Utah's opponent in the Sun Bowl runs an offense that is pretty unique to college football. It's pesky. It's efficient and it can eat up an entire quarter in one drive (okay, maybe not that much time, but you get the idea).
Of course, it's the triple option and it's the offense Georgia Tech adopted when Paul Johnson became the head coach back in 2007.
It's a tricky offense to game plan against and I'm sure the Utes are well aware of this.
Prior to accepting the Yellow Jackets' offer to become head coach, Johnson ran his triple option at Navy. In fact, Utah actually played the Midshipmen the year he departed Annapolis for Atlanta. He didn't coach in the game, but Ken Niumatalolo, his offensive coordinator (now current head coach of Navy) and future triple option protege, ran the same basic offense in the Poinsettia Bowl - a 35-32 Utah victory.
So, this current coaching staff has lined up against the Johnson-specific triple option, which is pretty much the same system in 2007 as it is today, even though he's running it with a difference team.
In that game, the Utes struggled stopping the offense. The Midshipmen actually jumped out to a 17-7 second half lead before Utah eventually stormed back and took a ten point lead late. The game tightened considerably with about a minute left, as Navy scored on a 58 yard pass (which, all things considered, is pretty rare for this offense) and then recovered the onside kick before Joe Dale intercepted a pass with only seconds remaining.
The Midshipmen tore up the Utes for 438 yards of offense, 316 of which came on the ground.
Even so, much of the offensive success Navy saw in that game came in the first half. Outside their fluke 58 yard pass with less than a minute left (soft coverage will do that), Utah outscored the Midshipmen 28-7 in the second half.
The adjustments made by the coaching staff changed the dynamics of the game and allowed the Utes to not only get back into it, but also to build two double digit leads in the second half.
But all things considered, Utah was lucky to get out of that game with a victory. It was a hard fought win for the Utes, which shouldn't be a surprise since facing a similar offense in conference play, against Air Force, has yielded similar results.
We're more familiar with the Falcons, as Utah had shared a conference with them for a bit over 30 years. Their offense, initially adopted by Ken Hatfield and developed over the years by Fisher DeBerry and now Troy Calhoun, has given Ute fans heartburn for the better half of the last 20 years.
No game against Air Force has been easy. Even in 2004, when Utah went undefeated and blew out every opponent by two scores or more, the Falcons still managed to make the game more competitive than any other team the Utes faced that season - even opening up an early 14-0 lead.
Every game since has pretty much come down to the final possession. Some have been high scoring (as was the case in '04, '05), but most have been defensive battles.
Always, though, the Utes seem to defend the triple option the same way every season. They overplay the run and force those teams to beat them through the air.
The Falcons could never really do that. Since '03, they've managed to beat Utah only once (2007) and, like always, that game came down to one play - a fourth down run play from the goal line that failed.
In last year's game, Tim Jefferson actually had a career high in passing yards (at the time), throwing for 201 yards - but it was the two interceptions and two huge fourth down stops in the final quarter that preserved the win.
What's interesting is that the Poinsettia Bowl was dramatically different than the Air Force games of that season and what we've come to expect from both programs. As I mentioned, it was an offensive extravaganza in San Diego back in '07, and the last time both Air Force and Utah showed any offensive prowess against one another was in 2005.
Even though, in '10, the Utes entered the Falcon game with one of the top offenses in the country.
I don't have any reason for this except that, at least against Air Force, the coaching staff probably approaches the game with a more conservative game plan that tries its best to keep the triple option off the field.
It makes sense. I can't recall any real offensively aggressive game plan over the last few seasons and I really have to go back to that '05 game, Whittingham's first season, and one that turned into a track meet where the offenses really lit up the scoreboard and played absolutely brilliantly.
I guess last year's game bucked that recent trend, with Air Force torching Utah for 411 yards. But even then, they only managed 23 points. Not exactly an offensive showcase like what they put on last night in the Military Bowl against Toledo.
Ultimately, history indicates Utah will have a very close game with Georgia Tech this Saturday. They haven't truly blown out a triple option team since '04 and every game since, whether against Navy or Air Force, has been won by the smallest of margins.
Fortunately, the Utes are 6-1 against that offense since '05.
Unfortunately, this is definitely a more talented team that runs its pesky offense than either the Midshipmen or Falcons.
So, maybe familiarity means little in the grand scheme of this game.
I guess we'll find out.