Top-ranked Clemson is facing the unknown as it prepares to host Georgia Tech and its new-look offense Thursday at Death Valley, making things difficult for safety Tanner Muse and the Tigers’ defense.
Under first-year head coach Geoff Collins, the Yellow Jackets are making a major transition offensively from Paul Johnson’s run-heavy triple-option attack to a spread-based, pro-style offense.
Brent Venables and his defense have film from Georgia Tech’s spring game to study, but the Tigers know that teams never show everything in a spring game. So, there is an element of surprise with Tech’s offense, which presents a challenge for Clemson as it prepares for the season opener.
“You don’t know what they’re going to do,” Muse said this week. “So, it’s very stressful, because you want to cover everything but you can’t within a certain amount of time. Thankfully, we’ve had a little extra time, so we’ve been trying to figure out what they could do. You never really know, so you’ve got to be prepared for everything, which is stressful because you can’t be as quick and trust your keys as fast as you want to … You’ve got to play a little slower, which is always tough.”
In Johnson’s 11th and last season at Georgia Tech in 2018, the Yellow Jackets ran the ball 745 times while attempting only 126 passes in 13 games. Meanwhile, Collins’ offense at Temple threw the ball (443 passing attempts) nearly as much as it ran the ball (494 rushing attempts).
Now, Collins and Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude are working with players who were recruited by Johnson for the triple-option scheme, including an offensive line that doesn’t have much experience in pass protection and receivers who have done a lot more blocking than catching.
So, the Yellow Jackets’ staff has tried to be creative by moving a bunch of players to new positions on offense in hopes of maximizing the talent on their roster and expediting the transition process.
“It’s weird when you go from a triple-option like that,” Muse said. “Their personnel is different. It’s built for a triple-option. They haven’t had recruiting classes to get in all the way yet. So, we don’t really know what they’re going to do. And it’s a new staff as well, so you don’t really know what they’re going to do on offense. You’ve got to take what you’ve seen before, the spring game and things like that. So, we don’t really have a lot.”
Georgia Tech has not named a starting quarterback heading into Thursday’s contest, with redshirt freshman James Graham, redshirt sophomore Lucas Johnson and redshirt sophomore Tobias Oliver all listed on the team’s depth chart.
Meanwhile, UConn grad transfer Tyler Davis is expected to start for the Yellow Jackets at tight end, a position which didn’t exist in Johnson’s triple-option.
“We don’t really know much about him because he is a transfer, so we didn’t get to see him,” Muse said of Davis. “But they’ve got the big, long wide receivers that are really good blockers, and we’ll see how they do with the new offense. You never really know how people are going to change over.”
In Muse’s words, Clemson is trying not to “chase ghosts” as it gets ready to play Georgia Tech. But the fact is the Tigers don’t really know what to expect from the Ramblin’ Wreck offense when the two teams meet at 8 p.m. Thursday in the first live sporting event broadcasted by the new ACC Network.
“You don’t want to chase things that you don’t know of and you just want to stick to what you know,” Muse said. “But it’s also hard – it’s an opener. … You never really know with these openers. It’s the ACC Network, this is a big deal for everything, for ESPN and the ACC and all these things. So, you don’t really know – you’ve just got to prepare for the worst.”
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