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Georgia Tech Football 2022 - Opponent Q&A: Clemson

Our chat with Shakin the Southland

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Hey everyone! Long time no see. The Q&A returns this year of our lord 2022 to discuss Georgia Tech football in Geoff Collins’ 4th year with our weekly opponents. Things have not shaken out so well under his tenure to this point, and so the Q&A will be curious to see if any of the opponents we interview predict a Georgia Tech win at any point this season. We shall see! Spoiler alert: not this week!

With the big, nationally televised game coming up on Monday night, we chatted with Ryan Kantor of Clemson’s SBN blog, Shakin the Southland. The mighty Tigers had a “rebuilding year” last season in which they still won 10 games. Must be nice.

Dabo has always branded himself the CEO coach, which has obviously worked tremendously well in his tenure. However, almost the entire staff turned over this season, including his DC stalwart in Brent Venables. Does Dabo have the Xs and Os ability to maintain Clemson’s place consistently among the Top 10 teams in the country? What sort of schematic differences are you expecting, if any, from the new coordinators?

Coach Swinney has obviously had tremendous success, but he has maintained the humility to know he needs to focus on areas where he has a comparative advantage and find talented coaches who can call plays. He is a great planner and had replacements ready to promote when his coordinators took head coaching opportunities.

I’m excited for the changes on offense the coaches have talked about, especially ratcheting up the tempo. Under Chad Morris, the offense ran a lot of hurry-up and tired teams out, most memorably LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl, but seemingly every year since his departure we’ve seen less and less of it. Brandon Streeter and Passing Game Coordinator/TE Coach Kyle Richardson want to bring it back. They’ve also talked about slimming down the playbook while adding more post-snap options. While I think last year’s offensive struggles were more about players than play calls, I am looking forward to the offensive changes they’ve shared. I’m not expecting too many changes on defense, but we’ll dive into that in a moment.

I honestly haven’t followed Clemson much this offseason – I know Uiagalelei had his struggles last season, but is he still the starter for Labor Day? How long a leash does he have before we might see a backup come in? The Clemson offense was clearly not what we’re used to seeing in 2021.

Coach Swinney has been adamant that DJ Uiagalelei is the starter for the opener. What will be interesting is how much leash he gets. The first three games are against Georgia Tech, Furman, and Louisiana Tech so there’s really no reason to rock the boat prior to seeing both QBs in game action during those three contests.

Back in 2014, Coach Swinney started Cole Stoudt over freshman Deshaun Watson at Florida State. While he made eventually the change during the game, playing Watson from the start could have been enough to push the Tigers over the top in what ended up being an extremely painful overtime loss. After that learning experience, I don’t think he’ll be overly hesitant to make a change before NC State (Week 5) if it is merited. So much went wrong with the team around DJ last season, he deserves a fresh opportunity and I’m excited to see both QBs play in Atlanta.

As a Georgia Tech fan, I know we’re relieved to see Venables finally move on. I really enjoyed his chess matches with Paul Johnson’s flexbone, but Collins and his staff definitely seemed overmatched the last couple of years. I know Goodwin was an internal hire to replace him, so what made him the choice for promotion instead of hiring from outside?

I think my perspective on the internal hires tracks with the fan base at large. At first, I was concerned that we weren’t bringing in fresh outside ideas, especially on offense. As I’ve learned more, my perspective has become much more positive and I now view them as more of a testament to Coach Swinney’s wise advance planning.

Goodwin was a defensive analyst at Clemson from 2012 to 2014, but left and spent three years working under Bruce Arians with the Arizona Cardinals. He returned in 2018 as a senior defensive assistant and served in that capacity for four years, turning down numerous external opportunities to stay with the Tigers, before getting this big promotion. I feel confident saying current players support him, recruits are committing to him, and based on all the positive words from colleagues and the one-game sample we got in the Cheez-It Bowl, he can handle the schematics and play calling just fine. I went into more detail in an article prior to last year’s bowl game which you can read here.

Despite winning 10 games last season, 2021 was considered a down / rebuilding year for the Tigers. What are your expectations this season? If Clemson is to improve on their 10 wins, what position groups need to step up the most?

Clemson went 10-3 in a down year, not half-bad! Of course, that downplays the fact that six of those wins came by 10 points or fewer. The offense didn’t just struggle, they were atrocious. Three groups need to make major improvements and they’re all closely related: wide receivers, quarterback, and offensive line.

While outsiders will highlight QB Uiagalelei’s struggles, those who watched Clemson every week saw consistently poor wide receiver play. Justyn Ross returned from a serious neck surgery and just wasn’t himself. Despite that, he was still Clemson’s best option. Injuries and underperformance plagued the group. They almost have to get a little better – in a “it can’t possibly get worse” kind of way – but they really need to make some big strides.

If they do that, the quarterback play should improve. Again, it is a situation where it almost has to get a little better, but needs to get much better. I think DJ will improve and if he doesn’t improve enough, you’d think five-star Cade Klubnik will get a chance. The floor for this QB room might be higher than the level of play it delivered last season.

Finally, the offensive line needs to find some consistency. Everything we’re hearing from Fall Camp is that they’ve taken a huge leap, but you can never trust camp O-line hype.

Is college football better with a P5 flexbone team? What would your reaction be if Tech went back and hired a coach out of Paul Johnson’s tree to replace Collins? A not-insignificant portion of our fan base would be ecstatic if we hired Jeff Monken out of Army or Brian Bohannon from Kennesaw State.

Going back to a triple-option would seem like giving up on being anything more than a 7-5 team most years. (Editor’s note: remember when 7 wins was disappointing?) Perhaps that is the humble realistic approach, but I don’t know how you emotionally invest in a team that runs a boring-to-watch offense with minimal upside. Paul Johnson won 20 games in his first two seasons with Chan Gailey’s recruits and then after that averaged seven wins for the next nine years. Not only did he average seven wins, he literally had exactly 14 wins in every two-year period succeeding that great two year start and then had exactly 7 wins in his 11th and final season.

Georgia Tech could model themselves after Stanford during their heyday or take a look at what Coach Clawson is doing up at Wake Forest where they have arguably bigger challenges than Georgia Tech. There are some schools that probably should consider moving to a true triple-option offense. I thought Duke should have made that change this offseason. I think Vanderbilt is the type of place that could run it, but if you’re Georgia Tech, I don’t think you throw your arms up and settle for something that worked only marginally well for you in the past.

The Tigers are a heavy favorite on Labor Day, and rightfully so, but what would need to happen for Tech to pull an upset? Does Clemson have enough unknowns this year for that to be a possibility

If all the positive talk coming out of Fall Camp is bogus and Clemson’s offensive line is awful, then anything is possible. I think if you’re a Georgia Tech fan hoping for a memorable win, you need that to be true. I think you also need the wide receivers to struggle to get open and win jump balls.

As for Georgia Tech’s part, you’ve got to make explosive plays. Ball control is great to keep a game close, but you’re not going to beat a team with superior talent without making several splash plays. Those can be long passes, big runs, or change-gaming special teams plays, but I don’t think they can play conservatively and win. Take your shots and live with the outcome.

Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to chat with us. You can see our end of the Q&A here over at STS. Be sure to give Ryan a follow on twitter here, despite his flexbone / option slander.

Game time is at 8 on Monday. We’ll see you there.

Go Jackets!