With the football season less than 11 weeks away, it is never too soon to begin to look at the opponents that will try to derail the Clemson Tigers’ quest for a second-consecutive national championship and their third appearance in the College Football Playoff in as many years.
Today, we continue our series with the Tigers’ eighth opponent—the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who the Tigers will face at home on Oct. 28.
Head coach Paul Johnson enters his 11th season in Atlanta just as eccentric and as feisty as ever, coming off the Yellow Jackets 9-4 season last year.
Johnson caught the attention of the national media earlier this year when, after the ACC released the 2017 football schedule and it was noticed that the Yellow Jackets have three games against opponents coming off open dates the previous week, he stated that the ACC was out to “screw” his team.
“The conference tries to screw us every way they can,” Johnson said. “It has to be it. It happens every year. It has to be intentional. There’s no other explanation for it.
“You can’t tell me it’s computer-driven when you have three team with byes before they play you and six teams in the league have none. That’s a pretty good computer model.”
Georgia Tech Offense:
The Yellow Jackets will once again look to establish themselves as one of the elite rushing teams in the nation, something that they did not succeed in last year.
In 2016, the Yellow Jackets averaged only 258.1 rushing yards per game—still good enough to lead the ACC, but the 2nd lowest total in Paul Johnson’s tenure as head coach—but will look for more in 2017, as they return almost everyone.
The Yellow Jackets return four of their top five running backs, three starters on the offensive line and two of their top receivers—including Clinton Lynch and Ricky Juene, who averaged 17 yards-per-reception last year.
But the biggest question mark remains at quarterback—which is where the focus will lie between now and the start of the season.
“They all had good springs. TaQuon Marshall is a little bit bigger than (former quarterback) Justin (Thomas),” Johnson said. “I think he has some of the same attributes. He played as a true freshman at slotback for us, at A-back. Good athlete. The two redshirt freshmen, Lucas Johnson is about 6’4″, 215 out of San Diego. I think he’s a good dual-threat guy.
“And Jay Jones may be the quickest, fastest guy we’ve ever had here at quarterback. They’re all talented, and then Matthew Jordan is a little bigger, a little more physical, and he was the backup a year ago, so he was out there for the first couple weeks of spring, as well.
Georgia Tech Defense:
Georgia Tech will look to replace two members of a defensive line that helped hold opposing offenses to 402 yards and 24.5 points per game, in Patrick Gamble and Francis Kallon—meaning, the Yellow Jackets will need some of their younger players to step up in a big way.
The Yellow Jackets finished last season near the bottom of the ACC, and ranked 68th nationally, in pass defense. However, the blame does not solely lie with the secondary—which returns everyone from last year’s team, including the backups—as the defense finished last season ranked 111th in sacks.
The lack of pass rush meant that secondary defenders were having to cover opposing wide receivers for longer periods of time—something that is not good for even the best defenses.
As the Yellow Jackets prepare for fall camp, it will be a race to figure out who fits where and who can help the defense improve.
“Well, I don’t know if I would single out any. We’ve got to work in all the areas. I don’t think that we’re set anywhere,” Johnson said. “But I think we made progress in all the areas, and right now I wouldn’t have one that I would single out. We’ve got probably less experience up front on defense inside than anywhere else, but I think some guys had decent springs there, as well. We’ll just have to come back in fall camp and get everything cranked up and try to make sure that we’re better in all facets.