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Clemson beats Georgia Tech 52-14 to open season: What did we learn? (NSFW)

It wasn’t every close, but there is still plenty to be learned from tonight’s loss to Clemson.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn’t pretty. In Geoff Collins’ first game as Georgia Tech’s head coach, the Yellow Jackets were unable to keep up with the reigning National Champion Clemson Tigers, losing 52-14.

Now, it’d be easy to dwell on all the negatives from this game, because quite frankly, there are a lot. This wasn’t a pretty game to watch. That’s why I’m marking this NSFW. I’ll touch on a couple of things that I thought were rough, but I think there’s something important to remember here: Clemson is literally the best team in the whole country and Tech just played its first game under a new head coach in the beginning of a complete transition on offense and defense. And that brings me into the first thing we learned tonight.

It’s going to be a bit of a transition, and this is only the beginning

I’ll expand on this in a second, but I just want to emphasize this. Todd Stansbury knew it was going to be a transition process when Geoff Collins, hence the 7-year deal. Georgia Tech was almost certainly never going to win this game. Now there were a lot of things that went wrong, but there were a lot of things that weren’t as well. So let’s look at some of those good things too.

Tre Swilling is really good

This was one of the first things I noticed tonight. Clemson has some really good receivers, like future NFL receivers, like Justin Ross, and Swilling balled out tonight. He had a couple pass break-ups early on and an interception that he nearly turned into a touchdown. He did get beat a couple of times, but to be frank, these are the best receivers he’s going to face all year, so he should be putting on a show this year.

The defense wasn’t totally bad

“Now Ben, this defense just gave up 52 points and over 600 yards, but you’re saying they weren’t totally bad?”

You’re darn-tootin’! There were some noticeable strides in the defense that we could see in this game compared to the last several years. The defense looked better on the eye test. There’s still a lot of work to do. My biggest complaint is that it went from too conservative to a little too aggressive. There were a lot of times where Tech defenders overcommitted to a play, and it ended up resulting in a big play (see the 90-yard Travis Etienne touchdown). But there were also times that the defense showed up. For Pete’s sake, they forced a three-and-out on Clemson’s first drive, as well as a couple other drives throughout the game. They forced three turnovers in the first half. Like I said, there’s still some work to do, but I think there’s been some noticeable progression.

Tech is still pretty good at running the football

There were quite a few struggles when it came to passing the ball, but Tech ran the ball pretty well. Jordan Mason ran for 72 yards and a touchdown. Tobias Oliver had a couple nice runs. We know that Georgia Tech is going to be able to run the ball. What remains to be seen is how will they do passing the ball.

Speaking of that, let’s get into some of the not-so-good stuff we learned.

Who is the quarterback going to be?

Geoff Collins surprised everybody by starting Tobias Oliver tonight, and while he looked good running the ball, he had a lot of struggles passing. He completed three of his nine passes, and in general, never looked comfortable doing it. I’m sure it didn’t help that Clemson has one of the best defensive lines in the country and was eating Oliver alive the whole night, but even on the passes that Oliver got out, they were either off-target or thrown softly or some combination thereof. I really like the game-changing ability Oliver brings on the ground, but he didn’t play well as a quarterback tonight.

Moving to the next quarterback, Lucas Johnson. We saw Johnson for like maybe a drive at the end of the first half. He didn’t do much, but looked a little more comfortable passing the ball. We didn’t get to see much of him, so I can’t comment too much on him. I’m a little more interested in the reasoning we didn’t see Johnson come back on the field in the second half.

The last quarterback we saw was James Graham, the redshirt freshman. Passing the ball, I thought Graham looked the most natural in his throwing motion. He had a couple freshman moments where he overshot his target, though. Running the ball, I thought he also looked pretty good. He is one of the most athletic players on the team and did a good job of showing that off. Granted, he did this against Clemson’s reserves when they were up nearly 40 points, so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison to Oliver.

What on earth was going on with the offensive playcalling?

This was one of the things I took issue with most throughout the game. I understand that Tech is going to run the ball primarily, and I’m okay with that. What I wasn’t okay with was when Clemson was putting nine or 10 guys in the box, Tech was still running the ball. Until Graham came in, Clemson was not afraid of Tech’s passing game, and they made it a point to show that. In doing so, that obliterated Tech’s running game.

I also didn’t like where Tech would run the ball from the shotgun on third/fourth-and-short. That was compounded from relying too heavily on the running game. Tech needs to make defenses at least respect the passing game; otherwise, teams will continue to stack the box and stuff Tech’s running game.

Special Teams was very hit or miss

Pressley Harvin III got used quite a bit tonight, which is to be expected when a team faces one of the best defenses in the country. He punted the ball eight (oof) times and averaged 43 yards/punt, with two of those landing inside the 20. Brenton King did a decent job on the kickoffs, but wasn’t able to get a touchback. Wesley Wells made both PATs. The return game is what disappointed me most. Neither Juanyeh Thomas or Ahmarean Brown looked very impressive, and that muffed punt was just a bad play all around. It’s the kind of stuff you have to clean up.


Tech had a very low chance of winning this game. In spite of that, I think Tech played a decent game. The end result wasn’t what you wanted, but I think Tech showed a lot of progress tonight. The biggest things Tech needs to do is clean up those special teams miscues, work on not overcommitting on defense, and figure out this quarterback situation. To me, that sounds like a full week of practice as Tech gets ready to face USF next weekend.

Now, this game is over, and we’ll be talking about it throughout the next week or so, but Tech will be playing a team much closer to their level in USF, so we should be able to get a better gauge of how good Tech can be this season. Again, it’s important to remember that this is the first game of a pretty big transition.

What did you learn tonight?