Wesley Goodwin isn’t big on comparisons. Clemson’s first-year defensive coordinator just knows Georgia Tech’s quarterback is far from one-dimensional.
“He’s got his own strengths,” Goodwin said of Jeff Sims. “He presents problems and challenges in his own way.”
Clemson has seen its share of dual-threat quarterbacks in the ACC in recent years, including Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Florida State’s Jordan Travis and Syracuse’s Garrett Shrader. Sims is in a similar mold, but when Clemson faces Tech on Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in both teams’ season opener, it’ll be a different look than what the Tigers saw just last season from Tech behind center.
That’s because Sims, who’s been the Yellow Jackets’ regular starter since his freshman season in 2020, was injured a season ago when Tech made the trip to Clemson, which pressed Jordan Yates into action. Yates, who’s since transferred to Sam Houston State, completed just more than 50% of his passes, threw an interception and often tried to scramble under duress from Clemson’s defensive front, though the 6-foot, 195-pounder rarely got far (21 yards on 15 carries) in the Tigers’ 14-8 win.
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Sims is more of a prototypical passer that also has the long-strided speed to make things happen with his legs either on designed runs or broken plays. Sims completed 60.1% of his passes in the seven games he played a season ago – an increase of more than five percentage points from his completion rate as a freshman – and averaged more than 5 yards per carry last season. He has rushed for nearly 900 yards during his time at Tech.
“I think that’s what the game has come to nowadays, dual-threat quarterbacks that not only are running the ball but have a great placement on the ball and are very accurate,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry said. “And that’s what he brings to the game. One of the best in the country. Very fast. Very elusive. The second you think you have him, you probably don’t.
“He’s really good at having that ability to get out of the pocket and make a negative play a positive. So he’s definitely going to be a good challenge for us Week 1.”
Henry and other veteran members of Clemson’s defense have already seen Sims in action. Sims played against the Tigers two seasons ago, though he wasn’t much of a factor in any capacity. He completed just 6 of 13 passes for 81 yards and was held to minus-23 rushing yards, many of which were the result of sacks, in Clemson’s 73-7 rout that season.
But Sims has played in 11 games since then. He’s also got a new offensive coordinator in Chip Long, who’s also directed offenses at Memphis, Notre Dame and, most recently, Henry said he and his defensive teammates have studied tape of Long’s previous offenses as well as Tech’s spring game, but knowing exactly how Long might decide to use Sims’ skill set, he said, will be a feeling-out process.
That first game, you can get anything, so we’ve got to be prepared for it all,” Henry said. “But at the same time, football is still football. By halftime, we’ll kind of have a feel for who they are and who they really want to be that game. We’ll kind of fix some things and then go from there.”
Based on what he saw on tape from Sims during Tech’s spring game, Goodwin said he believes Sims has improved even more as a passer since last season, particularly with his ability to push the ball down the field. Being able to contain every aspect of Sims’ game this time around will require disciplined football from Goodwin’s unit.
“Have great eyes and great discipline in the rush lanes for those guys that are apt to pull the ball down and extend plays with their feet,” Goodwin said. “It’s a good challenge up front and a good challenge for my linebackers as well just playing disciplined, playing with good eyes, playing with good technique and balancing up the rush lanes.”
Photo credit: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports
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