When Georgia Tech tried to score from the 1-yard line on third- and fourth-and goal at the start of the fourth quarter of this past Saturday's loss to North Carolina, coach Paul Johnson pointed out that the Tar Heels "fired" cornerback Des Lawrence on both downs. Lawrence left his post at the snap to support the run, leaving wide receiver Brad Stewart alone.
After the Jackets failed to get in the end zone, it raised considerable banter among Yellow Jackets fans about why Tech couldn't have thrown the ball to Stewart.
"We could have thrown the lob out there," Johnson said. "If they fired the corner, we win. But there's other stuff we might could have run, but with what we do, you feel like that's what we needed to do."
In risking getting burned by a lob, though, the Tar Heels were playing heavy percentages in their favor. In Johnson’s tenure, the Jackets have scored 70 touchdowns from the 1-yard line, and all of them have been on run plays. Quarterbacks have scored 51 of them, followed by A-backs (10) and B-backs (nine).
Further, all 30 of Tech’s touchdowns from the 2-yard line, starting with the 2008 season, have been run plays. The shortest touchdown pass in Johnson’s tenure was a 3-yarder thrown by quarterback Vad Lee to B-back David Sims in the 2012 Sun Bowl, one of 24 touchdowns scored from that distance. (The other 23 were runs.)
The pattern remains through the 5-yard line, at least, not surprising for a team whose strength is running the ball and whose passing game is typically more vertical than horizontal. Of 24 touchdowns scored from the 4-yard line, 1 was a pass. From the 5-yard line, 16 of 18 touchdowns were run plays.
Altogether, of 166 touchdowns scored from the 5-yard and in, 162 were run plays, or 98 percent. By comparison, 79 of Tech opponents’ 104 touchdowns have been scored by run, 76 percent.
One piece of information I don't have is how many passes have been attempted from the 5 and inside that were incomplete.
I think one thing bears mentioning from Saturday’s game in the face of questions about the soundness of the strategy of the back-to-back sneaks – quarterback Justin Thomas scored twice from the 1 earlier in the game before the Jackets were stopped in the fourth quarter. So it’s not as though running Thomas behind the line was a plan doomed to failure. Sometimes, plays don’t work. Johnson said that missed assignments contributed to the failure of the two plays.
"In hindsight, it would have been better than what we did - it didn't work," Johnson said. "But if we do what we did right ..."
My memory of such isn’t great, but it does seem like Tech has been pretty successful inside the 5 sticking to the run. I don't remember a lot of drives failing on the goal line. Tevin Washington, for instance, had a knack for squirming his way over the goal line. (I do remember Tech getting stopped on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line in overtime against Miami in 2012, although I also remember that play not being run as called.)
That said, 100-0 (rushing touchdowns vs. passing touchdowns from the 1 and 2), whatever conclusion you want to draw from it, is pretty remarkable. Tech opponents have scored 47 touchdowns from the 1 and 2 during Johnson's tenure, 40 by run.
Interestingly, Tech has scored three 2-point conversions by pass in Johnson’s tenure. Of the 20 two-point tries that the Jackets have taken since 2008, seven have been pass attempts. Given that two-point tries originate from the 3-yard line, the 13/7 run/pass ratio isn’t what you would expect, at least not on the surface.
“As a coach, a fan, you’re going to second guess yourself if it doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “I second guess myself. I stayed up all night Saturday thinking, what could I have done different to help. I watched the tape. Maybe I could have called a pass on the goal line. Other than that, we were about doing what we needed to do. You’ve just got to execute it a little bit.”