Georgia Tech preparing for Clemson’s screens

After getting “screened to death” in defeating Mercer two weeks ago, Vanderbilt inexplicably stayed away from the high-percentage pass for most of Georgia Tech’s win over the Commodores last week.

That will change when Tech (3-0, 1-0 ACC) hosts Clemson (3-0) on Thursday at Bobby Dodd Stadium because the screen pass is an important part of the Tigers’ playbook…even if it’s not being used as much this season.

“We’ve got to do a great job with that because they’ve got a great screen game,” Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said.

The Bears ran nine screen passes against the Yellow Jackets, completing seven for 66 yards. Tech coach Paul Johnson was unhappy with how the defense played the screens saying, he often rarely saw anyone taking the receiver as an assignment.

Anticipating that Vanderbilt would copy at least part of what Mercer successfully executed, Tech’s players and coaches worked hard last week on improving that aspect of its defense. As defensive line coach Mike Pelton said, “Once you put something on tape, you’ve got to show that you’ve fixed that.”

Well, Vanderbilt didn’t until late in the game. By then Tech was so far ahead the screen passes weren’t a threat.

“Mercer did screen us to death,” Tech linebacker P.J. Davis said. “We thought Vanderbilt would screen us. Clemson will. That’s one of their to passes. We will be ready for it, go into our gameplan and be ready for it.”

Clemson’s screen game can accomplish several things: it can get its plethora of playmakers in space with blockers, or it can cause the defense to run up to the line, opening up deep passes against single coverage.

Pro Football Focus said that wide receiver and jet screens were 24 percent of the Tigers’ pass plays last season and totaled almost 650 yards with an average completion percentage of more than 90.

Through the first two weeks of the season – wins over Auburn and Troy – Pro Football Focus noted that Clemson was going more vertical than horizontal with go routes replacing screens. The wide receiver and jet screens percentage had decreased to 15 for 77 yards with a 100-percent completion rate.

Despite the difference in play-calling, the Tigers are averaging 36 points, 166.7 rushing yards and 289.3 passing yards per game.

Roof said the Tigers do a good job of disguising the screens, making them even more effective. The Tigers will take receivers and running backs away from the screen, and then send the linemen toward them, which gives them blocking angles.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson is also adept at not giving away the play by locking in on his intended target, which gives the defense the necessary time to read and react. Instead, Watson will look it off, keeping the defense honest, before coming back to the screen’s receiver.

“We’ve worked a lot on screens, all kind of screen drills,” Roof said. “We will continue to do so. We will see if we are better at it.”

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