Matt Goldin: Georgia Tech has had a very up and down season. What are the strengths that make this team so dangerous and the weaknesses that make them vulnerable to bad losses?
Josh Brundage: The Yellow Jackets look very much like a talented team under new coaches still figuring themselves out. This team is already a dramatic improvement from anything Collins put on the field in his 3+ years, and they are finally not embarrassing to watch anymore.
Tech’s biggest strength is the talent at QB and WR. King has been dynamic at the helm of the offense this year, and even more so in the previous couple of weeks as the coaching staff has been implementing more option concepts to make him more of a dual threat. You might have some flashbacks to the Georgia Tech of old, flexbone formation aside. You will probably get a dose of inverted veer and zone read this weekend in Death Valley.
At WR, Eric Singleton Jr, a true freshman, has emerged as an absolutely dynamic playmaker on the outside. He averages almost 17 yards/reception and already has 6 TDs to his name. He’s on the verge of breaking several of Calvin Johnson’s freshman receiving records on The Flats… so that’s pretty good!
I think the biggest weakness of the team is inexperience on the coaching staff. It was clear earlier in the season, especially in the horrendous loss to Bowling Green at home, that this is a first year(ish) head coach and offensive coordinator trying to motivate their team to stay focused and execute like they do in practice. However, this staff has shown a ton of growth over the course of the season, and it has been fun to watch the Yellow Jackets steadily improve as the season has progressed. They are, at least, not completely over their heads and not getting out-coached at every step like Collins was.
Even in the losses this season, I can’t tell you what a relief it’s been to pull for a team without a completely embarrassing head coach.
Matt: Georgia Tech coach Brent Key is a similar story to Dabo: assistant coach promoted to interim after the firing of a head coach, and they both earned the job with a strong finish to their interim season. Obviously it has worked out well for Clemson, but there was definitely a lot of pressure on Dabo those first few years and some folks didn’t want him hired to begin with. What has been the general feeling from Jackets fans in regards to Coach Key? Are they generally optimistic or do a lot of fans want Tech to make a splashier hire.
Josh: To start, we all wanted a splashier hire. However, our old AD insisted on sticking with Collins for a 4th year, even though the program had shown decline under him in every facet during his tenure. The 2022 season started off so poorly that he was fired ⅓ of the way through and replaced with Key. Our AD was fired along with him, as it was made clear to him in 2021 that Collins’ on-field product was directly tied to him keeping his job.
The Tech athletic department, already struggling financially from poor decisions by previous ADs (looking at you, DRad!), had to eat Collins’ $12M buyout.
So the combination of a new AD being influenced by boosters saying he needed to hire a “Tech man,” which has never, ever made a difference in a coaching hire, and the athletic department being hamstrung budget-wise, landed us with Brent Key.
Key’s base salary is low, but incentive-heavy, and I think that type of contract was the only thing the athletic department could offer at the time. We obviously don’t know the entirety of what went on behind the scenes, but we’re shocked we didn’t end up with Jamie Chadwell or Willie Fritz.
In Key’s defense, there are few people on the planet more up for this job than him. He’s a former team captain here at Tech, and coached under Saban for several years at Bama before returning to Tech under Collins. We all want Key to succeed, and for everything we can tell, the Yellow Jackets are certainly bouncing back under him and heading in the right direction. If he returns the program to stability and averaging 7-8 wins seasons, that would be amazing, and a perfect stepping stone for whoever comes after him. If he starts winning 10+ games, there is no one we would be more excited for than Coach Key. He bleeds white and gold, and we are all pulling for him.
The team showing noticeable progress under him as the season has progressed, has reinvigorated a lot of the fan base. I don’t think any of us guessed we would be 4-2 in conference at this point.
Matt: In the 2000’s Clemson-Georgia Tech was always a game you circled. There were so many instant classics from that rivalry. Over the past decade the programs have kind of gone in different ways and there really haven’t been as many fun matchups. For Clemson fans it’s become a game that we usually expect to win, but if you’ve followed the program long enough you have enough scar tissue from past GT games that you know not to take it for granted. How do Tech fans feel about this game now? Does Clemson’s struggles this year take away some of the excitement for this game?
Josh: I actually really enjoy playing Clemson, despite the results the last handful of years. It’s a friendly rivalry, and I have really enjoyed my time at Clemson when I have gone to the away games. When the game is in Atlanta, it means the stadium will be full and loud, and Clemson fans are famously more amicable than Miami or Georgia’s. *shivers*
I don’t think Clemson’s struggles take away any excitement for the game this year, at least on our end. I know we’re all excited that Clemson might be vulnerable this year, and maybe the Yellow Jackets can get another notch in the W column on the road in Death Valley. If Clemson was undefeated at this point playing Tech, I would be less excited.
Dabo and Tyler from Spartanburg, got everyone super hyped and beat a good Notre Dame team last weekend to get themselves another step towards bowl eligibility. I don’t know if the Tigers can maintain that level of excitement when 5-4 Georgia Tech comes to town. Yes, this is a self-own.
I know Vegas has Clemson as a 2 TD favorite, and rightfully so. Clemson should win this game. No one would blink if Clemson just out-talents the Yellow Jackets and wins a hideous game to get to 6 wins, however the Yellow Jackets are motivated and starting to put things together coming into Game 10. From our side, I know we’re excited to see what this team can do against Clemson’s talent - this is a good year to beat Clemson on the road.
Matt: Speaking of the rivalry, Clemson-Georgia Tech has always been kind of a friendly rivalry in my mind. That may be clouded because my mom is a GT grad and my dad is a Clemson grad, but I’ve rarely seen any nastiness at those games outside of the occasional knucklehead. Tech is also a popular road game for Clemson because Atlanta is so close to Clemson and a lot of Clemson grads live in the A. How do Tech fans feel about Clemson fans, and do Tech folks enjoys making the trip to the Upstate?
Josh: We always enjoy having the Clemson fans on campus. Like you said, it’s a friendly rivalry, and I have not personally had any bad experiences with Clemson fans. Tech is a popular away game for a lot of our opponents just because it’s easy to get to, Atlanta is fun, no matter what you’re into, and there’s a plethora of affordable hotels and things to do most weekends within walking distance of the stadium.
I’ve really enjoyed going to Clemson when we play there, but it’s a lot easier for me since a close friend has a lake house there. It can get expensive very quickly in the college towns trying to get a hotel during football weekends. I sadly can’t attend this year due to work reasons, but you don’t have to twist my arm to make the short drive up there and tailgate at Death Valley.
Matt: What does Georgia Tech need to do to win this game? What are the issues that will cost Georgia Tech the game?
Josh: Haynes King is going to have to have a few big rushes on the ground this game, whether called or scrambling, in order for Tech to leave with a W. He’s been a revelation on the ground the last few weeks, and him being a running threat has really opened up our offense. We’re going to need more of that against the mighty Clemson pass rush.
It’s cliche, but with the talent disadvantage, Tech is going to have to win the turnover battle as well if they hope to win. I can see this game being a squeaker that neither side particularly enjoys.
I’m not particularly scared of Klubnik or Clemson’s WRs, but I am scared of Mafah and Shipley at RB. If Clemson has steady success in the run game and takes the pressure off of Klubnik, I don’t think the Yellow Jackets can keep up. Tech’s LBs are probably the weakest position on either side of the ball, so containing the Clemson rushing attack will be the biggest key to a Yellow Jacket upset.
Matt: Give us a score prediction?
Josh: I think Clemson relapses into the team that lost to Miami and NC State in back-to-back weeks before the ND upset last week. I’ve largely picked with Vegas this season, so often against Tech, and I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right.
With the direction Tech is trending, especially with how good Haynes King has been in the last 2 games, I think Tech beats Clemson for the first time since 2014, and Dabo’s refusal to utilize the transfer portal continues to catch up with him. Tech gets the road win 38-35.
Thank you to Josh Brundage for sharing all these insights in anticipation of the rivalry game this Saturday. For more from him and on Georgia Tech Athletics, follow From the Rumble Seat on Twitter @FRRSBlog. To read the other half of this Q&A, click here.