By Trey McCurry.
For the fourth time in his two-plus seasons as the head coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney will meet Georgia Tech Saturday in a key ACC matchup Saturday at Death Valley. Tuesday, Swinney held his weekly press conference and discussed the matchup with the Yellow Jackets.
“If there is a team we should know something about, it is these guys,” said Swinney. “They are 5-2 and have won three in a row. We have our hands full and we need to focus on playing a complete game. It has come down to the last few plays the past two times we have played them. In the championship game, we played as good as you could offensively and didn’t have a punt, but the problem is they didn’t either. We will need a solid contribution for all three phases of the game.”
“Offensively, they (Georgia Tech) will do what they do. They have six guys back and Nesbitt is what makes them go. He is a tough guy to simulate in practice. They play a lot of good backs. They don’t throw the ball a whole lot. Our history is when we think we are doing good, they go up top for a big one. It is critical that everyone does a great job with their eyes.”
“For us, everyone has a job to do but you have to be physical in that job. They still have to block you. The biggest thing with them is that there is a lot of ball handling going on. We need to use that and try to create some turnovers. With the way they can spread you out, you have to tackle well. If you miss a tackle in this game, it is very noticeable. Another critical thing for this game is third downs since they go for it so often on fourth down. If they get a fourth-and-short, they are going to go for it.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets brought in Al Groh to run their defense and switched from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 like Groh used at Virginia. “Their defense is their biggest change. They have eight guys back on defense. With Coach Groh as the coordinator, it is like getting ready to play Virginia. He has done a nice job of implementing his scheme. You can see them getting better. For us, it is all about execution. We have to pitch and catch better. We had six drops last week, all by the running backs and tight ends. The biggest thing for us is that we have to be a batter first down team.”
Nesbitt, who is in his third season as quarterback for the Yellow Jackets, is a main key to Clemson winning the game. This week Vic Beasley is getting the opportunity to play Nesbitt for the scout team. “He is the only one that really gives us that look. I (Swinney) will spend some time with the scout team today. We need them to have a really good week of practice to get us ready for Saturday.”
As for defending Nesbitt, Swinney said there is no set plan for him individually. “Someone has to hit the quarterback on every play and someone has to take the pitch man every play. The first play of the championship game, we had the play covered and two guys go for the QB and they get 20 yards. The best thing about the option is that you get to hit the QB on every play.”
Swinney was also asked about the big picture for his program and how he has said Clemson has come a long way since he took over. “I knew this wouldn’t be easy. You can’t change the culture over night. We had a good distance to make up to become the type of program we want to have here. It is not just the scoreboard – it is the was you practice, your meetings, the off-the-field stuff, it is everything else. If you have really watched us play, you will see we have made improvement in some key areas. We won the Atlantic Division for the first time. We took over a chaotic situation, played better, beat our rival, and made the Gator Bowl. Over the last year, we have become a more physical team. Nobody has lined up and whipped us. There is a difference in losing and getting whipped. We have made a lot of progress on our staff. Our offensive line is now a strength for us. A team that didn’t protect the QB well now protects the QB. We went from 14 sacks to 36 last year on defense.”
“We have made a lot of progress in the two years. I wish we were a little bit better record wise, but this season isn’t over. All I know is that so far we have an Atlantic Division banner hanging up and we have played for a championship. We put 10 guys in the NFL last season. We graduate our players. I see a lot of good things. Ultimately most folks just want to look at the scoreboard. One day that will be the case. We are recruiting very well. We redshirted almost our entire class last year and we will put another 24/25 players with them this year. We have the nucleus of a championship team. We have a lot more to do, but the best is yet to come.”
Given the closeness of the series, Swinney said he notices some more intensity from his players. “Right now, Tech is the champion until someone says otherwise. They have the title and have beaten us in two straight heartbreakers. Our guys know them and everyone know what it is.”
The series between the Tigers and Yellow Jackets have been as close as they come in college football. Georgia Tech has won the past four meetings and six of the past seven. In those seven games, five games have been decided by five points or less. As for this Saturday, fans should expect nothing less than another close game against Georgia Tech.