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Assessing the Threat: Georgia Tech at Clemson

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Clemson begins the 2019 football season on Thursday, 8/29 against the new look Yellow Jackets. What type of threat does Georgia Tech pose to the Tigers?

Georgia Tech v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Overview:

2018 Record: 7-6 (5-3)
Returning Starters via Athlon: 7/22 (4 offense, 3 defense)

Georgia Tech finally says goodbye to Head Coach Paul Johnson as they welcome former Temple Head Coach Geoff Collins. Coach Collins will take a very different approach stylistically both on and off the field.

His offense will be heavily adapted based on the roster, but ideally will be moving to something more spread-oriented over time. Not only was this roster constructed for a triple-option offense, but they have a lot of natural turnover with just a few starters returning.

One of the departing starters is QB TaQuon Marshall. His backup, Tobias Oliver, received a lot of playing time last year and looked good, but mostly in the running game. He totaled 876 rushing yards, but only 167 passing yards. He played in a spread-offense in high school and could compete for the QB spot, but he has also taken snaps at nickelback and may be changing positions.

Entering this summer, we would have to say that Lucas Johnson has a pretty strong lead on the rest of the quarterback room while Tobias Oliver and James Graham will battle it out for the No.2 and No.3 spots.

Regardless of who starts at QB, they’ll be behind an undersized offensive line and have receivers that are either freshmen or triple-option recruits.

The defense ranked 126th in efficiency last season and returns only three starters - none on the defensive line. They’ve even moved some offensive linemen over to the defensive line.

Key Threats for Clemson:

After last year’s close call at Texas A&M, we heard a lot about the lack of film on them presenting some challenges. This will be similar. While we’ve seen Geoff Collins' offense at Temple, what he’ll run in year one transitioning from the option is a bit of a mystery. Fortunately, the talent gap should make this less of a concern than it was in College Station, TX. Still, it’s a factor.

Running back Kirvonte Benson missed most of last season with a knee injury. In 2017, he was a 1,000 yard rusher. His longest run of that season came against Clemson when he broke off a 65-yard scamper in a 129 yard performance. The rest of his team only netted 101 yards in that game. He is ready to return from injury, but entered the transfer portal, taking a critical arrow out of the quiver for GT.

If Lucas Johnson is in fact their starting QB, they’ll be using a pocket passer for the first time in a decade. You’d be more worried about GT in the short-term if they were still running the option and could test the discipline of Clemson’s young D-line.

The Yellow Jackets reintroduction to passing the ball is unlikely to make a big splash against CBs AJ Terrell and Derion Kendrick. The more realistic concern would be RB Jerry Howard moving the chains on the ground and eating up clock, and then taking advantage of a young defense in game one, and finding some cheap points on Clemson run busts.

Final Assessment:

Let’s be honest, it is going to be a huge stretch for Georgia Tech to upset Clemson. The pre-season S&P+ gives them a measly 2% chance. They’re going to have run some unique plays that catch the Tigers’ less experienced players off guard. If RB Kirvonte Benson finds a transfer destination and is gone, their chances are even smaller. They may need a freaky career performance, like the one QB Kellen Mond put up against the Tigers last year, from their new starting QB to keep this competitive. Fortunately for the Tigers, even if that happens, Clemson’s offense should be able to put up points in bunches.

Georgia Tech’s inexperienced front seven (one returning starter) will likely struggle to stop Travis Etienne and the Clemson running game. Their DBs should be a relative strength, but stopping WRs Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross is something even Alabama couldn’t accomplish.

This is probably Clemson’s most sure win in the ACC.