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Self Scouting the Opponent: Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

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Georgia Tech v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

One of the new things the ACC SB Nation blogs are doing this year is a sort of self-scouting series. Each site was asked to provide a season preview-esque update on their team, the idea being that opposing teams could use it as an information dump. Next up on the list is Georgia Tech. A big thanks to folks at From the Rumble Seat for putting this together.

Key Departures:

  • TE Tyler Davis
  • DT Brentavious Glanton

Key Returnees:

  • RB Jordan Mason
  • WR Ahmarean Brown
  • LB David Curry
  • CB Tre Swilling
  • FS Juanyeh Thomas
  • SS Tariq Carpenter

Key Additions:

  • OL Ryan Johnson, grad transfer from Tennessee
  • DE Antonneous Clayton, grad transfer from Florida in 2019 (sat out last season)
  • RB Jahmyr Gibbs, four-star recruit
  • QB Tucker Gleason, three-star recruit
  • QB Jeff Sims, four-star recruit

Brief overview of 2020 team:

It can’t be worse than last year, can it? Tech is coming off a 3-9 campaign that featured, among other unpleasantries, a loss to an FCS team running the flexbone option. The defense was okay sometimes; the offense was borderline unwatchable. But year two of the Geoff Collins era brings fresh hope, starting with the fact that nearly every key contributor is back. With luck, the defense—Collins’ hallmark—takes a big step forward in year two. The key to success will be the front four doing a better job of generating pressure to free up the veteran secondary to make plays. The offense is a work in progress and will likely feature an untested freshman QB, but he’ll have a strong run game and a (hopefully) improved offensive line to lean on.

Before the pandemic and schedule shuffling, another three-win season looked likely purely due to how brutal the schedule was. With Georgia and Virginia Tech—two likely losses—now off the slate, getting to .500 seems possible. Achieving that would be a big step forward for Collins, who has talked a big game since he arrived and needs to demonstrate progress on the field to back it up.

Key players to know on offense:

  • QB: We don’t know who will get the nod yet, but it sounds like the staff has picked out a starter and another guy for potential situational packages. The candidates are redshirt sophomore James Graham, redshirt freshman Jordan Yates, and true freshmen Tucker Gleason and Jeff Sims. The belief is that it’ll be either Gleason or Sims, but Graham started most of last year and Yates got tons of praise from the coaching staff in camp.
  • RB Jordan Mason: He’s a bruising, reliable two-year starter who was a great B-back for Paul Johnson’s final team and an anchor for Collins’ first team. Mason had 5.2 YPC last year behind a patchwork offensive line and should be even better this year.
  • RB Jahmyr Gibbs: The only reason he’s not a Day 1 starter as a true freshman is that Mason is still around. Gibbs is an electric back who stuck with his commitment to Tech amid serious interest from Ohio State and other big-name programs. He’s the team’s highest-rated signee since Justin Thomas in 2012 and will be an immediate contributor.
  • WR Ahmarean Brown: He’s the team’s deep threat, an absolute burner whose presence alone forces opponents to respect the possibility of a deep strike. He led the team in receiving yards and TDs last year by large margins as a true freshman and will be the heart of the passing game once again.
  • RG Ryan Johnson: The Tennessee transfer and former starter there should bring much-needed experience and leadership to a unit that’s still undergoing a major transition. It’ll be especially important because a true freshman, Jordan Williams, will be starting alongside him at right tackle.
  • WR Bryce Gowdy: This is a sad but important inclusion, as Bryce tragically died a few days before the spring semester began. It was crushing news, even more so since the team had spent the prior year dealing with the loss of Brandon Adams in early 2019. The team has given Bryce the #7 jersey, his high school number, and will be honoring him as the season goes along.

Key players to know on defense + special teams:

  • DE Antonneous Clayton: After sitting out last year as a transfer from Florida, Clayton, a former five-star prospect, could be an impact player at either end spot. The key for him will be staying healthy—he has a history of injury troubles.
  • LB David Curry: If it feels like he’s been around forever, he kinda has. As he enters his sixth year, Curry isn’t a superstar, but he’ll continue to rack up tackles and be a key leader in the middle of the defense.
  • NB Charlie Thomas: A converted safety, Charlie has been a standout at linebacker for two years despite being undersized for the position. He’s tailor-made for the nickel back position and should be an impact player there.
  • CB Tre Swilling: He’s a two-year starter and probably the team’s best defensive player, a physical boundary corner who thrives in the team’s press man coverage scheme and is remarkably good at getting to the QB when he’s sent on a blitz.
  • FS Juanyeh Thomas: If the pass rush can become even moderately effective, Juanyeh can finally be turned loose. He’s the playmaker of this unit and a dynamic kick returner on the side.
  • SS Tariq Carpenter: The lone senior in the secondary is at his best when defending the run but also has a pretty good nose for the ball in zone coverage.

What is your team’s biggest strength?

It’s a coin flip between running back and secondary. Running back features a seasoned power back in Mason, two talented young backups in Gibbs and Griffin, and a fourth-stringer in Smith who could make a situational impact. The secondary, meanwhile, returns the entire two-deep and should get a boost at nickel, the weakest position last year, with the addition of Charlie Thomas. There’s a lot of talent and experience here, and if the pass rush is even moderately effective this year, they’ll be in a position to shine.

What is your team’s biggest weakness?

The offensive line is still a big question mark. It should be much improved from last year with the addition of Ryan Johnson and the emergence of true freshman Jordan Williams in camp, but it’s still a very unproven unit—and losing one or two guys to injuries or COVID-19 could derail things badly. Defensively, depth is lacking at linebacker. It’s a three-man rotation for two spots, and if anyone goes down, the next guy up would be either a converted running back or a freshman.

Who is your team MVP?

There’s no single standout player on this team as of now. Given his production a year ago, Jordan Mason has to be the guy until someone takes his spot.