“I GOT A D+! I’M GUNNA GRADUATE!”
For the purpose of this Report Card series, let’s look at the 2021 Football Season as a semester-long collection of one-week courses. Whereas Kennesaw State may be likened to History of Chairs, Clemson more closely resembles Calculus II, Physics, or Thermodynamics (it’s worth noting I didn’t take any of the latter during my time at Tech. For the sake of HOPE Scholarship eligibility, that was probably a good decision). Naturally, it’s tougher to get A’s in tougher courses. That being said, Saturday’s performance, however sloppy and frustrating at times, was the most impressive so far this season in a number of ways. So while there might not be as many A’s and B’s as last week, just keep in mind, C’s and D’s get degrees.
A couple notes before I get into the specific position groups:
- The Clemson Defense has yet to give up a touchdown on the season (georgie TD was a pick six)
- Clemson beat us by 66 points last year...
Now, clearly Clemson is a different team absent Trevor Lawrence, but much like Alabama, it is a program that reloads talent at every position on the field. And they got to play Tech in their own backyard this season. I just wanted to point those things out to ensure proper perspective - Clemson is still a very good team, and the Jackets gave ‘em hell. Let’s get to it.
I’m waiting for the Jordan Yates dream to end, but if he wants to prolong this success through the remainder of the season, I don’t think anyone in white and gold would oppose. He continues to find his receivers, make good decisions, and most importantly, PROTECT THE FOOTBALL. Through three games this season, Tech has two turnovers, one of which was a garbage time fumble against KSU. Yates is responsible for zero of those. Last season, through three games, Tech had 12 turnovers. Twelve.
Against Clemson, Yates completed 61% of his passes for 203 yards, zero TD’s and zero picks. Many of his throws were under pressure as the Clemson pass rush bullied the Tech OL for much of the game. He also found 32 yards on the ground, which isn’t eye-popping, but a decent amount of those yards were second half first-down conversions in big moments.
Running Backs: C
When holes don’t exist up the middle, it’s pretty difficult to find yardage and make plays. On that same token, Clemson isn’t a team many have success beating to the edge. The bigger plays from this group came on a few well-timed screens.
The pass-blocking could use some improvement. There were multiple plays throughout the game where it looked like RB’s were confused or didn’t pick up the right guy coming through the line. Good example of this was on a 1st & 10 early in the third quarter. Right after he made a nice play on the ground, Dontae Smith failed to pick up James Skalski blitzing up the middle, putting the Tech offense behind schedule. At the very least, you have to try and get a body on someone.
I’m not trying to pick on him. I love watching Dontae play. He’s the third or fourth best RB on the team and that is amazing to think about.
Wide Receivers/TEs: C+
There wasn’t a surplus of production from this group on Saturday. No single receiver surpassed 100 yards, but Kyric McGowan led the group with 4 catches for 82 yards and made some big plays in the second half. He is athletic, knows how to find open spaces, and gets upfield after catching the ball. Malachi also made some nice catches throughout the game, including a 19-yard grab late in the 4th quarter to get the Yellow Jacket offense inside the 10-yard line.
The only dropped balls that I saw were on pretty tight coverage. The TE corp did a decent job supporting the OL against pass rush, but did get beat a few times on the edge. Dylan Deveney brought in a few balls, only totaling 16 yards. However, one of those catches was a 7-yard snag on 4th down to keep the drive alive.
Offensive Line: D+
This was my assessment after Week 1.
Guess how many sacks Clemson had... 4. I’m not totally sure that means this unit is completely cohesive yet, but I do believe we’ve seen some improvement, however slight that may be. This front seven was the best Georgia Tech will see until COFH in late November.
It’s not all about sacks though. There wasn’t much of a push in the run game as the RB group only totaled 74 yards on 23 carries. For the most part, this was an unbalanced equation of talent.
Total Offense: C
Overall, the offense is seeing improvement, and I believe that comes mostly from the consistent and reliable play of Jordan Yates. You have to find ways to punch the ball in the end zone, particularly inside the 10-yard line, and limiting pre-snap penalties early in the game could have potentially helped the field position battle, but the Tech offense found a way to put together a number of impressive drives to keep the game interesting.
Defensive Line: B-
The Clemson offense over the years has been very dangerous through the air, but they are a run first, read option attack. The big boys for Tech’s defensive front did a good job occupying space and limiting the push by Clemson’s OL, but there wasn’t much penetration throughout the game. Only 1 of the 4 Georgia Tech tackles for loss came from this unit, with zero sacks and very little pressure on Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei, who has struggled to find rhythm through the first part of the season.
Multiple players from the second and third level of Tech’s defense made key plays on Saturday. Charlie Thomas put his stamp on nearly every drive, leading the group in tackles. Eley made a few nice plays, as well, including a tackle on 4th & 2 in the second quarter to give Tech the ball back, but he also appeared to miss a key assignment on Clemson’s first TD. He and Tariq Carpenter both appeared to take the QB read, leaving the middle wide open for Will Shipley. I can’t say this for certain, but it appeared Eley should have stayed in the middle and keyed the RB.
Speaking of Will Shipley, at times the Yellow Jacket linebackers had trouble dropping him on contact, often giving up a few yards after being driven back. Ultimately, there weren’t a ton of missed or broken tackles, and the most explosive play on the ground was only a 15-yard run. Solid performance overall.
I’ll preface this by saying DJU did miss a few open targets on Saturday... BUT, the Tech secondary looked much more focused and executed the game plan very well. Primarily through a mix of zone and loose man coverage, Tech’s DBs were able to keep everything in front of them. The longest play through the air was a 17-yard screen.
In terms of run support, improvement week over week was very noticeable. Tariq Carpenter led the team in tackles, and it’s not like these were gashing runs or touchdown-saving tackles. He and Juanyeh Thomas consistently provided edge support at or near the line of scrimmage. Even Sophomore Jaylon King got in on the action. On a 2nd & manageable late in the first quarter, King shot through the line like a cannon to tackle Lyn-J Dixon for a 5-yard loss, setting up a tough 3rd down that Clemson would fail to convert.
Total Defense: A-
Even without Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s offense is riddled with 4 and 5-star recruits, and the Georgia Tech defense held them to under 300 total yards, forced a big turnover in the fourth quarter, and even got a safety when all hope appeared to be lost. Also, thanks to an inability to move the ball early and a couple less-than-stellar punts, Clemson started 3 of their first 4 drives with great field position. Add the turnover on downs in the second quarter and this defensive performance is really impressive. More often than not, holding your opponent to 14 points results in a win.
Special Teams: B-
Even though they were from XP distance, Cimaglia was perfect again on his kicks. The onside kick by Jude Kelley was a thing of beauty. Gavin Stewart is the man. For the number of times we punted, Clemson only really had 1 return, so that’s a good thing. The story here was our inability to win the battle of field position. It wasn’t all the punter’s fault, because sometimes it was out of our own end zone, but none of Shanahan’s first quarter punts were over 40 yards. Then, when we finally got the chance to pin Clemson deep, he booted it out of the back of the end zone. Definitely room for improvement there.
Defensive game plan: don’t give up big plays, keep everything in front of you, give DJU and the Clemson offense some different looks. We ran a lot of 3-3 instead of our standard 4-2, and there were even some moments where the whole defensive line lined up in a two-point stance, motioning and trying to keep the Clemson offense guessing.
Offensive game plan: milk the clock, stay balanced, protect the football. It took a while for the Tech offense to find success, but in the meanwhile, they ran the clock down as much as possible and didn’t turn the ball over.
Clemson runs a lot of man coverage, so we took advantage of that with some shots through the air in the second half. Kyric McGowan has proven to be a real threat outside, and that little pick play where he took off down the sideline is a perfect example. I wasn’t a huge fan of the 4th down play call to try and tie the game, but I’m not going to grade the entire performance on that one play. The group that struggled the most was the offensive line, and we ran a play where the right guard, Ryan Johnson, had to pull around and ended up missing the key block needed to spring Deveney into the end zone. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I would have loved to see Yates roll out and get the opportunity to make a play. What I thought was most impressive, and maybe I’m giving the coaching staff too much credit for this, was the way the Yellow Jackets came out and played after a 2-hour weather delay. You prepare a team to go into a hostile environment, send them through warm ups, play 30 minutes of football, have to go sit in a locker room for an undetermined period of time, take the team back out, warm up again, then try to pick up right where you left off. I wasn’t in the locker room, but the team was clearly able to stay focused on the task at hand.
You never like to take an L, but as far as they go, this was a pretty good one. It’s easy to slip into an enhanced state of disappointment knowing we had a chance, but I have to keep things in perspective. Last year, they beat us by 66 points.
I can only speak for myself, but as of right now, I feel a lot better about our chances the rest of the season. It’s still a tough schedule, and UNC won’t be much easier, but we passed the test this week.
See you all next week. Go Jackets!