Clemson plays its second road game of the year, and the first since the opening week against Wake Forest, this Saturday at noon Eastern Time when they take on Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Georgia Tech, at 2-2, is already just one win away from matching last year’s total, so things seem to be improving in head coach Geoff Collins’ second year at the helm.
Josh Brundage from SB Nation’s From the Rumble Seat was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the Yellow Jackets ahead of Saturday’s contest.
Tom: Georgia Tech is now in Year 2 of the Geoff Collins era. With a 2-2 record four games into the season, including a resounding win over Louisville last week, they are already within one win of matching last year’s total number of victories. What’s different about their offensive attack this year, as they move further and further away from the triple option?
Josh: The offense is still very young, but easily the biggest difference has been the emergence of Jeff Sims at quarterback. He’s a true freshman, and he plays like it sometimes, but he has an incredibly high upside and he is looking great so far for his age and experience. Even from the first snap against FSU this year, the offense has looked night-and-day better than a year ago.
This year, it feels like our offense finally has an identity, as opposed to last year where it felt like the coaching staff was just throwing things against the wall to see what stuck. Sims has a great arm, and he is quick on his feet on both designed runs and when he scrambles. He’s surrounded by dynamic, young playmakers such as Ahmarean Brown and Jahmyr Gibbs, who our coaches have done well with getting into space. We just need him to clean up some freshman mistakes, but we are excited about the future of the offense under him.
Tom: I know it’s still early in Collins’ tenure, but what do you think the ceiling is for this program under his leadership? Can they tap into the talent pool in the immediate Atlanta area and start to close the gap versus Clemson in the coming years?
Josh: I think the ceiling for any Georgia Tech team, regardless of coach, is short of becoming a dynasty similar to that of a Clemson or an Alabama. Tech has stringent academic restrictions that hurt recruiting across the board, and a much smaller budget than the football powerhouses that surround us. Much of our fan base won’t admit it, but I think the ceiling for a Georgia Tech coach is averaging about 8-9 wins a year and every couple of years putting it all together and winning 10 or 11 games with a NY6 Bowl bid. With how things stand in modern college football, I think we could only hope to beat the Clemsons and Georgias maybe one out of every three years or so… and that would be the absolute ceiling. It’s just not an even playing field, and unfortunately it’s tilted against Georgia Tech and similar schools.
Tom: Freshman quarterback Jeff Sims seems pretty exciting, but maybe that’s just because he’s actually allowed to throw the ball more than 10 times a game. I’m mostly poking fun, but anyway, what do you think are his biggest strengths and weaknesses? I see he already has eight interceptions and a completion percentage only a little over 50%, but at the same time, he has been allowed to throw the ball more often than other recent Yellow Jacket quarterbacks while remaining a threat on the ground like those players.
Josh: Lest you be concerned, you will still see plenty of double and triple-option concepts on the field from our offense on Saturday. Sims is still very much a threat to run the ball, but yes, he’s a much improved passer compared to previous QBs running the flexbone (love and miss you, Coach Johnson). He seems to have developed really good chemistry with receivers Ahmarean Brown and Malachi Carter, and he has an effortlessly strong arm. He’s also incredibly poised for his age and hasn’t shown any signs of panic in the pocket.
Part of the reason for his struggles is we’re still young and rather inexperienced on the offensive line, and he often is running for his life… I would assume it will be more of the same against the Clemson front seven. He’s made some freshman mistakes, which have resulted in some of those interceptions on balls he should’ve just thrown away or taken sacks on. He stands tough in the pocket, though, and has made a myriad of excellent throws while taking hits. Basically for every highlight-reel throw he makes, it seems like he makes a freshman mistake to balance it out.
Tom: Besides Sims, what else should Clemson and its fans look for in Georgia Tech’s offensive approach, both in terms of personnel and scheme?
Josh: Like I mentioned before, you’ll still notice a lot of option concepts in the offense. With Sims being such a dynamic runner and still an inexperienced passer, you’ll see a lot of designed QB runs and option keeps from him.
At running back, we have a true freshman who has blown us all away in Jahmyr Gibbs. He’s dangerous both out of the backfield and catching passes on wheel and angle routes. The kid is just dynamic and seems to always pick up extra yards or find the end zone. The combo of him and Sims on zone reads has been very successful so far this season.
At slot receiver I love watching Ahmarean Brown. The kid is small, shifty, fast, and tough to bring down. He seems to always be wide open or behind the defense. If Tech has any hope to hang with Clemson for any of this game, it’s going to take a couple big plays from him and Gibbs.
Tom: On the other side of the ball, after holding a bad Florida State team to just 13 points in the season opener, Georgia Tech has yielded 49, 37, and 27 points to UCF, Syracuse, and Louisville, respectively. What are their biggest strengths and weaknesses defensively, and which players should we keep an eye on?
Josh: Even four games into the season, we don’t know what to make of our defense. It seems like every game a different unit looks good and another unit looks bad and then switches the next week. Our secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense this year with it returning everyone and having a lot of talent…but they’ve gotten torched a couple times and have not looked as consistent as we had hoped.
However, our most consistent player on defense has been Juanyeh Thomas in the secondary. He seems to always be around the ball, and he seems like the person least likely to be on the wrong side of an ESPN highlight for us.
Our linebackers have been a weakness all season, and I’m absolutely terrified of Travis Etienne running all over them. They’ve looked sluggish all year and have struggled mightily in pass defense. I’m hoping it’s not the case, but I’m assuming they get embarrassed on Saturday by Clemson’s skill players.
Tom: On paper, Clemson should continue its recent dominance over Georgia Tech. I won’t ask you for an official prediction, but which matchups, if any, do you think are areas where the Yellow Jackets could give the Tigers some problems and perhaps make this game closer than the current 27-point spread?
Josh: If Tech has any hope at all of hanging with Clemson for even a couple quarters, much less covering the spread, it’s going to take some forced turnovers...which we did well against Louisville. Maybe we somehow get pressure on Trevor Lawrence and force him into some bad throws, or Etienne is holding the football loosely when he runs…but Tech does not yet have the depth to hang with Clemson for a full game, so it will take the Tigers shooting themselves in the foot once or twice for Tech to cover the spread.
Otherwise, RIP to our linebacking corps after this game.
A big thank-you to Josh for sharing some insights on the Yellow Jackets. You can head over to From the Rumble Seat to see my answers to his questions.