Clemson is gearing up this week for their 84th meeting with the Yellow Jackets. It’s the rivalry that started Clemson’s $2 bill tradition and one of the better games on the Tigers’ schedule every year. To prepare us for this year’s match up, we synced up with Josh Brundage of From the Rumble Seat, the SB Nation Georgia Tech affiliate, to get another perspective for this Q&A. Enjoy and please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
STS: Georgia Tech is coming off a 5-6 season, but was widely expected to finish in the upper half of the Coastal Division and earn a bowl berth. Following road losses at USF and Pittsburgh, the Yellow Jackets sit at 1-2 with Clemson, Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Georgia still on the schedule. Do you think they can rebound and return to a bowl game? What’ve been some of the big reasons for the poor start?
Josh: I don’t think a bowl game is out of the question, but it seems almost certain that winning the Coastal is out at this point, even though it’s early in the season. The reasons for the slow start have somehow been both the same as Tech has struggled with for the last 3 years, and yet very different for each game.
Against USF, it was giving up to 2 kickoff return touchdowns, a couple bad turnovers, and then the defense not being able to get a stop by missing their assignments at the end of the game under a new defensive scheme.
Against Pitt, I would say that loss is mostly on Paul Johnson and his playing calling. We tried a fake punt early in the game in our own territory that didn’t make it…. We didn’t kick a field goal when we should’ve…. Change those things and it’s closer or a tie and Tech isn’t down by 21 at the half trying to claw back in. CPJ also got cute (read desperate) with his offensive play calling early, and that hurt us as well. I don’t think there’s anyone else to blame for this loss other than Johnson, which I don’t think I’ve ever said before. There was just some truly baffling play calling in the game.
STS: Paul Johnson is now 9-16 in ACC play since the start of 2015. If they miss a bowl, it’ll be three of the last four seasons without one. How much leeway do you believe Coach Paul Johnson will get from the AD this season?
Josh: I think if Tech misses a bowl this season, Johnson just retires. He’s mentioned before that his wife has been lobbying for his retirement the last couple years. I think he just wants to go out on top, but that obviously isn’t happening anytime soon. He’s been even more cantankerous than usual after these losses this season also. He’s openly said to the media that whenever this stops being fun, he’ll retire… and he sure hasn’t let on that he’s having any fun so far this season. I would hope our AD has a pulse on the coaching world and has a list of people to immediately begin interviewing.
STS: Maybe bigger question though is this: Do you believe Georgia Tech is prepared to make a major commitment to football? Will students passionately buy in? Will donors donate more to athletics? Will the Athletic Department spend on coaching and facilities?
Josh: Under our new AD Todd Stansbury, we’ve seen a renewed commitment to football that had been missing from the previous 2 people in that role. Looking at you, DRad… We’re still upset he resigned us with Russell for 5 years and then took the Clemson job weeks after.
With the locker room renovations completed and plans in place for more athletic facility upgrades at Bobby Dodd (check out plans here), we’re already seeing that commitment come to fruition, but these things take time to turn into on-field results. Fundraising has been on the rise, and football has been able to add several new assistants / analysts because of it. So the commitment is there, it will just take time before we see any real, on-field change from it all.
As for students buying in, we have good student attendance when the team is good and/or playing one of our bigger opponents. Otherwise, it’s a lot of apathy on campus. I don’t get why greek organizations and the like are allowed to reserve seating blocks in the student section and then have no one attend. It’s not a good look.
Tech is behind in the football arms’ race, but the new athletic administration is doing everything they can to catch up, and it’s been really promising so far.
STS: When Georgia Tech has the ball, which positional or individual matchup makes you the most nervous? Which gives you the most optimism?
Josh: Without a doubt, that would be Georgia Tech’s offensive line against Clemson’s front 4. I’m not sure we have anyone on our line that can block those guys from what we’ve seen so far this season. We’ve also had a couple guys in and out with injuries and been shuffling positions… the line has been a mess this season, even though CPJ said it’s one of the deepest ones he’s had since he’s been here. Which again, is not a good sign.
On the optimistic side, our A-backs are really experienced and in general have played extremely well this season, whether that’s with the ball in their hands or blocking linebackers, safeties, etc… I feel really good about those guys in the slot, no matter who it is.
STS: When Clemson has the ball, which positional or individual matchup makes you the most nervous? Which gives you the most optimism?
Josh: Again, it’s going to be the trenches. Our D-line is generally undersized in this new 3-4 scheme we’re running under Nate Woody. Tech has struggled to get pressure so far this season without blitzing. You could’ve copied this statement and pasted it to cover the last like 8 years. I think your QBs will have lots of time in the pocket to throw.
Our linebackers have looked pretty good this season, and have been above average to good in the run-stopping game, so that’s been a plus. Our secondary is probably more talented across the board than they have been recently, but they’re also younger and learning a new scheme, so that may just be a wash. They certainly haven’t gone up against the level of talent Clemson has so far this year.
STS: If the Yellow Jackets are to keep the contest close or pull the upset, how do you think that would play out? The spread is around 16 points. How do you feel about GT’s chances to beat the spread or even to win straight up?
Josh: Outside of an act of God, like Monty Python style, I don’t see how Tech keeps this game interesting, much-less pulls an upset. And I’m one of the more positive writers on our site… ugh.
If Tech’s O-line can block enough for us to rush over 100 yards, that would impress me. This game has been ugly in recent years, and it’s largely been due to our O-line looking incompetent against the Clemson front 7. And that’s without us trying to pass block those guys. Our QBs are usually running for their lives in those situations.
I think the only way Tech beats the spread is if Clemson gets up big early and then lets off the gas. You might see some garbage time scoring as Clemson alternates in backups to get us within 16.
I will still be attending this game, because as an Atlanta sports fan, all I know is pain.