Ahead of Clemson’s ACC opener against Georgia Tech, TCI caught up with Ken Sugiura to get some insight on the Yellow Jackets. Sugiura covers Georgia Tech football for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Sugiura hit on a number of topics with TCI in the following question-and-answer session, including the Yellow Jackets’ quarterback situation, Tech’s new offense under third-year coach Geoff Collins and more ahead of Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Georgia Tech has traded the triple option for a more modern spread pro-style offense under Collins. How does this offense want to go about attacking defenses?
I think, generally speaking, it’s certainly run-first. I think it’s probably the philosophy of the offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude to start with, but then when you have backs like Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason in there, you play to your strengths. And I think, too, with the (offensive) line, their strength is more run blocking than pass blocking. I think they’re somewhere around 60-40 (run-pass), but they try to get downhill. They try to get Gibbs out in space and do some different things. They move guys around and try to give teams different looks. But ultimately, yeah, it’s more of a run-heavy group to start with.
Georgia Tech has started Jeff Sims and Jordan Yates at quarteback in its first two games. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he expects both to play Saturday, but how are their skill sets different?
Sims, he’s got a bigger arm. I’d say he’s more of an explosive runner and physically bigger. He can throw the deep ball well. He’s not quite as accurate as Yates. Yates is smaller and probably a more accurate passer. Not as big an arm as Sims has, but he certainly, against Kennesaw State, which obviously is an FCS team, was accurate and found his guys. He seems to run the offense well. I think certainly if you’re comparing talent to pure talent, I’d go with Sims. But I think right now, as far as just being able to operate the offense, at least from what we’ve seen, I’d give the nod to Jordan Yates.
Do you expect both to play Saturday?
I would think so. I’m not positive, but if Sims starts, I think Yates has done well enough that I think he’s merited it. And conversely it’s a lot to be going against that defense for one guy given how tough they are. It wouldn’t surprise me, if Yates were to start, to get Sims in there just to keep him going and give him a chance to keep progressing. So I would think that, but their plans may be different than mine.
Do you think one of those quarterback’s skill sets might play better against a defense like Clemson’s?
That’s a good question. I think when they drop back to pass, they’ll be getting a lot of pressure quickly, I would suspect. So maybe, in that regard, you might want Sims because he’s more elusive and so they can turn broken plays into gains. But also something (Georgia Tech) has talked a lot about is being efficient and playing clean. Yates has shown, certainly against Kennesaw State and for the half-plus he played against Northern Illinois, I think he was able to be more efficient. I think one thing with Sims has been avoiding mistakes and so forth, and that’s something Yates has done. But you want to take advantage of the chances you get, and you know there probably aren’t going to be many against Clemson. So in that regard, I could see where Sims might be the better choice.
Who’s Georgia Tech’s go-to guy on offense?
Kyric McGowan, he’s a slot receiver and grad transfer from Northwestern. I think he’s become an easy target for both of those (quarterbacks). He’s quick and fast. It was either Geoff Collins or Dave Patenaude was saying he just has a really high football IQ. Kind of understands the game, can see the field and know where to go. So he’s one. And then obviously Jahmyr Gibbs. They move him around. He’s in the backfkeld. He’s in the slot. He runs kicks backs. So he’s a guy they want to get the ball to.
What are some of the biggest questions that remain for the Yellow Jackets through two games?
Well certainly I guess, in a sense, who’s going to quarterback this team. But I wrote something in today’s paper about the offensive line. It’s a really, really experienced group. I think it’s over 100 combined starts with the (starting) five. They’ve been thinking of this group as a strength. In the run, they’ve done pretty well, but I think pass blocking has been kind of the question. They’ve given up I think seven sacks against a MAC school and an FCS school. Certainly Clemson is going to be a much bigger test than either of those two, so that’ll be a big question mark.
I think there are a lot of questions about can this team get better? Or how much better can it get after having won three games the past two years? I think it depends some on just having playmakers there on defense but also can this offense be consistent and move the ball effectively? And a big part of that is how well this offensive line plays. I don’t think many people are expecitng this game to be closer for Georgia Tech, but I think you want to see progress. And it’ll be tough to measure against this defense because it’s so good, it seems like. But you want to see them do better and certainly show more and at least get a better sense of where they are than you have in the first two games.
Given the defense it’s going up against, might this be a game Georgia Tech tries to pass it more? Or do you think they’ll try to get more creative in how they run the ball?
They do run it wide a lot, so yeah I would definitely expect to see that. Certainly running into the teeth of that defense, you do it at your own peril. I think Dave Patenaude, to me, seems like someone who can figure out a lot of different ways to do things. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re trying to probe and figure out things. Having their guards pulling and getting out on edges. I think that might be the wiser way to go, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried different things. They ran a jet sweep I think with Jahmyr Gibbs early last week just to try different things to get their playmakers out in space.
So what does Tech have to do if it wants to keep this game more competitive than the last six in the series?
Certainly avoiding mistakes. Last year, that was a big part of it. I think Clemson, they started three drives inside of Tech’s 20 (yard line), and obviously that was part of it. So avoiding things like that. And I guess it kind of is a common-sense thing, but you just can’t let the game get away early like it has so often in this series. So getting some stops on defense. Getting some turnovers and getting some plus field position. Playing efficiently, holding onto the ball and avoiding three and outs I think is a large part of it.
And the defense, again. Clemson has been able to hit a lot of big plays. I guess to some degree there’s a question about Clemson and how good that offense is, but making them work, getting ball back, forcing some punts and just kind of holding their ground. Like I said, this game has gotten away from Tech so quickly in the past that you just want to hold steady for the first quarter and then go from there.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!