Along with another member of the class, right tackle Jordan Williams, they’ve become integral pieces of the Tech offense and, as Sims did to Swinney, provided a glimpse of what lies ahead.
“I think that the future’s really bright,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “As fans of Tech football, we can be really excited about what the future holds for these guys, and we’re really fortunate that those guys are out there running around on Bobby Dodd.”
Patenaude spoke even more broadly than the trio of Sims, Gibbs and Williams, a powerful run blocker. He noted the play of freshman tight end Billy Ward and his high hopes for offensive linemen Wing Green, Cade Kootsouradis, Michael Rankins, Ryan Spiers and Paula Vaipulu and receivers Avery Boyd, Ryan King, Nate McCollum -- the offensive side of a class (along with quarterback Tucker Gleason) that ranked 27th nationally (247Sports Composite), Tech’s highest-rated class since the 2007 group.
“Those three guys have gotten an opportunity to get a lot of burn, and they’ve played at a very high level, but the whole class is really good,” Patenaude said.
Particularly, though, the impact that Sims and Gibbs have made has at times been astonishing. Gibbs ranks fifth in FBS in all-purpose yards per game at 171.7, first among freshmen. Sims ranks 16th nationally in total offense at 298.8 yards per game and third among freshmen.
“They’re special,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of the two. “They’re really good. They’re different.”
While most of the season remains for those rankings to change, it is highly unusual. Dating to the 2000 season, there has been one set of freshman teammates that finished in the top 25 nationally in total offense and all-purpose yards.
“He’s just a guy that’s going to get better and better,” Swinney said of Sims. “He’s a freshman, but he’s got the attributes. He’s athletic, he’s got a nice arm, he can make any throw.”
The promise of brighter days seems to draw closer with each big tackle-shucking run by Gibbs and well-placed Sims pass, surrounded by playmaking teammates on offense such as Jordan Mason, Jamious Griffin, Malachi Carter, Brown and others.
Against Louisville, “what we saw from Jeff Sims was extremely exciting,” Tech radio analyst Sean Bedford said. “And what can be said about Jahmyr Gibbs that hasn’t already been said?”
Bedford compares the pair with two Clemson greats who bedeviled the Jackets in years past. He likens Gibbs to C.J. Spiller, the triple-threat All-American who was the 2009 ACC player of the year and the No. 9 pick of the 2010 draft.
In Sims, he sees Tajh Boyd, who was a five-star prospect and whose surprise decision to sign with Clemson and be a part of Swinney’s first recruiting class was a foundational moment in the Tigers' rise to national powerhouse. Boyd piloted Clemson to a 32-8 record in three seasons as a starter, its first ACC title in 20 years, after the Tigers had been 22-18 in the three previous seasons.
“I think in a perfect world, that’s how it turns out, and it’s a partnership that people are hopefully telling their grandchildren about,” Bedford said.
Sims, Gibbs, Williams and the entirety of the Jackets will have their sternest test of the season Saturday. While Tech is a 27-point underdog, Jackets fans will be looking for signs that their team can once again return this rivalry to the competitive affair that it once was.
“I know it’s exciting for the players and the coaches, but it’s exciting for the fans, too,” said Gregg Garrett, a major donor to the athletic department. “Let’s see how we measure up.”
For Tech’s offense, it’s a test against a Clemson defense that has been a standard bearer in college football.
When asked about the team’s future with him, Gibbs and Williams in place, Sims was quick to take it even further, a reflection of his team orientation. Besides the offensive pieces, freshman defensive linemen Jared Ivey, Emmanuel Johnson, Kyle Kennard and Akelo Stone have taken snaps.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of freshmen that are going to be a big impact in the future,” Sims said. “We’ve got a couple more on offense that are about to make their shine, a couple more on defense that’s going to go crazy. So I’m definitely excited about the future of this team, just the players that we have around us and all the incoming players that’s coming in in the class of 2021.
"It’s just going to be a great team in the future.”