Andrew Thacker: Georgia Tech defense has to win ‘50/50 balls’ vs. Clemson

Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling (3) intercepts a pass intended for Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell (17)  at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling (3) intercepts a pass intended for Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell (17) at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

There is no doubt that Georgia Tech faces a tough task on the road Saturday against the sixth-ranked Clemson Tigers.

It is an early test for the Yellow Jackets and their offense, which has many questions to answer in this game. The starting quarterback, production on offense and the defense’s ability to contain the Tigers running and passing game are some of the few things needed to be done by the Jackets to score the upset against the Tigers.

Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker is embracing the challenge while understand the circumstance ahead of Saturday’s matchup.

“They’re big at receiver,” Thacker said of Clemson’s receivers, including Justyn Ross and Joseph Ngata. “They got size and length. Just as far as catch radius, they’re excellent route runners. Justyn Ross is their best route runner and is elusive in space.

Ross is the Tigers’ second leading receiver, with seven coaches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Ngata currently leads the Tigers’ receiver corps, with nine catches for 161 yards.

With great receivers, it is important to win the one-on-one battles, and Thacker knows this will be one of the major deciding factors in the outcome of Saturday’s game.

“What that requires is being in phase,” Thacker said. “Being close to someone in coverage. The competitive-catch piece of it (and) finishing while the ball is in the air, we call that 50-50 balls. Those competitive situations where we got to win. It’s football disruption, attacking through the arms, attacking through the hands, going up and being the first one up in those situations.”

The Jackets secondary will have a strong test Saturday. The defensive plan is simple, guys such as safety Juanyeh Thomas and cornerbacks Tre Swilling and Zamari Walton will have to battle and win the 50-50 balls.

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