College football is officially here! We were treated to a couple of Week 0 matchups last weekend and now we await a primetime Labor Day bout with the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech vs. Clemson is a rivalry game that has been played 87 times. With conferences shifting and traditions being lost, we should savor every game like this we get even if there’s a big spread. To help us preview it, we connected with Josh Brundage of From the Rumble Seat. Let’s dive into the conversation.
Ryan: Things haven’t gone well in the Geoff Collins era and that may be putting it lightly. We knew the change from a triple-option offense was always going to be rough, but that explanation can’t last forever. Did the challenge of moving to a new offense hinder their momentum too much or were other mistakes made by the staff?
Josh: This is year four and the team has gone nothing but backwards since Collins was hired. It’s squarely on the coaching staff. The transition from the flexbone doesn’t excuse having one of the worst defenses in FBS in year 3, especially for a self-proclaimed “defensive savant.”
In general, Collins’ approach and premise was flawed from the start, which our AD should’ve seen out of the gate. We’re still not sure why he was hired. He came in claiming recruiting and stars were going to start winning us games at Tech, seemingly not realizing that Tech’s academic restrictions and budget limitations mean there’s no possible way for us to compete with the Bamas, Clemsons, and UGAs that surround us and go after those same kids. Four and five-star kids out of high school are not going to be interested in coming here for the academic reputation when schools within an hour or two drive are offering 6-figure NIL deals to come to their school instead.
In short, his approach has failed and his best defense is still not as good as any of Paul Johnson’s worst by almost any metric. There’s no improvement from Paul Johnson’s teams that Collins can hang a hat on at this point.
Ryan: On a lighter note, what are your thoughts on Collin’s big Atlanta-themed marketing push with Waffle House, ATL, 404, etc.? As a native of metro Atlanta, I found it a little contrived, but I grew up in the suburbs prior to living in the city so that could be why. Regardless of style choices, how is the fan enthusiasm heading into the year? Are fans anxiously optimistic or have they fallen into the apathy stage of hopeless fanhood?
Josh: The marketing stuff was cool at first, and it’s definitely an asset that previous administrations did not push, but we’re all just so tired of it at this point. His hashtags and twitter account have not translated to results on the field like he thought they would. He hasn’t tweeted since losing to NIU to open last season, so that’s actually been a relief. He also went the first 2-3 years here blocking every fan who tweeted anything remotely negative. Several writers on our blog, including myself, have been blocked by Collins on Twitter for a couple years.
If the ticket sales are any indication, fan apathy is at an all-time high. I live in the city and have grown up a Tech fan, but I gave up my season tickets after his first year, and I’m hardly the only one. He’s responsible for several of the lowest-attended games in Tech’s history since the stadium reached its current size… and who can blame anyone? Who wants to pay American dollars in this economy to watch home losses to The Citadel and NIU?
Basically, we’re all conflicted this season with wanting Tech to win and do well but also for him to get fired as soon as we can afford to do so on 12/1.
Ryan: Monday night’s matchup will take place in Atlanta’s beautiful Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it will count as an ACC home game for the Yellow Jackets though. They’ve announced that the upper deck will be closed, making the capacity smaller than Bobby Dodd Stadium. As such, do you know why the Yellow Jackets were interested in sacrificing a home game to play just a few miles down the road? They did the same thing last year with UNC so it must offer additional revenue streams, right?
Josh: Collins scheduled a “home” game in the Benz every year as soon as he came in as a recruiting tactic. College football already has too many otherwise-interesting games in sterile NFL stadiums, so fan enthusiasm was not high for it, but if it’s what the kids want, we all just decided to go with it. It’s only 3 miles from Bobby Dodd and accessible by Marta, so it’s not a strain to get there from campus or anything.
However, recruiting got flipped on its head with NIL, so I don’t think games in the stadium will matter nearly as much to kids as it would’ve, say, in 2019. I would be for canceling the rest of the games scheduled there and moving them back to Bobby Dodd, but that’s just me. Clemson is going to so badly out-number Tech fans at this game, that it probably works out that Bobby Dodd isn’t embarrassingly oranged-out for the season opener.
Ryan: Jeff Sims was a four-star QB that the Yellow Jackets pried away from Florida State. In 2020, he showed a ton of promise winning ACC Rookie of the Week honors three times. Last year, he protected the ball better, but didn’t have the full-fledged breakthrough some were hoping for, in part due to injuries. Is he the clear starter? What are your expectations for him this season?
Josh: Sims is definitely the clear starter, and some of his struggles are certainly due to running for his life behind our offensive line. Collins continues to praise OL Coach Brent Key, who we poached from Alabama, but the results have yet to improve. Sims is electric when he’s on, but he just hasn’t been able to get to a point of consistency.
Sims has a crazy high upside, he has a strong arm, is fast on his feet, and he has a quick release. This coaching staff needs to show that they can develop his talent, because it certainly seems like it has been wasted the last 2 years. If Sims and the offensive line can make even a modest improvement across the board, then it would dramatically change the ceiling for this team. This coaching staff just hasn’t proven themselves capable of player development yet.
Ryan: Although this game is a mismatch on paper, there are always areas where the opposition can stress Clemson. Are there any players or positions where Georgia Tech could win some battles and keep it competitive, as they did last season? What are some areas to keep an eye on where Clemson can learn the most about their team?
Josh: A player we’re super excited to see this season is WR E.J. Jenkins, who is 6’7”, 243lb, and seems to be in all of the highlights coming out of fall practice. We’re hoping he can be a threat on the outside and win some jump balls against the mighty Clemson defense to loosen them up a little. If Clemson doesn’t have to respect the pass, our offense doesn’t stand a chance against that defensive line.
In last season’s match up, Tech’s defense came out in a 3-3-5 for much of the game against Clemson, and I thought it actually worked really well. Despite Tech losing that game, that was the last time I felt good about this coaching staff knowing what they were doing. The defense was able to pretty well rattle Uiagalelei while keeping the game close, and I would hope to see more of the same on Labor Day. I think the only way Tech stands a chance against Clemson is to force Uiagalelei to beat them with his arm and hopefully force him into a couple of bad decisions.
Ryan: The spread for this game is right around three touchdowns. I won’t ask for a pick, but based on your expectations of Georgia Tech this season, what type of outcome should encourage Clemson fans and – aside from a loss, which would obviously be devastating – what type of outcome should be disconcerting for the Tiger faithful?
Josh: If this game is close at the half, Clemson should be nervous. If Tech covers and loses in a single score game similar to last season, Clemson should be nervous. Tech lost most of their best players (including RB Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama) to the transfer portal, and several of the best coaches left to take other jobs.
Collins brought in a bunch of transfers to try and fill gaps, but transfers are always such an unknown commodity. Collins and this staff are largely deadmen walking this season, and they’re all coaching for their jobs. If Clemson doesn’t win handily, the mighty Tigers dynasty might be showing some cracks.
Ryan: Thank you to Josh Brundage for shedding so much light on the situation down in Atlanta. We hope you enjoyed the Q&A. If you’re on Twitter, be sure to give Josh a follow.