For the third time in the first four weeks of the season, No. 2 Clemson will face a triple-option team Saturday when they travel to Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta to face ACC rival Georgia Tech.
The Tigers have already squared off against Furman’s triple option attack and held them to 117 yards on 53 carries. The Paladins were below 100 rushing yards until the last minutes of the game. Last week, Clemson’s defense limited Georgia Southern’s triple-option to 80 yards on 43 carries.
However, Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech will be a different beast all together for the Tigers’ defense. The Yellow Jackets are bigger, stronger, more athletic and faster than what they have seen from Furman and Georgia Southern.
It also does not help that starting weakside linebacker, and senior, Kendall Joseph will miss the game due to a groin injury he suffered in practice this week. Fellow senior J.D. Davis is expected to get the start for the Tigers.
“It is a little bit different than some of the option that we have seen,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brnet Venables said. “We have got some work with it, but Coach (Paul) Johnson now has a couple of games of film to really look at it and study what we are doing.
“We had to lineup and stop Furman and Georgia Southern so to a certain degree you had to reveal yourself to them. It will be a little bit different for them to have that film to study.”
Will it help Johnson? Who knows? In the last three years, Johnson has had little answer for the way the Tigers (3-0) have manhandled his rushing attack.
In the last three seasons, Tech (1-2) had its lowest total rushing (71 in 2015) and total yards (124 in 2016) performances in the Paul Johnson era, and they both came against Clemson. In the last three meetings, the Yellow Jackets are averaging 121.3 yards per game on the ground, 2.95 per carry and has two rushing touchdowns.
“I think it is just execution,” Venables said. “I think our players have done a good job of understanding the plan and executing. It is not like we are not playing disciplined football. Are we faster than some people they might see? Maybe. But if the fast guy is not going to the right place. If he is not squeezing and closing and if he is not playing the dive like he is supposed to and just go down the list of all the responsibilities that everybody has on any particular play.
“If they are not doing the little things right, they will expose you.”
Georgia Tech has the players to expose anyone who is out of position. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall runs the triple-option as well as anyone Johnson has had behind center. Running backs KirVonte Benson and Qua Searcy are as good as any and fullback (AB back) Clinton Lynch is a tough player running up the middle.
“They make a lot of superior athletic teams look like fools and have for a long time,” Venables said.
Clemson looked like fools for a while against Johnson’s triple option. Prior to Venables arrival, the Tigers struggled against Georgia Tech, giving up 300 plus yards three different times from 2009-’11, including 383 yards in a loss in a loss in Atlanta.
“It’s about being very detailed, precise, physical, violent, disruptive, all of those things,” Venables said. “You have to be able to do it for four quarters and that is how they lull people to sleep. They are getting tired of playing those cut blocks, scope blocks, crack blocks and things of that nature and they stop losing in their intensity and their precision and that is when they get exposed.”
Under Venables, Clemson has allowed the Yellow Jackets to run for more than 300 yards just once, and that came in his first season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
“It is going to take an incredible effort from our guys, everybody,” Venable said. “Obviously, the guys up front, we have to be able to make it tough for them to handle the whole interior inside and out.”