Clemson will play host to Georgia Tech this weekend in both teams’ ACC opener. Here are five things to know about the Yellow Jackets:
This isn’t Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech
Geoff Collins is still trying to create some momentum in the program as Johnson’s successor. And in terms of the offense, the triple option is a thing of the past.
Collins has traded the old-school offensive attack that became synonymous with Tech under Johnson for a more modern spread pro-style system. Yet the Yellow Jackets still like to run the ball more than they throw it.
It’s been a 63-27 split (87 runs, 50 passes) through two games for the Yellow Jackets, who rank 58th nationally in total offense (420.5 per game), 34th in rushing (214.5) and 53rd in scoring (33 points). And they still like to get multiple ball carriers involved with three players already with at least 16 carries, including quarterback Jordan Yates.
Using the quarterback’s legs is an indication of some of the option principles still part of Tech’s offense despite the Yellow Jackets operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun. Tech still likes to get the ball on the edge whether it’s a run-pass option, jet sweeps with back and receivers or the screen game.
Tech’s quarterbacks are young
Tech’s primary options at quarterback are Jeff Sims and Jordan Yates. Both are second-year players.
In fact, the Yellow Jackets’ entire quarterback room is young. Of the five quarterbacks listed on the roster, only Temple transfer Trad Beatty isn’t a freshman.
Sims is still a freshmen eligibility-wise, though he started 10 games last season as a true freshman in what amounted to a free year of eligibility amid the coronavirus pandemic. He’s accounted for all but three of the starts Tech’s quarterbacks have combined.
One of those outliers belongs to Yates, who got his first career start last week in place of an injured Sims. He threw four touchdowns in Tech’s romp over FCS foe Kennesaw State and is completing nearly 71% of his passes through two games. Sims, the more dynamic runner of the two (5.7 yards per carry), is 4 of 9 passing.
Tech’s coaches aren’t revealing which quarterback they plan to start against Clemson, but it’s safe to say the level of competition and hostility will go up a few notches this week playing on the road in front of a sellout crowd against a defense that’s yet to give up a touchdown. It will be a tall task for the young quarterbacks.
Jahmyr Gibbs is one of the ACC’s most versatile backs
A good running game is a quarterback’s best friend, and while it remains to be seen if Tech can get it going against Clemson’s front seven, the Yellow Jackets will certainly look to get Gibbs involved early and often.
Gibbs is another “super” freshman who’s in his second year with Tech’s program, and he’s already emerged as one of the ACC’s top all-purpose backs. After leading the Yellow Jackets in scoring last season, he’s off to another fast start with 29 carries through two games, the most on the team.
He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry, but toting the rock is only one facet of Gibbs’ game.
Gibbs has already got 38 touches as a ball carrier, pass catcher and kick returner. He’s Tech’s third-leading receiver, and he’s averaging 26 yards as a kickoff returner. His longest return so far this season is 42 yards.
In other words, Tech likes to move Gibbs around to try to get the ball to one of its more explosive playmakers in a variety of ways. Stopping Tech’s offense starts with stopping Gibbs. Or at least containing him.
The defense is experienced
It may not be to the same level as Clemson’s (all but one defensive starter back), but Tech’s defense has plenty of seasoning.
The Yellow Jackets have eight starters back from a unit that’s looking to improve after allowing a whopping 37 points per game last season. There’s been some of that so far with Tech allowing just 19.5 points and 123 passing yards per game, though playing a triple-option team like Kennesaw State last week has something to do with that.
Four of those starters are in the secondary, including a pair of big-bodied safeties in Juanyeh Thomas and Tariq Carpenter. Tech eased the loss of leading tackler David Curry by bringing in Maryland linebacker transfer Ayinde Eley, who has a team-high 21 tackles through two games. Meanwhile, fellow linebacker Charlie Thomas leads the Yellow Jackets with two interceptions.
Alabama transfer Kevin Harris joins the likes of Jordan Domineck and Djimon Brooks up front. This will easily be the second-best defense Clemson has seen this season.
Tech’s lone loss was to a Group of Five team
While Tech handled Kennesaw State with ease last week, Year 3 of the Collins era in Atlanta got off to a rocky start.
The Yellow Jackets began with a 22-21 loss at home to Northern Illinois, a Mid-American Conference team that went winless last fall. The loss looked even worse when Wyoming, which has been far from an offensive juggernaut in the Mountain West in recent years, went to Dekalb, Illinois, last week and dropped half a hundred in a victory over NIU.
The loss of Sims to an arm injury early in that game undoubetdly had an impact on the outcome. But for a program that combined for just six wins in Collins’ first two years at the helm, it’s clear there’s still a ways for Tech to go to close the talent gap between itself and the top half of the ACC.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!