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Virginia Tech Hokies vs Florida State Seminoles: What is the Gulf Coast Offense?

Coach Willie Taggart is new to Florida State, and needless to say FSU is new to Taggart’s offense. They say talent just needs instruction and direction and the results will be the same, regardless of the method. We will see how that works. FSU hasn’t been known as an Option/Read sort of program. They do have the talent to pull this off, though. It’s just a complete unknown if they can do it in the first game. GO HOKIES!!!!

This is the most common type of formation for the GCO
John Schneider - SB Nation

We are going to do something unusual for the Florida State run-up. Since the game is on a Monday, the full preview will be out on Saturday evening. Normally we’d put up Bryan’s review of the current status and the direct game preview, and I’d bring up the historic part of the deal with some background tendencies, etc. This season, the FSU game presents the dual challenge of facing a new coach along with doing it with sketchy evidence as to how he will run the team.

Ideally, and Coach Fuente has sort of done the public wince at the prospect, we’d be facing FSU a few games into the season where there are films available as to how he’ll adapt his offense to his current personnel package. There is even the question looming regarding his ability to actually implement his offense with the personnel that he has. Sometimes a coach can have the best system in the world, but the team that he inherits is not built for it, and doesn’t ever get it. When this sort of thing happens there is often a precipitous fall in the program’s performance, until roster is turned over. Sometimes the coach’s “system” ends up being a cinch to learn, and the team picks up where it left off. The “cinch” part is directly related to the willingness of the coach to adapt to what he has versus what he wants to have.

For Virginia Tech, we know that Justin Fuente’s offensive style was so different than the Beamer Era’s hodgepodge of different attempts at a system that the team actually improved immediately. Even then, the Fuente O (haven’t seen a cutesy nickname for it yet) hasn’t been fully implemented, yet.

In the case of WillieTaggart and Florida State, we’ll face off without a single clue as to whether or not the ‘Gulf Coast Offense’ (GCO) will be successfully deployed.

Let’s take a basic look at what this offense is, sort of exactly. SB Nation’s Football Study Hall gives you a good perspective on what’s happening and who’s doing it.

There is a buzz level going on with the analysts. Check out 247’s Josh Newberg on this quick hitter regarding Taggart’s admitted direction with the GCO as he takes over a very differently configured program like FSU.

So, what we are seeing is a flavor variation of the same old running QB heavy offense that we pushed in 2016 and 2011-2014 (the Logan Thomas Era). In Tech’s case there wasn’t a full development of the most important part of the Gulf Coast Offense, namely speed. No one could accuse the Brian Steinspring/Scott Loeffler era of Hokie football of any sort of fast pace. No huddle meant that someone forgot to call a huddle. The end result, however, was much the same. A spread out quarterback run heavy offense with occasional midrange to deep low percentage passes intended to keep the Safeties honest.

I expect that a simplified version of Taggart’s already very simplified offense will be deployed for the first game. What is obvious from each play diagram that I see being posted on multiple sources like another really nice SBNation write up from Ian Boyd,

This is a typical GCO “Counter/Bubble/Hitch” play against a very base Tech Defense
Ian Boyd SB Nation

This Offense depends on controlling the Zone block on the offensive line, either student body shoved left for a right side run, shoved right for a left side run, or allowed to flow around for a slash run up the middle. Who gets the ball is completely up to a set of very simple reads by the Quarterback. What do the Ends, Will, and Mike do? If you are defensive minded person and look at Boyd’s 2nd play diagram, you’ll see something very familiar. It’s the “base defense” for Bud Foster’s Bear Front 4-2-5.

Note the way the attack proceeds for this delayed ISO, Read Option. The blocking pattern is intended to swing the interior of the defensive line to the offense’s left; the running play is designed to go through the right side of the “A” gap (old 1 hole) with the offset tailback. And that is IF the Quarterback reads the Will (Backer) crashing in on him. If the Will drops in coverage or gets blocked, the Quarterback keeps the ball at the merge, and follows the H-Back and the Fullback who finish clearing the hole. Before the Mike could beat the block, the QB is 5 to 8 yards downfield.

Notice something interesting, though. The Defensive ends are nearly ignored. The DE on the play side (Stud End) is counted on to over rush, past the merge, or get chipped by the H-Back. The Back Side DE (End) is nearly completely ignored as already being past the play before it developed. There is also something missing about all of this as well. The patterns and coverage counters are not on the play sheet. This play as diagrammed does not count on the pass within the RPO package. What this counts on is the fear that the quarterback, behind a passive zone blocking line, has a serious possibility of hitting a receiver in space as everyone shuffles around to cover. The safeties are therefore baited off and ignored. They might keep the play from being a break away, but the play is intended to get about 8-10 yards which in most normal down schedule patterns is enough to move the sticks.

There is a ton of other material on the web, but basically it all boils down to the GCO being a Quarterback run heavy offense with very limited passing to receivers who are willing to go up after the ball, in traffic, and then run with it after the catch. There is a lot of crossing and inside out action to both confuse the defense during play execution, and provide the best set of options for creating mismatches.

Defending the offense means the following:

  1. Collapsing the ‘A’ Gap into the quarterback’s bubble; so that he can neither step up nor dash up field. The object is to destroy the key read, and collapse on the merge so it doesn’t matter whether the QB hands off or runs, neither player gets out of the backfield.
  2. The Ends must put containment pressure on the pocket, deep but must avoid rushing in toward the play. That sounds counter intuitive but the way the blocking is designed for the DE to take himself out of the play by screening him off from the action until he ends up 4 yards behind the merge. The End on the Back Side of the play must watch the counters and reverses before closing in past the inside edge of the ‘B’ Gap.
  3. The coverage must be tight to each split, and someone needs to spot the release pass possibilities and distribute key assignments. By bottling up the middle and driving the play to the outside the defense needs to be tight enough to prevent the quick release seam or sideline pass on a sprint out or roll. An interesting variation that would definitely help foil reads by the QB at the line of scrimmage is to Invert the Cornerbacks and Safeties on one or both sides, along with using the Rover as the third possible blitzing linebacker, but varying the location, the placement on the field, and the direction of the blitzes. (I call this Bugnutz Blitzes). The idea is to line up like you are going to blitz from the left side, but you stunt with the DE and have the DE rush the ‘A’ gap and have the linebacker contain if the play goes to that side. In short be cautiously aggressive, never let the offense dictate, and keep them behind the sticks, and thus one dimensional.
  4. Above all there must be a “spy” for the QB assigned on each play. It doesn’t have to be the same spy, but at least one player for each play must account for the QB. This is something that Foster has just not done very much at all, and a huge reason for this team’s serious failures with running quarterbacks.

So, the Hokie Defense will line up on Monday night, in what will probably be close to a base defense, and then will have to make adjustments because Gulf Coast Offense or not, Willie Taggart’s players aren’t his, and they definitely haven’t come from his system. Everyone is going to be learning on both sides of the ball. If the defense is smart and aggressive (without being overly so) that works to its advantage.

Just so you understand what we are up against, I used an unpublished picture of Clemson in the same sort of lineup. Once Kelly Bryant proved that he wasn’t a grade ‘A’ passer (not even a grade ‘C’ that game) he clobbered us with his legs in a Dabo Swinney variation of the GCO.

Next up we get to the big previews.