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Georgia Tech at Clemson Preview: Q&A with From the Rumble Seat – Shakin The Southland

The Tigers and Yellow Jackets will face off on Saturday in a rivalry game that has been played for 39-consecutive years and 85 times overall. Despite trailing the all-time series 50-33-2 (GT went 18-1 against Clemson from 1908 to 1944), Clemson is seeking their seventh consecutive win against Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets were 3-7 last year and are 1-1 so far this year with a season-opening loss to Northern Illinois and a win over the FCS Kennesaw State Owls. To give us some insight on Georgia Tech’s football program and this Saturday’s rivalry game, we connected with Josh Brundage from From the Rumble Seat. If you’re on Twitter (not recommended), be sure to give him a follow (highly recommended).

Ryan: Last year, true freshman QB Jeff Sims was the talk of the town. He is a former four-star recruit from Florida who could beat teams with his arm or his legs. He left the game against Northern Illinois with an injury to his non-throwing arm and did not play last week. Now, third-year player Jordan Yates is getting praise following his Week 2 performance against Kennesaw State. He is a former 3-star from Alpharetta, GA. Who should we expect at QB on Saturday and for the season moving forward? What unique skills do these players offer?

Josh: To be frank, we have no idea who is going to start on Saturday. We were all very, very excited about Sims after he showed an incredibly high upside as a true freshman in 2020. However, to start this season against NIU, he came in and only went 4/9 passing, with at least 2 bad misses to wide open receivers, before leaving with an arm injury suffered on a fumbled mesh.

The coaching staff mentioned Sims having something akin to the yips for his first start in front of what meager number of fans were there, but we don’t know why he didn’t play last week against Kennesaw. Yates performed admirably, and he showed great control and knowledge of the offense while throwing 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Sims was apparently available for the game, but he never played.

Sims is a freak athlete and a game-changer at QB. He has the highest upside of any QB we’ve had since Justin Thomas. He has great arm strength and is probably a little better of a runner than Yates. He’s one of those people that looks like they can throw the ball 50 yards pretty effortlessly.

Yates was recruited under Paul Johnson, but has actually looked great throughout the transition to our current spread offense. He’s maybe not quite as athletic as Sims, but he’s older and far less prone to bad decisions. Yates is the steady hand we may need this season until Sims is both mentally and physically healthy. That said, I would expect Sims to play, if not start in Death Valley this weekend.

Ryan: Clemson is still trying to work out some kinks in their passing game as they replace their star quarterback and top three pass catchers. With Clemson fans trying to assess progress, help us understand the quality of Georgia Tech’s secondary and how much stock to put into success or failure against the Yellow Jacket defensive backs.

Josh: Our secondary is perhaps the most puzzling part of our defense to us Tech fans. At last count, every starter was a 4* recruit in high school, and they’re all at least in their third year as starters under a defensively-minded coach. So how did NIU’s QB go 11/17 passing with 2 TDs against them?

I know the whole defense is tied together, and we generated next to no pass rush against NIU: 0 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 hurries… but letting a winless MAC team average 8 yards per pass is pretty rough. I don’t think “havoc rate” is still tracked, but the Tech defense would be abysmal if it were.

This is anecdotal and not backed up by stats, but from watching both of our games so far against “inferior opponents,” it sure seemed like opposing receivers had no problems getting open or winning one-on-one balls. There’s no excuse for that at this point.

All that to say, there’s a lot of talent in our secondary, but for whatever reason (coaching, pass rush, etc), that talent hasn’t manifested itself under Collins. The secondary was supposed to be a strength this year with the combined talent and experience, but so far, they’ve been average at best.

Ryan: Clemson’s offensive line struggled — especially in run blocking — last season. Improving in that area was a big off-season talking point, but against Georgia in Week 1 they allowed seven sacks and were forced to completely abandon the run. Last week, the rushing attack was dominant, but it was against SC State. What type of talent does Georgia Tech have on the defensive line? Should Clemson expect to run at will against the Yellow Jackets’ defensive front or is that not giving Tech enough credit?

Josh: Tech’s defensive line hasn’t generated much of a pass rush against NIU or Kennesaw St to this point in the season, so I’m sure your very talented RBs will have no issue finding some holes to run through. Come to think of it, I’m not sure the Yellow Jackets have had much of a pass rush or a stout front 7 since like 2009. To put it mildly, we’re a lot closer to SC State in that arena rather than Georgia, who we also play this season.

I would *hope* Collins and co. stack the box to force the inexperienced Uiagalelei to connect on some deeper and timing throws against pressure, rather than giving him all day to run and pick us apart. I think Tech’s only chance to prevent a blowout on the day is to run a high-risk, high-reward defense and hopefully force some turnovers and maybe rattle the young QB a bit. Tech just doesn’t have the talent to match up with Clemson, especially in the trenches… and that’s if loading the box even does anything to stop the run.

Ryan: The transition from Coach Johnson’s triple option to a modern offense was always going to be long and challenging. That said, losing to NIU in year three wasn’t part of the road map. Do you feel they are still on schedule? If not, what is holding them back? Are you as pessimistic about the Geoff Collin’s staff as podcaster/writer Joey Weaver is?

Josh: No, I don’t feel like we’re on schedule. Collins has surrounded himself more with recruiters than coaches, and it’s starting to show. We can point to the lack of development in the secondary, O-line, QB, etc. here in year three to show he’s not getting the job done on the field. Collins has a very loud, small, but passionate backing on social media from a lot of folks who consider him the GT football savior, regardless of on-field results. Feel free to mute or block them.

The truth is, it has taken until year three and some of the worst losses in program history for him to win the same amount of total games that Paul Johnson did in his final season. To that end, I would agree with everything Joey said in the aforementioned article.

One thing that irks me is that Collins is all about building “the brand” of Georgia Tech, but all that has meant is that he tweets photos of things in Atlanta and carries around a Waffle House cup. The thing is, Georgia Tech had a well-recognized, national brand under Paul Johnson. We were the flexbone team that oftentimes ran more talented teams out of the stadium. That brand was why Alabama and South Carolina cancelled home-and-homes with us, while Auburn refused to schedule us during that time. If you ask me, that’s a f#$%^*g brand.

Don’t get me wrong, I want good things for Tech football, and I want nothing more than for Collins to be successful. I would love for him to turn the program around and utilize his uptick in recruiting to at least make us competitive in the Coastal Division – which Paul Johnson did every year with a smaller budget and less stars on the roster. Collins just hasn’t shown that he’s capable of that, and the athletic office needs to ask themselves how many more 3-win seasons they’re okay with under him… I don’t see the Yellow Jackets surpassing that number this season because we have the 4th hardest schedule in the nation to start the year.

Collins needs to start owning the on-field results, or lack thereof, instead of more coachspeak about this ‘’historic transformation,” and tooting his own horn to the media for accomplishments that don’t exist.

Ryan: Finally, let’s talk about the ACC more broadly. Clemson fans are tired of being berated for a weak conference schedule they can’t control. Through just two weeks, poor non-conference performances by Georgia Tech, NC State, Miami, Florida State, Louisville, Duke, and Syracuse have already positioned the ACC as one of the weaker conferences in the sport. What is wrong with the ACC? Is it fixable? It is cyclical? Can we at least laugh at Florida State together?

Josh: First off, that Florida State loss was hilarious. I think FSU is similar to Texas, in that they expect to be title contenders every year, but their boosters and athletic departments don’t give coaches the ability to succeed, nor do they possess the structure to, and they inevitably end up ruining the career arcs of otherwise very talented coaches. We’ll see if FSU even gives Norvell time to succeed, because they certainly didn’t the last guy who’s career they tanked.

In regards to the conference as a whole, it was only 5-6 years ago that the ACC spent a couple seasons as the strongest conference in the nation. I just think things are cyclical, and right now the ACC is feeling the consequences of both some bad hires, as well as athletic budgets that aren’t keeping up with their peers.

Georgia Tech, NC State, Louisville, Duke, Boston College, Syracuse, etc. are never going to be perennial title contenders in the modern landscape of college football. Could all of these teams be playing better than they currently are? Absolutely. However, the boosters, budget, and small alumni bases at these schools hamstring attempts for consistency at the national level.

However, there’s also Miami. We can also all point and laugh at Miami, because with their budget and talent on the roster, there’s absolutely no excuse for them to be as bad as they are. Miami lost to Collins’ first year team in overtime on a measurement at home. It was one of the funniest ways I’ve ever seen someone lose.

Plus, who saw Fuente at Virginia Tech being a total disaster? I’m not sure there was anyone who followed this sport in the country who didn’t think that was a perfect hire at the time. Coach hiring is a crapshoot.

I would bet we see the ACC rebound in the next couple of years, and hopefully Georgia Tech will contribute to that. In the meantime, having conference stalwarts like FSU, VT, and Miami return to competency would be a great start.

Ryan: We give a big thank you to Josh Brundage for joining us to give some insight on the Yellow Jackets. Our answers to their questions will post Friday on From the Rumble Seat.

FOCO has created a limited edition (only 321 being made) Trevor Lawrence bobblehead commemorating Clemson’s perfect 15-0 2018 season. It is now available for pre-order. You can see it here.