Back Seat Coachin’: What if? Coach Ken edition

The Tech admin pushed Paul Johnson out the door and haven’t been to a bowl game since.By Justin Dottavio@IMFB_Blog  Dec 17, 2021, 8:00am EST

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NCAA Football: Army at Navy

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are heading into their fourth off-season with head coach Geoff Collins at the helm. The Jackets haven’t been to a bowl game since Paul Johnson ‘retired’ at the end of the 2018 season. Coach Johnson’s tenure in Atlanta saw a record of 82-61, with 51 wins coming in the ACC.

Coach Collins tenure has been marred by inconsistency. The Jackets are heavily penalized, and have failed to make a bowl game in three seasons. Tech has now hit ‘reset’ on the offensive staff, save O-Line coach Brent Key, as well as a few defensive coaches.

That begs the question, what if instead of going to this “pro style” approach, the Jackets administration went to a younger, more progressive version of Coach Johnson instead. Insert Ken Niumatalolo into the conversation. While Johnson cleaned up at Navy, Coach Niumat has done an even more impressive job. The Midshipmen moved to the uber competitive AAC conference and Niumat has managed to win almost 50 games, while placing the Middies in four bowls.

Coach Niumatalolo has also reinvented himself, the flexbone spread offense, and the Midshipmen time and again, but especially throughout the 2021 season.

On the dash

In the 2021 iteration of the Army-Navy Game, the quarterbacks threw 21 combined passes for 190 yards on December 11th. Navy QB Tai Lavatai averaged 13.7 yards per pass attempt against the Black Knights defense. The Middies had four receivers catch a pass and all four went for double-digit yards per catch. Army West Point saw four of five receivers with double-digit yards per catch.

The two QB’s led their respective teams in carries. Army WP QB Christian Anderson ran nine times for 67 yards and a score, while Lavatai ran 20 times for 62 yards and two TD’s. Both academies averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the afternoon. It was a true ground-and-pound approach from Navy.

On the season, did the Midshipmen struggle on offense? Yes, sir. But Niumat figured out how to adapt his scheme to fit his personnel over the course of the season, essentially running a modern spread run attack that would’ve made Tim Tebow blush. By the final week of the season the Midshipmen offense looked like something GT could have used with perfection the past three seasons.

The Navy offense

Since Jeff Monken arrived at Army West Point, Coach Niumatalolo has expanded the Navy playbook and made sure there were some wrinkles up the Middies sleeve. It’s really hard to run identical offenses at each other and find success. In ‘21, Navy came out in the gun quite a bit. In years past you’ve seen pistol formations and other ‘surprises.’

The idea that Niumat would be as stubborn to adapt and change as Coach Johnson shows how little fans know about Coach Ken.

Above– The Midshipmen run power read, a staple around college football. The QB will read the play side defensive end. If he sits or attacks the QB, the Q hands off to the wing back that’s running jet motion. The back side guard pulls as a lead blocker if the QB pulls.

Above– This is power read, again, coming the other way. With the over hang linebacker as the read. When the LB plays the sweep outside, the QB pulls and runs behind the guard as his lead blocker.

Above– Five man rush? The Navy line and B-Back pick up the pressure and give the QB plenty of time to make the throw. This is the kind of dedicated blocking GT will miss without Jahmyr Gibbs, but this is what Navy player do. They sell out their bodies for Coach Ken.

Above– This is a QB draw play from the gun. It should look familiar as Jeff Sims ran QB draw for a couple of TD runs this year against UNC.

Above– Fly sweep play-action pass for a 1st down from… NAVY?! Full slide protection with the RB on the end man on the line.

Above– A three step drop in the gun. The Q moves the pocket to get his curl route time to get open off the jam.

Above– Navy can obviously work from under center, something I wish more OC’s could handle in ‘21. Too many teams have been hampered by not even being able to run a QB sneak from under center and have taken safeties or not picked up 1st downs on short yardage situations, GT included.

Above– Speaking of lining up under center for QB sneak and scoring a damn TD…

Above– It’s 3rd and 16 and the knock on flexbone spread teams is they can’t overcome the ‘and long’ situations. That ‘perception’ isn’t reality when you’re playing four-down football. Navy runs a SCREEN PASS on 3rd and 16 to make a manageable 4th and short. Watch the line block out in space, I love it.

Above– Another power read here and the guard does a beautiful skip pull on the power portion. The QB pulls and keeps behind the guard for a 1st down.

Above– Navy is back in the gun running QB draw on 3rd and 7 while nursing a one point lead over Army WP. They don’t get the 1st down but again, it moves them just closer in field goal position to pick up three points.

In the rearview

Obviously, Georgia Tech is heading into year four of a seven year investment in the Geoff Collins Administration. But the fun game to play is, what if? What if instead of completely passing (pun!) on the flexbone the GT powers decided to contact Coach Ken and give the offense a facelift instead of a total overhaul?

The service academies are smart to always base in the flexbone, but at Georgia Tech I don’t think Coach Niumat would have to. I think he could tool up an offense that resembles more of the Gus Malzahn offense, mixed in with some Art Briles Baylor, and Urban Meyer Florida and Ohio State vibe.

Coach Ken is a brilliant guy, a great tactician, and a fantastic head football coach. This exercise in fantasy surely would’ve made more bowl games than the Collins Era has managed. But, it’ll always be a ‘what if?’