What two coaches with Georgia Tech ties had to say about Clemson

Among the challenges that Georgia Tech faces Saturday is this: Not only are the Tigers absurdly talented on the defensive line, but it’s also a group that is well-prepared to face the Yellow Jackets’ option offense.

Take it from the perspective of former Tech B-back and 2013 team captain David Sims, now the running backs coach at Furman. Sims got an up-close look at No. 3 Clemson in both teams’ season opener Sept. 1, a 48-7 win for the Tigers.

“A lot of teams, especially against option-based teams or teams that do a little bit of option, they kind of get a little bit paranoid, a little bit gun-shy as far as moving fronts, moving people, blitzing,” Sims told the AJC. “I think (defensive coordinator Brent Venables) does a great job of not being afraid of mixing it up.”

Sims is one of at least two coaches who’ve faced the Tigers this season with a direct tie to Tech. A week ago, Clemson played Georgia Southern, whose defensive coordinator is Scot Sloan. For the past five seasons, Sloan had worked at Appalachian State alongside Nate Woody, who was then the Mountaineers defensive coordinator and now holds the same titlle at Tech. Sloan runs a defense similar to Woody’s, just as Furman has elements of the option offense run at Tech by coach Paul Johnson.

The confluence of styles has given both teams added intelligence into what they’ll see at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Sims and Sloan shared their insights into Clemson with the AJC.

» More: Read a Clemson beat writer's insights into the Tigers

“The biggest thing (for Tech) is going to be being tied together in run fits,” Sloan said. “Because their backs do a really good job of finding those tiny little creases, and then when they get through there, they’re powerful enough to get five or six yards and just keep the chains moving.”

Sloan said he and Woody spoke after Georgia Southern’s 38-7 loss to Clemson, with Woody asking about Sloan’s plans going into the game and observations coming out. Clemson’s depth and talent across the skill positions made a distinct impression.

“They’ve got the big guys outside that they can take shots to, and then your slots with (Hunter) Renfrow and those guys can work underneath coverage, and then they roll the running backs in and out, so they stay fresh,” Sloan said.

Still, Georgia Southern kept Clemson off the scoreboard until midway through the second quarter, thanks in part to an interception to end the first drive (the Tigers’ first turnover of the season) and a fumble to end the third,  two of three turnovers committed that afternoon by Clemson.

“The biggest thing was to be sound and to play fast,” Sloan said. “And I thought we did a good job of that early until our snap count got up and the mileage started adding up onto our legs because we didn’t have the depth.”

» Family ties: Tech grad is a rising star in Clemson's athletic department.

Running its high-tempo offense, Sloan said that Clemson wore down the Eagles at the end of the first and second halves. The Tigers scored 35 of their 38 points in the final 8:43 of the second quarter and the final 6:06 of the fourth.

“I would think that would be a key, is establishing ball control,” Sloan said. “Tech’s a lot like us offensively. They want to own the ball, and that would be a key a factor, and limiting the amount of opportunities Clemson has for explosive plays.”

Execution of the ball-control objective falls to the Tech offense, a daunting challenge for the Jackets. One of the ways that Clemson’s linemen can jam up the triple option is with what Furman calls a “que (pronounced “Q”) stunt.” In it, the lineman who is unblocked – the quarterback makes the read on whether to give the ball to the B-back on a dive or keep it based on who the lineman chooses to defend – essentially defends both, relying on his quickness to feint at the B-back and then chase down the quarterback if he keeps. It’s a stunt that essentially foils the option, as the crux of option football is that it normally enables the offense to take one defender out of the play by making him commit to a player who ultimately doesn’t end up with the ball, creating an 11-vs.-10 situation.

With an effective que stunt, “you lose your numbers advantage,” Sims said.

» 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

Sims said that, among other things, it messes up the quarterback’s reads, can make the play-caller hesitant to run the triple option and is executed well by Clemson’s front.

“They have guys that are 280, 300 pounds that can move, that have, like, cat-like reflexes,” Sims said. “It’s just tough to prepare for.”

Sims, who started at B-back 2011 through 2013, has noticed a difference in Clemson’s linemen since his playing days. Then, he said, they were also big and talented, but would eventually relent against Tech’s onslaught of option plays and cut blocks and give up a big play. Having reviewed Tech-Clemson game video and now having witnessed the Tigers in person, Sims sees the Venables-coached Tigers differently.

“They’ve got eight or nine guys that they can just roll over and over,” Sims said. “They’ve changed their mindset as far as being willing to slug it out for 60 minutes.”

He was impressed, too, by the Tigers’ linebackers, particularly middle linebacker Tre Lamar, for their speed to outrun attempts by the offensive line to reach them with blocks.

» More: 5 things to know before Georgia Tech-Clemson

“As much praise as we always give the defensive line, I think the secondary and those linebackers do a good job of seeing things and trying to be in the right spots,” Sims said.

All that said, Sims believed Furman had opportunities with play-action passes that they could have hit with better protection. He also said that the Paladins had a few tweaks based on what coaches saw in the Tech-Clemson game from last year that they thought could exploit, but the team’s mental mistakes foiled execution.

Sims had faith that coach Paul Johnson, knowing Clemson and Venables well enough, would come up with a plan to counteract the Tigers. Sims had the sound of a coach who was well aware of what Tech was up against, but had faith that the Jackets could pull off the upset.

“And, really truly, I think if ‘Quon’ (quarterback TaQuon Marshall) can hit some big throws, some timely throws, it helps open up everything else,” Sims said, “because now those safeties can’t come flying up the alley. Those linebackers can’t (play) ‘see ball, hit ball’ and run out of there. So they have some things I think they’ll be able to get fixed and handled from last year to this year.”

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

» Looking ahead: Paul Johnson previews Saturday's game

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