By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Nobody in a BCS conference runs an offense quite like Georgia Tech does. It is a unique challenge for opposing defenses to prepare to face the Yellow Jackets.
One of the oddities analysts seem to point to as a difficult obstacle to overcome is the presence of a plethora of cut blocks in Tech’s offensive blocking scheme. On every snap, the linemen attempt to bring down opposing defenders with low blocks. It can be disheartening and maddening, but in the minds of observers, it ends after one excruciating game.
It simply does not work this way in the Clemson program, according to senior linebacker Quandon Christian.
“Since Coach Venables got here, we’ve been doing cut blocks,” he said with a chuckle. “We do them every day in individual (workouts).”
Then Christian’s face hardened, as if to communicate a different level of seriousness.
“We definitely did more this week,” he added, “a whole lot more.”
When Clemson takes on Georgia Tech in a primetime showdown on Thursday night, it will be the ultimate test of the mental fortitude of a defense that has shown vast improvement for much of this season. Its collective focus will be vital, as Georgia Tech’s triple option scheme looks to exploit even the tiniest of missed assignments or misalignments.
Normally, preparing for such a team is a tall task because of how unique its approach is compared to the rest of the schedule. But the Tigers on defense insist the week of preparation—plus a few extra days—has not been a complete departure from the way they always function.
Other than tailoring the focal points to fit the opponent—which is done every week, even for more conventional teams—Clemson is taking a business-as-usual approach to its showdown with its cross-division rival, even if it means taking a few inconvenient blows to the knees in the process.
“It’s really frustrating,” defensive tackle D.J. Reader said. “I get mad every day in practice because you never know when you’re just going to be walking somewhere and somebody is just crawling around your feet. It’s uncomfortable, but you have to learn to deal with it.”
Clemson’s defense is bothered but not concerned by the Yellow Jackets’ approach. As an annual fixture on the schedule, the veteran defenders are intimately familiar with Paul Johnson’s option attack. They also understand the do’s and don’ts associated with being successful.
“Coach Hobby always says, ‘The good ones never get cut,’ defensive end Corey Crawford said. “You have to use your hands to prevent them from getting into your legs. You have to play over the top and keep running so they can’t get to your legs.”
Handling a cut block is easier said than done. The awareness necessary to ward off impending blockers might cut down on reaction time for instinctive defenders, which could lead to a big play here and there.
“You’re moving one direction, and you may have a lineman coming at you the other direction,” linebacker Stephone Anthony said. “You have to find a way to get over.”
Even though pitfalls exist against the Yellow Jackets that are exclusive to their system, Clemson’s defense is as confident as ever. The unit believes its own execution determines success and failure, and the swagger has not wavered in the face of perhaps its toughest mental challenge to date.
Maybe all of the cut blocks that make practice miserable for defenders will pay off in the end.