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2018 Opponent Q&A: Clemson

An insider’s look with Shakin’ the Southland

Georgia Tech v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This week, the weekly Q&A is chatting with Ryan Kantor of Clemson’s SBNation blog, Shakin’ the Southland. You can check out my answers to his questions about all things Yellow Jacket football here. Did my answers to their questions devolve into a GT uniform argument in the comment section? Yes, yes it did. Y’all go join them in arguing about one of our commentariat’s favorite topics. Otherwise, check out below for Ryan’s answers and become learned doctors ahead of Saturday’s game.

1. Does the Clemson defense have a weak point anywhere? There certainly doesn’t appear to be one so far this season. Those guys are terrifying.

Our depth in the secondary is perilously thin, and the pass defense by the safeties and linebackers was less than superb in the only game didn’t play a triple-option team (at Texas A&M). This will be our third (and final) game against a triple-option team this year. We’ll really find out how significant those relative weaknesses are when we play QB Eric Dungey and Syracuse in week 5.

2. Both Trevor Lawrence and Kelly Bryant have looked great so far this season. I know the job is Bryant’s to lose, but do you see him ceding the starting position this season if Lawrence continues to impress? Or is Bryant’s experience and game control too much to overtake for the freshman? They’re sharing time and the two-QB system is working. The staff has handled the situation marvelously and both players have shown maturity dealing with it. They’ve even seemed to push each other to get better and it’s been a positive. Kelly Bryant had a minor injury against Georgia Southern, but should be good to go against GT. I think they’ll both get plenty of playing time in the game.

Beyond this weekend, If Trevor Lawrence improves more rapidly than Kelly Bryant throughout the season (as one might expect from a true freshman), he may earn additional snaps. Kelly Bryant’s experienced steady hand already proved incredibly valuable late in the game at Texas A&M. He’ll continue to get meaningful snaps even if his starting role is eventually usurped. For now, we’re a two-QB team and that’s perfectly fine!

3. Does anything concern you about playing Tech’s offense? It seems like Venables has pretty effectively shut it down the last couple seasons. Has that been due to scheme or talent or both?

I don’t want to come off as rude or arrogant, but the honest answer is no. I was high on GT coming into the season. Marshall showed promise last year and it seemed that if he could develop into a better passer the offense could take that next step. The new DC hire seemed promising too. Put those together and they’d be dangerous. It isn’t worked out quite that way. Marshall already has 4 INTs on just 51 pass attempts and the defense appears untrustworthy.

Mainly though, Clemson’s strength is stonewalling the run and we’ve already played and shutdown two (lesser) option attacks. I’d be much more worried about playing an offense like Washington State than another run-based offense.

We are breaking in a new SAM linebacker, Isaiah Simmons, so that’s the one potential area that GT could try to exploit. Dorian O’Daniel, now on the Kansas City Chiefs, was excellent against GT the past two years. If Simmons struggles to make the right decisions, GT could find some success there.

4. As a broader question, Clemson has experienced a fairly unprecedented rise from middling ACC team to national superpower that seems primed to stay at that level for the foreseeable future. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen under Dabo in his tenure to enable this rise and then the sustainability?

Culture, culture, culture! Coach Swinney knew the team was mentally weak and didn’t believe in themselves, and he quickly made it his mission to change that. All his early slogan-eering and cheerleading was generally focused on that cause. He caught flack for it, but he was right. The slogan now is “Best is the Standard” and it seems they push to meet that high standard every day.

There has likewise been a commitment from the athletic department that Coach Tommy Bowden did not benefit from. Clemson’s facilities are constantly being upgraded and are among the nation’s very best.

These two things have led to better recruiting and more money to pay top assistants. As long as that continues, this can be sustainable for a long while.

5. And finally, what are your predictions for the game? Is it even going to be close enough to give Clemson fans anything to worry about?

Clemson doesn’t try to blow anybody out (except South Carolina). SB Nation’s Bill Connelly often complains that Clemson is content to let teams stick around, but it has yet to bite us. The Tigers may start rotating in back-ups early and that may keep it from getting out of hand. I feel good about Clemson winning by 14+, but depending on how much we rotate back-ups it may be more competitive than you’d guess. I think a lot of Clemson fans would like to further exorcise the Atlanta demons and make it a blood bath. I don’t think that’ll happen, as much as we may want it. We may get a circle the wagons moment from Paul Johnson’s boys, but I’m still confident Clemson gets a comfortable win, even if not spectacular.

Thanks again to Ryan for answering our questions. You guys head over to STS and say hello and be welcoming to one of the nicer fan bases to grace Bobby Dodd every other year. Kick is at 3:30 on Saturday. Go Jackets!