5 questions with a Clemson beat writer

In advance of Georgia Tech’s Saturday afternoon matchup with No. 3 Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Clemson beat writer Grace Raynor of the Post and Courier of Charleston (S.C.) provided the AJC with her insights into the Tigers. Among other things, Raynor was named the co-sports writer of the year for the state of South Carolina by the National Sports Media Association.

You can read her coverage of the Tigers here and follow her on Twitter here.

1. There’s a perception from afar that this team is virtually impregnable. How close is that to be true? What’s the biggest weakness? (Or maybe “non-strength” might be more accurate)

You're right in that headed into this season, given the amount of depth that Dabo Swinney had, there was this narrative around Clemson that the Tigers were going to be close to invincible. With two quarterbacks worthy of starting reps and a D-line that might be the best in the country, that narrative wasn't too outlandish.

But three games in, Clemson is certainly vulnerable and I think it really showed at Texas A&M. Clemson played sloppy at Kyle Field, had mental miscues that Swinney didn't like and was really quite fortunate to leave there with a win.

Then a week later, at home against Georgia Southern, it took four tries to punch in a touchdown from the 2-yard line, something you just don't expect from a playoff-caliber team. If we're looking at Clemson's biggest weakness, I think the Tigers would be the first to tell you that the place they lack the most depth is the secondary. Clemson's secondary got rocked against Texas A&M, allowing 430 passing yards to quarterback Kellen Mond, and behind a group of three cornerbacks that Clemson essentially considers co-starters, the depth drops off majorly.

Obviously Georgia Tech's offense is different, but that's going to be a big storyline to watch the rest of the year: how do teams test that secondary and how does Clemson respond?

ExploreGraham Neff holds a civil engineering degree and and MBA from Georgia Tech. And he’s a rising star in Clemson’s athletic department.

2. How has Clemson split time with quarterbacks Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence, and what do you expect this week with Bryan possibly being injured?

Dabo Swinney has been adamant all season long that if Clemson is in Game 12 and the situation at hand still tells him that both quarterbacks are deserving of playing time, then that's more-than-fine by him and that's how he'll do it. The same will hold up going into Week 4 this week at Georgia Tech, assuming Kelly Bryant is healthy — as Clemson says he is.

To date, Kelly has started each week and Trevor has been mixed in early and often. Their statistics right now are eerily similar. Kelly is 30-44-1 with 405 yards, two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Trevor is 26-42-1 with 424 and five passing touchdowns. If Bryant is healthy, expect to see lots of both. If he's not, then Lawrence is more-than capable of running the show and running it well.

» From the quarterback: How TaQuon Marshall is feeling before leading Tech vs. No. 3 Clemson 
» Looking back: How Tech's first quarters have gone the past three years against Clemson

3. Paul Johnson said that Clemson’s backs and receivers are “as good as anybody in the country.” Is that true, and who’s the most dangerous in the group?

Because I only cover Clemson and don't watch other teams with near the frequency that I do Clemson, I can't speak as comfortably about what's going on elsewhere, but I will say this: Paul Johnson is spot on in terms of how dangerous this Clemson group can be.

Starting with the receivers, Clemson has so much depth there that co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott likes to joke with co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, also the wide receivers coach, about what he's going to do with this problem that every coach in the country would love to have.

Hunter Renfrow is back for his final year of eligibility, Tee Higgins is a superstar in the making, Amari Rodgers has exploded onto the scene and Clemson has gotten really meaningful contributions from flashy freshman Justyn Ross and junior Diondre Overton, as well. Higgins is probably the most dangerous in terms of the deep ball. He's freakishly athletic and has exploded this year with many a NFL-play.

With the running backs, Travis Etienne is Clemson's starter and he has been a nightmare for opposing teams. When he busts one open, he's likely gone and he's so much stronger this year. Dabo Swinney says he runs violently — you'll see that Saturday.

More: 5 things to know before Georgia Tech-Clemson

4. What concerns coaches most about Georgia Tech?

Obviously, any time Clemson plays a Paul Johnson triple option team, it's a stressful week of practice getting the details down. I thought it was really fascinating when Dabo Swinney even said this week that Clemson has a Georgia Tech period of spring practice and a Georgia Tech period of fall practice. This team is thinking about Paul Johnson as early as March!

What I think is maybe the most challenging part this year is that Georgia Tech is not the first option team Clemson has played and so the Yellow Jackets have more useful film than usual on Clemson this time around. Clemson opened with Furman, then in Week 3 played Georgia Southern, both option teams.

» From the coach: Paul Johnson said holding onto the ball is 'not rocket science'

5. How do coaches and players broach the topic of getting to and winning the CFP? I imagine in some ways, at least from the outside, it almost feels like a given.

I think it's a tricky balance. On the outside, Clemson players will tell you they are not looking ahead to anything and that they only take it one week at a time, which is probably only partially true. This is a group of players, who when they signed off from social media heading into the season, some told fans they'd see them in San Francisco ... for the national championship.

Certainly, though, I think Dabo Swinney is really good about reminding them: 'Hey, you can't do anything unless you win on a week-by-week basis first.' For his part, Swinney seems to really not be interested in talking about the CFP or anything remotely close to that until his team has actually earned that. He scoffs at preseason rankings, doesn't care about the CFP rankings until they're final and hates the narrative that Clemson is automatically supposed to beat other teams without any problems.

It does, however, feel like a given. Barring something bananas, I don't see a circumstance in which Dabo Swinney's deepest team ever isn't in its fourth straight playoff.

» Looking ahead: Paul Johnson previews Saturday's game

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