So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance….
It is here! It is finally here! The Upper North Perspective is back again to discuss the biggest game thus far in 2016 for the Jackets.
The number five ranked Clemson Tigers are coming to town to take on the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. AND……..it is a WHITEOUT to top it all off. We all know the type of craziness that can occur for Georgia Tech at night. Add a whiteout into the equation, and anything seems possible. Don’t believe me? See 2015 FSU as an example.
But really…what kind of chance does this Tech team have of taking down the 2015 National Runner-up Clemson Tigers? Does the 2016 edition of the Yellow Jackets have what it takes?
Obviously, Clemson is the number five team in the country, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this game. Deshaun Watson. The talent level of Clemson. Top 5 opponent. Tech went 3-9 last year. Can the lines hold up? Will the defense be able to generate stops and get to Watson?
However, this is not the place to be if you want to hear someone expound upon those reasons. Here, we are taking a ride on a train that gives reasons why GT has a chance to steal a win on Thursday night in the ATL. So, strap on in and start the Thursday game day with some optimism of what can come.
The 2016 version of the Clemson Tigers has not shown themselves to be the same team that trotted onto the field in 2015. We all know the highs and lows of increased expectations and what that can do to a program that is not prepared for the positive outlook. GT is only a year removed from some pretty high preseason optimism itself after all.
Now, I am not saying Clemson is on the road to 3-9 like that Tech team. Far from it actually. I do look at this group and see a team that is vulnerable to a surprise loss before fully waking up for the season. The odds of this team going undefeated are a lot lower than they were three weeks ago, and that solely rests on the team’s performance.
Deshaun Watson has even said it himself. The offense came into the year feeling themselves a bit, and it lead to him playing his worst game as a Tiger against Troy. Speaking of that, the mighty Trojans of Troy took Clemson to its limit on week two of the season. This followed up a narrow victory at Auburn where Clemson was lucky to sneak away with a victory.
I am the first to say that a win is a win. I also acknowledge that Clemson seemed to find a groove last week against South Carolina State that it had been missing thus far this season. However, that was S.C. State, and the Tigers seem due to produce a dud performance at the wrong time. That wrong time could easily come against Tech. A Thursday night game on five days’ rest with a big showdown looming against Louisville? It seems like the perfect opportunity for a team to look forward too soon. This could be an advantage for the Yellow Jackets.
The Blocking Leads to Greater Things
Hey, it is not perfect, but the blocking is getting there. It seems like every week we are able to highlight another phenomenal blocking performance by someone on the perimeter for the Tech offense. Ike, Qua, Clinton, JJ, and the A-Back crew have all had their highlights thus far in the blocking game. I am still thinking of that thunderous block from Searcy during the Boston College game. This week, Mikell Lands-Davis joined the party from the receiver position. He had multiple big time blocks and really seems to enjoy delivering crushing blocks from the position. The kid knows the way to Coach Johnson’s heart. After a year in which perimeter blocking was at an all-time low, the 2016 blocking is a welcome addition to the weekly experience. This perimeter group creates opportunities in the running game consistently, and their physicality will be a major key in whether or not the Jackets can pull off the upset over Clemson.
The offensive line is getting better each week with the ACC lineman of the week, Freddie Burden, leading the way. The guard rotation of Will Bryan, Shamire Devine, and Parker Braun is simply a dream come true in terms of talent and experience, and I really look forward to seeing how they handle the deftly talented defensive line group of Clemson. This will be the best front the Jackets have faced and may be the most athletic front all season long.
The main reason to specifically highlight the offensive line group has more to do with the passing game. This OL group has consistently given Justin Thomas time to sit back and make his reads in the passing game. Having just a little bit of time has made an enormous difference in the passing game from the year prior. This could be an advantage for the Jackets in this game if it continues. With adequate pass blocking, the Jackets passing attack can take advantage of an inexperienced safety group that may be wanting to come up a little quicker than normal for the run. The legitimate threat of being able to pass effectively will open up the running game as well. This seems to be an area the Jackets can exploit and presents an opportunity going into Thursday night.
An Opportunistic Defense
Call me crazy, but I still think the defense has a chance to perform at a solid level this season. Through three games, the defense is allowing just over ten points per game. Granted, the competition has been Boston College, Mercer, and Vanderbilt, but Tech fans have not had many opportunities to be proud of the defense in the past few years no matter who the opponent was.
Opportunistic has been a good word for the group. Forcing field goals, turnovers, and coming up with key stops at important times has defined the defense. The red zone defense has been fairly solid as well.
Part of my optimism in this group resides in the fact that the defense has played pretty well when guys like Antonio Simmons, Brentavious Glanton, Anree Saint-Amour, and Kyle Cerge-Henderson are on the field. You also have other guys like Brandon Adams leading big time stops on short yardage situations. This defensive line group has proven to be deep, and the referenced group of guys have actually looked better than the starters on the field at times. The defensive line group has a chance to prove that they are for real on Thursday night, and I think they can do that. I believe in the secondary led by AJ Gray for this team, and a solid defensive line will only help them in a truly difficult contest against Clemson.
This is a defensive group that truly lives by Ted Roof’s bend but don’t break model. There have been multiple times in each game where Tech fans are left wondering what the heck the defense is doing, but the results have been successful. Another solid performance against Clemson could put the haters to bed and prove this group is for real.
Running Back Playmaking
This point does not need much explaining. The group of B-Backs and A-Backs are simply making plays. Qua Searcy has proven to be one of the most athletic playmakers on the team in the first three games. Clinton Lynch seemed to find his 2015 rhythm with a fairly dominant performance against Vanderbilt. Marcus Marshall reminded everyone of his breakaway speed taking the opening play of the game to the house. And Dedrick Mills? The freshman is just proving time and again that he is ready for the stage. He is mature beyond his years and has a will and determination that simply can’t be taught. Dedrick Mills has star written all over him in this offense. This group is special, and when this offense has a group of backs like this, it has to put any team on notice. Clemson has to account for a lot of playmakers as any of these guys can be the one to win the game.
This is a short point as I have written about my belief in Justin Thomas over and over again. It just seems like a perfect time to remind everyone that Justin Thomas is one of the best players on the field no matter who Tech plays. He is a force to be reckoned with. By the evidence so far, Justin is fully back on track to 2014 form, and that has to be scary for this Clemson defense. This is a night game at Bobby Dodd with a national audience tuning in. I trust the leader of the team in this situation, and I think JT comes ready to show out Thursday night.
WEAR WHITE! #WhiteOut
Strange things seem to happen to top ranked opponents that come to Bobby Dodd for a night game. Throw in the fact that this is a #WhiteOut with a wild and alive crowd means literally anything can happen. The fans in the stands have a chance to make their presence felt. All areas of the stadium, including the namesake Upper North, need to be loud, so the team can pull some additional energy. A night crowd at Bobby Dodd cannot be underestimated.
These are all reasons to believe that the opportunity is there for the Jackets to steal away a victory on Thursday night. A combination of timely playmaking, opportunistic defense, impact blocking, strong senior leadership, and a loud, supportive crowd is the recipe for an upset victory. If the Jackets can continue to grow, build, and improve each week as they have demonstrated, this team has the capability to pull off the shocker over Clemson.
Beat the traffic to the game. Be in your seat at 7:15. Wear white. Be loud. Support these Jackets. Find a way to get to 4-0.
It’s going to be a fun ride.