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Georgia Tech at Clemson Preview: Q&A with From the Rumble Seat

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Coming off a tremendous program win, Clemson now gears up for a rivalry game that has often gone against the Tigers. We talk to Tyler Duke of From the Rumble Seat, SB Nation's Georgia Tech site, to preview the matchup.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After showing the Yellow Jackets little respect for most of last season, Paul Johnson's bunch made me look silly by beating Clemson and Georgia in consecutive games. This season, I again picked against them in the Coastal (taking UNC or VT). Again they made me look silly with drubbings of Alcorn State and Tulane, however the Yellow Jackets have lost three straight (Notre Dame, Duke, UNC).

Georgia Tech will look to turn around their season and get back in the Coastal race with their first win in Death Valley since 2008. To help us preview the game, we have Tyler Duke of From the Rumble Seat to answer our questions.

STS: Shakin the Southland
FTRM: From the Rumble Seat

Following their great Orange Bowl season, the Yellow Jackets were (over)hyped coming into this year. What would you say are the one or two biggest reasons they're falling short of those high expectations so far?

The first reason, which is the only one anybody should be concerned about this point, is the blocking. It's been as bad as you can imagine from all over the offense. The offensive line lost only one starter - Shaq Mason to the NFL - yet they've been unable to create any holes in the middle of the line or block at all for Justin Thomas in the passing game. Wide Receivers haven't gotten any push down the field, and the A-Backs in the offense have been extremely inconsistent in perimeter blocking. People can point fingers in other areas, but the offense simply won't click until the blocking is at least average.

Another big reason the team hasn't lived up to standards is the drop off at two major skill positions - Wide Receiver and B-Back. Georgia Tech had 2 WR's and 2 B-Backs signed to NFL teams from the 2014 team, and the change in talent is obvious. Receivers aren't getting any separation, and while Patrick Skov has been productive at times at BB, he doesn't have the ability to avoid defenders and get chunks of yardage like Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey did. 

Although Georgia Tech returned eight starters on defense, the unit still looks fairly mediocre. Is that a fair prognosis? If so, at what point does the current recruiting level simply have to improve? Can it?

I actually think the defense has been pretty good considering how little the offense has given them so far. In terms of stats like Passing YPG, Total YPG, and 3rd down percentage, the defense has made a huge jump from last year where they were consistently in the 50's in the nation in most defensive categories. The scoring defense numbers aren't great, but it's a statistic that's largely overrated in determining defensive play, and that's true with Georgia Tech this year because of bad special teams play and some late scoring outlier plays. The rushing YPG itself is skewed due to three straight monster runs the Tech defense has allowed at the end of the last three games when blitzing the house trying to get a magical stop at the end of the game.

The secondary has been a nice unit so far for the Jackets that has tons of experience, and Adam Gotsis has been a terror on the defensive line. The main concern so far is the linebackers struggling a bit against the run at times, and the inability to get a pass rush without blitzing. But overall, the defense has played much better than 2014 and would likely be putting up impressive numbers if they had the luxury of playing along side the 2014 offense.

How would you assess the play of QB Justin Thomas so far this season.

He's tried to do way too much at times, but it's hard to blame him with the atrocious blocking and lack of experience around him at the skill positions. His first half against UNC was the best he'd looked so far, but he reverted to more of the same once the second half rolled around. He still has all of the ability in the world, but he's simply not getting the help around him to play as efficiently as he did in 2014. With some better blocking, I'd expect Thomas to get it together a bit, but that's no guarantee to happen for the remainder of the year.

The Tigers haven't lost to an unranked opponent since 2011. Why should Clemson fans be worried about an upset this weekend. Who should we be keeping an eye on?

Despite the ugly start, if a few plays go the other way in each of Tech's three losses, this could be a much more intriguing looking game, and the fan bases would way feel differently about it. Obviously that didn't occur, but the talent and ability for this Jackets' roster hasn't disappeared.

The blocking has to come together, but if it does, the offense could very quickly turn back into the machine that it was just last season. Because of that, there's the possibility that Georgia Tech gets it clicking in a rivalry game that they typically always get up for on the offensive side of the ball.

If the blocking doesn't improve, this won't even be close. Defensively, the Jackets will have to get some pressure and force a couple of turnovers from Watson. If he gets any time in the pocket, it'll be a long day for the Tech defense. Offensively, watch out for true freshman Mikell Lands-Davis. He debuted last week against UNC and made some huge plays. He's a playmaker running and receiving the ball and provided a spark the Jackets desperately needed. Defensively, I'll choose someone other that Gotsis since he was mentioned. Linebacker PJ Davis is one of the best in the ACC, and if Tech manages to get some pressure, he'll be the one that does it with blitzes dialed up by Ted Roof.

I big thanks to Tyler for taking the time to help us preview the rivalry game. You can find my answers to Tyler's Questions here.