. Georgia Tech is giving up 132 on average, which is fourth-best in the ACC and 30th in the country.

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