Clemson Football: Oppo Research – Previewing Georgia Tech

Clemson running back Kobe Pace (20) is congratulated by offensive lineman Jordan McFadden (71) after scoring during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., October 2, 2021.Ncaa Football Acc Clemson Boston College
Clemson running back Kobe Pace (20) is congratulated by offensive lineman Jordan McFadden (71) after scoring during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., October 2, 2021.Ncaa Football Acc Clemson Boston College /

It’s time to SPOT THE DANG BALL for Clemson football!

As I sit at my computer thinking about the Clemson football season about to commence on Monday in Atlanta, I cannot help but start to feel the butterflies in my stomach, the excitement in my veins, and five other cliches.  I am ready for the talking season to be officially over.

Is Clemson going to be improved at QB this season under DJ Uiagalelei?  Is the Offensive Line going to be as good as Dabo has said they were in the spring and fall camps?  Is there going to be injuries at key positions that lead to a “down” 10-3 season?  So many questions, and a year (or 13 weeks of regular season) to answer them.

When I started writing the baseball previews back in March, I did so as a precursor to get a system in place, an outline of sorts, to do what I really want (and have for years), which was get immersed in the weeks opponent and find out all of the reasons why Clemson would struggle.  I’ve tamed that down quite a bit in recent years, however the “doom and gloom” guy came back last season slightly.  I hope to not be that again, starting on Monday night in Atlanta, however these columns will attempt to dive into the opponent’s strengths and where Clemson may not have an advantage.

Note: I am no football expert, just a huge fan/alumni with an opinion.  I was at Clemson during the West/Bowden eras and therefore comes my eternal skepticism.  A couple of National Championships have quelled that, but there’s the warning.

Opponent: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets – 9/5 8pm EST – Atlanta, GA – Mercedes Benz Stadium

Head Coach Geoff Collins enters his 4th Season with the Yellow Jackets and has compiled a record of 9-25 in Atlanta.  2022 has been talked about in the Georgia Tech media as a make or break year for Collins.  After succeeding Paul Johnson and his triple-option offense, the powers that be understood that it would take a few years to install a contemporary offensive style, however there has been not a lot to like in the first 4 years of the experiment.

Offensive Coordinator Chip Long, in his first year with the Jackets, comes to The Flats from (most-recently) Tulane as he was in the same role, however his experience is with larger names like Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Memphis.  Long has been tabbed to help Collins retain his job, more or less.

Offensively, Georgia Tech ranked 95th in the country in 2021 and scored 288 points across 12 games for an average of 24 points per game.  Jahmyr Gibbs, one of the lone bright spots for the Jackets during his tenure at the school bolted for greener pastures of Tuscaloosa, Alabama leaving a pretty large hole.  Looking at the offensive side of the ball, he would have been the only known entity in the lineup.

Here is a look at the projected starters (and some backups as well) on Offense, and it’s projected because Mr. “Weight Benches on the field pregame,” Geoff Collins doesn’t put out a true depth chart.  (notes in parentheses, 2021 Stats if any were used)

Quarterback – Jeff Sims – 7 games – 113-188-1468-12TD; 60.1% completions

RB – Dontae Smith – 68 carries for 388 yards and 4 TDs

RB – Dylan McDuffie – 208 carries for 1049 yards and 11 TDs (Buffalo grad transfer)

RB – Hassan Hall – 38 carries for 272 yards and a TD (Louisville grad transfer)

WR – Malachi Carter – 37 catches – 489 yards – 2TDs

WR – EJ Jenkins – 8 catches – 117 yards – 1 TD (South Carolina/St. Francis transfer)

WR – Nate McCollum – 13 catches – 108 yards – 1 TD

TE – Dylan Leonard – 11 catches – 112 yards

OL – Jordan Williams – returning starter, leader of the OL

OL – Paul Tchio – Clemson transfer, considered a plug-and-play guy

OL – Weston Franklin – likely starter at center

OL – RJ Adams – transfer from Kentucky

OL – Pierce Quick – former highly-rated recruit – transfer from Alabama

Jeff Sims has had his chances and has shown glimpses of being a really good college quarterback, and then either regression or injury has ruined those hopes.  He’s back for yet another season and hope is high that he will be able to improve under OC Chip Long.

Losing Jahmyr Gibbs is a huge loss, as stated earlier, however, Dontae Smith is a serviceable running back and adding All-MAC performer in Dylan McDuffie (Buffalo) and scat-back type Hassan Hall (Louisville) to the running back could give GT different looks depending on the situation of the game.

At Wide receiver, there is no real alpha, but, as Clemson fans, we can relate to an extent.  Returning to the starting lineup will be Malachi Carter and his 4 touchdowns from 2021.  EJ Jenkins was a sparsely used receiver at South Carolina and St. Francis respectively, however is seen as a starter for the Jackets.  Nate McCollum was a three-star recruit from a couple of seasons ago and is expected to make a leap in his second year on campus.

The likely starter at tight end, Dylan Leonard is back and only had 11 catches in 2021.  Projected back-ups Peje Harris and Syracuse transfer Luke Benson provide depth, but do not have a ton of stats over the course of their short careers in college football.

Offensive line had the second largest haul of transfers for the Jackets.  Led by Alabama transfer Pierce Quick, who will be tabbed at one of the tackle spots in all likelihood.  The only returning starter for the Jackets is Jordan Williams, only a sophomore, who will likely man the other tackle position opposite Quick.  Clemson career back-up Paul Tchio is seen as a guy that will come in and start day 1 for the Jackets on the interior.  While Kentucky transfer RJ Adams will be opposite Tchio.  And Sophomore Weston Franklin slots in at center.

Defensive Coordinator Andrew Thacker is in his 4th season as the head man of the defense.  A defense that underwent a ton of attrition in the off-season and made extensive use of the transfer portal to fill some gaps.  The Jackets ranked 110th in overall defense in 2021 allowing 402 points for an average of 33.5 points per game.

The Jackets lost Quez Jackson, the leading tackler on the team as well as the majority of their secondary.  There is a ton of unknown on this side of the ball.  Here is a look at the projected starters on defense:

DE – Keion White – missed 8 games in 2021 after transferring from Old Dominion

DE – Kyle Kennard – returner from ‘21; 15 tackles and 2 Sacks

DT – TK Chimedza – 12 tackles and 1 sack

DT – Zeek Biggers – 6’6” 341lbs – 9 tackles

LB – Charlie Thomas – 10 TFLs in 21; 70 tackles

LB – Ayinde Eley – 90 tackles

CB – Zamari Walton – 19 tackles

CB – Myles Sims – 25 tackles; 4 pass break ups

S – Derik Allen – Notre Dame transfer

S – Jaylon King – 32 tackles

Nickel – Kaleb Edwards – 13 tackles

Nickel – Kenny Bennett – Maryland transfer

Nickel – Kenyatta Wallace II – Texas transfer

At Defensive End,  Keion White and Kyle Kennard are charged with taking the next step.  White missed the first eight games a season ago after transferring from Old Dominion.  He is expected to lead this defensive front.  Kennard, a Sophomore, had a fairly good first season in Atlanta, and showed glimpses of what’s to come.  Fans in the ATL are hoping he takes that next step.

The Defensive Tackles are BIG.  Zeek Biggers is 6’6” 341 lbs and takes up a lot of space.  He will be asked to eat up some blocks on the offensive line to gain space for the highly athletic linebackers.  TK Chimedza gets his opportunity to step into the starting role in his redshirt Junior season.

Linebackers are the one known entity for Coaches Collins and Thacker.  Ayinde Eley was 2nd on the team in tackles in 2021 with 90, while Charlie Thomas was third with 70 and 10 of those coming as a tackle for loss.  There is not a ton of depth behind those two, so a lot will be asked from them.

On the back end, all of the questions still remain.  The Jackets ranked 120th in the country in pass defense.  They HAVE to get better in order to eclipse the 3 win mark.

There are three or four guys that could start at the nickel position, notably Kaleb Edwards, Kenny Bennett and Kenyatta Wallace II.  Two of the three come by way of the transfer portal  (Maryland and Texas respectively), while Edwards had just 13 tackles in 2021.  Returners Zamari Walton and Myles Sims played a good bit in 21, but are now thrust into starter roles and will be asked to face the top two receivers on their opponents each and every week.  Derrik Allen, a transfer from Notre Dame is the projected starter going into the Clemson game as is Jaylon King (32 tackles in ‘21).

There are a ton of questions on both sides of the ball for the Yellow Jackets.  And that continues on Special Teams.  Here are the projected starters on Special Teams:

Punter – David Shanahan – 41.5 avg in 2021

Kicker – Gavin Stewart – 0-1 FGs in 2021 and it was blocked

Returner – Hassan Hall – the Louisville transfer is shifty

Returner – Nate McCollum – no returns in 2021

Clemson football finally opens the season Monday evening against Georgia Tech and a coach struggling to keep his job

Georgia Tech and Geoff Collins may be in trouble in 2022.  While getting transfers from high-profile schools like Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas, et al. sounds really good, after digging into the guys and what they did at their former schools, it’s not terribly impressive.  Granted, those schools have rosters full of 4 and 5 star recruits, so it by no means is diminishing the talent, just hasn’t translated at the collegiate level yet.

I am not here to tell you what they are going to do during the season as far as wins and losses, just trying to break down the team, look at their statistics and probables and then make a prediction.  So here goes the prediction…

Clemson big.  35-3.  As different as Georgia Tech may look on offense with a new coordinator in Chip Long, I do not think the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s are good enough to stay with Clemson in the opener.  Too much Clemson defense, and a rushing attack of Shipley, Mafah and Pace are more than enough to run away with this one.  Pun intended!

880. Prediction. 35. 879. 3

Next. 5 Tigers to watch Monday night. dark