CLEMSON -- In an era where play-callers require double-sided laminated call sheets for their numerous plays on game days, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson could write his playlist on the back of a business card. Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said Johnson has perhaps a dozen staple plays.
The secret to Johnson's offense, what makes Georgia Tech so difficult to defend beyond the deception of option football, is the number of blocking schemes Johnson employs.
Johnson has approximately nine different blocking schemes to choose
from, Steele said, giving one run play nine different looks. Multiply nine different blocking schemes for a dozen plays and Georgia Tech essentially has 108 run plays.
The variety of blocking schemes plays an integral role in Georgia Tech leading the country with 11 gains of 50 yards more this season. (Clemson is second with 10.) The blocking schemes are key in the Yellow Jackets' No. 5 ranking rush offense (321.1 yards per game) and second-best ACC scoring offense (38.4 points per game). No. 6 Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC) travels to Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2) to face the complex blocking scheme at 8 p.m. Saturday (WCIV-TV/ABC).
"They can block (one running play) by man blocking it, veer blocking it, loop blocking and counter-loop blocking," Steele said. "They can arc it, load it and crack it. Just the simple toss play, they have blocked the toss seven different ways this year."
The coach calling the plays also presents a problem for a Clemson defense ranking 76th against the run (169 yards allowed per game).
Unlike many play-callers who can be seen holding complex play lists appearing to be expansive restaurant menus, Johnson does not use a call sheet.
Johnson knows the offense so well, having employed it since his days at Georgia Southern, Navy and Hawaii, he has it memorized.
Rather than focus on a call sheet, Johnson focuses his eyes on his opponent and the defensive substitutions, always probing for a weakness.
"He's got enough in his arsenal, he keeps searching until he finds something," Steele said. "When he finds something, then he'll wear you out with it."
Steele said against an opponent earlier this season, Johnson found a play and blocking scheme that was effective, calling the combination 20 times in the game.
The blocking complexity keeps defenses in extreme vanilla looks, as defenses already use basic schemes against Georgia Tech due to having little time to prepare for the rarely seen option offense.
"They don't see a lot of looks; they see two or three different schemes a year," Steele said. "Maryland, North Carolina and Miami, on film, are almost identical (defensively). So it really comes down to dominating at the line of scrimmage and doing your job."
Clemson dominated the line of scrimmage last season, limiting the Jackets to 325 total yards of offense in a 27-13 win. It was a major improvement from 2009, when Clemson allowed 887 yards to Georgia Tech in two losses, including a defeat in the ACC title game.
But Da'Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins are gone. Defensive end Andre Branch is one of five starters to return from last season's defense and knows the challenge awaiting in Atlanta.
"If your responsibility is the fullback, then don't go hitting the quarterback," Branch said. "They have a different type of offense, but we watch film and do everything. We just have to play assignment football."