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September 20, 2008ATLANTA (AP) - Paul Johnson won't be the only triple-option expert at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.
Johnson's offense is difficult for Georgia Tech's opponents to learn in one week, and that advantage is a key to the scheme's success.
This week, however, Sylvester Croom will be on the opposing sideline, and the Mississippi State coach also has a long history in the triple option.
Johnson calls his offense a spread option, and Croom takes a more old-school approach when he spoke this week about the wishbone he remembers from his days playing for Bear Bryant as a center at Alabama.
Each coach says it's a difficult offense to defend, but Croom didn't wait until this week to begin preparing his Mississippi State defense.
Croom began devoting practice time to the scheme before the season.
"We prepared, on a very limited basis, daily in practice," Croom said. "We had an option period every day back during training camp. I instructed our defense very specifically. I wanted them to work on defending the triple option during that time."
Croom knows the offense, but still he sought outside help.
"We talked with several people who see it a lot and defend it a lot and got their opinions how we should go about doing that as well," he said.
Despite the extra practice time before the season, the game-week challenge is difficult because of the extra learning required by the defense. Croom says it is also a stiff challenge for the scout-team offense, which must imitate the Georgia Tech attack.
Johnson says he expects a strong defensive challenge from Mississippi State (1-2). The Bulldogs' problems on offense and strength on defense were both on display in their 3-2 loss to Auburn last week.
"Defensively they are probably the best team we have played, I don't think there's any question," said Johnson.
"When you think about that last game, I think offensively they had six first downs and (116) yards and they still held Auburn to three points. That's pretty impressive."
Mississippi State opened with a 22-14 loss at Louisiana Tech before beating Southeastern Louisiana.
This will be the first meeting between Georgia Tech and Mississippi State in almost 80 years. Georgia Tech beat Mississippi State 27-13 in 1929 in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets will make their first visit to Starkville next season.
Even during last week's 20-17 loss, quarterback Josh Nesbitt and the Yellow Jackets (2-1) have made steady progress in Johnson's offense. Georgia Tech won at Boston College two weeks ago, and Nesbitt rushed for 151 yards, a school record for a quarterback, last week.
Croom said his defense must play an "extremely disciplined" game to contain Nesbitt and running back Jonathan Dwyer while also respecting the possibility Nesbitt will throw more than in a traditional wishbone attack.
"Their offense is a little variation on a pure wishbone," Croom said. "It adds some more elements to it in the passing game that creates more problems."
Croom said Georgia Tech's two A-backs line up almost like tight ends instead of in the backfield behind Dwyer, who lines up like a fullback in the B-back position.
"They can still attack you with four vertical receivers," Croom said. "That creates some problems because you have to have eight guys down there to stop the option and any time you have three deep or zero secondary, four verticals will get you.
"We have to be extremely disciplined in what we do. We've got to defend the option and prevent them from hitting us with four vertical receivers at the same time."
Dwyer passed for 109 yards with a touchdown in the loss to Virginia Tech, but he also threw his first interception and lost two fumbles.
The turnovers, a concern since spring practice, are still a weekly emphasis for Johnson.
"Clearly if you lose the turnover battle 3-0 you're not going to win many games, and we've got to do a much better job taking care of it," Johnson said. "We had been doing a better job up until the last game of (forcing turnovers). Those things go in cycles. The thing we can take care of is taking care of it better ourselves."
When asked if turnovers are expected of a sophomore quarterback in his first year in the offense, Johnson had a short and terse reply.
Georgia Tech has not allowed more than 20 points in a game this season and already has four interceptions, only one below last year's total.
Mississippi State is sticking with quarterback Wesley Carroll, a sophomore who was only 10-for-25 passing for 78 yards with an interception against Auburn.
Carroll has passed for 408 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions, including three in the loss to Louisiana Tech.
"At this point I still feel like he gives us our best chance to win," Croom said. "He'll be the starter. If I feel like I need to do something in the game, I'll do it."
Backup Tyson Lee, a junior, completed 10 of 15 passes for 85 yards against Louisiana Tech.