The closer we get to Thursday night’s game between No. 3 Clemson and Georgia Tech, the better I feel about the Tigers chances of shutting down the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense. Why?
A gut instinct, I guess.
Let’s face it. Clemson is the more talented team. The Tigers have 42 five- or four-star athletes on their roster compared to Georgia Tech’s three. But we all know when playing Tech’s triple option, it’s not about the talent as much as it is playing one’s assignment.
When breaking down this game that’s the part I look at the most. There is no doubt Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have his guys ready to play and schematically they should be in position to make plays. But remember, when defending Georgia Tech a player has to read only his key, not someone else’s. The first time a player is doing something he isn’t supposed to, the Yellow Jackets will make the Tigers pay.
This is the area that concerns me the most for Clemson. Granted, the Tigers are extremely talent on defense and from a personnel standpoint, this should be no contest. But Clemson’s youth on defense worries me, especially those who have never really played Georgia Tech.
Playing Tech can be frustrating because a defender can read his key, be in position to make a play and then have his legs be cut out from under him. After three or four times of this happening, while watching Tech players run past him, the player will then try to go against what he was taught and will try to freelance to get around the cut blocking.
When that happens, the Yellow Jackets will expose him and will bust a big play.
The key to this whole game for Clemson is its defensive players fighting off the cut blocks and not letting it get to them. It sounds easy but it’s not.
However, there is good news for the Tigers. Can Tech’s young, and much smaller offensive line, handle the constant beating Clemson’s much bigger and stronger defensive line will put on them?
As I reflected back to last year’s game, and hearing all about Tech’s injuries at the running back positions, I wondered how much the injuries actually affected the outcome. I discovered they had little to do with it.
Clemson’s defensive line beat up Tech’s O-Line at the point of attack. The Yellow Jackets did not have a chance to cut block anyone because they were kissing the dirt of Frank Howard Field right at the start of the snap. That allowed linebackers like Ben Boulware and Dorian O’Daniel to run freely and stay on their keys and more times than not, make the necessary plays.
The Tigers finished the game with 11 tackles for loss, while holding quarterback Justin Thomas to three rushing yards. The Yellow Jackets had just 71 overall, the lowest total by a Paul Johnson coached team.
In their first three games this year, Tech struggled to run the football against Boston College (119 yards on 44 carries), while Vanderbilt held the Yellow Jackets under their goal of 300 rushing yards (289 on 46 carries). The only time they ran the football effectively came in Week 2 against Mercer, an FCS team, as they ran for 364 yards on 52 carries.
The BC game is particularly interesting considering Virginia Tech rushed for 223 yards against the Eagles last weekend, and the Hokies run a much more conventional offense than Georgia Tech’s.
So why do I feel better about this match up than I once did? Why is Tech struggling to run the football on a consistent basis?
It’s simple. Georgia Tech’s offensive line is young and still inexperienced themselves. On Thursday night, Tech could possibly start four guys that are either freshmen or sophomores. These guys are already undersized as only one player, junior right guard Shamire Devine (6-7, 370), weighs more than 300 pounds.
When Johnson has experienced offensive linemen, he generally has more success running the football, especially against an inexperienced defensive line like Clemson’s. But now that both teams are about the same when it comes to the experience factor, talent takes over and that makes me feel a whole lot different on what the Tigers can do against Tech’s triple option.