I have no problem saying it - I had high hopes that Tech could pull off a miracle at Clemson last night. This was a highly anticipated match up and I was just as ready as the team to put on a helmet and try my best against the top team in the country. While the scoreline may not show much, this Tech team already has their goals set high and can achieve them. With 11 games remaining until the postseason, the ceiling is yet to be determined for this team. Here's a few reasons why it could be higher than most believe.
Pass Coverage. Or more specifically, Tre Swilling
There is no doubt that Tre Swilling and our secondary had an amazing night against one of the most prolific passing attacks in the country. Holding Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence to 13/23 passing, 168 yards with one TD and two INTs is an impressive feat for any team in Death Valley. For reference, Lawrence only threw 4 INTs all of last year, and had 3 TDs and no INTs against Alabama in the national championship. Tre Swilling had one of the best reads on a play I've seen and almost took it the other way for the Jackets. The secondary looked complex, disguising coverages and causing a couple of errant plays by Lawrence. With only a few busted plays against the team dubbed as Wide Receiver U, it is encouraging what this secondary was able to do. Their ability is going to be a huge threat in every game going forward (except, of course, the Citadel which runs some weird offense with the triple option...).
Depth at Running Back
It should come as no surprise to any Tech fan that the position we have the most depth at currently is the running back spot. Jordan Mason looked explosive between the tackles and had a number of high effort plays, including an impressive fight into the end zone early on in the third quarter. Our O-Line provided a decent enough effort against a tough interior D-Line to create space for a couple of busted plays. What was possibly more impressive, though, is the effectiveness and threat of a run-pass option with Oliver at the helm. He had a number of great busted plays and broken tackles in the open field. With those two in the backfield, it should force teams to stack the box and open up our new passing game. The corollary is, can we make them pay? It was also good to see Jamious Griffin getting reps as a freshman in the system. The highly-regarded prospect will hopefully prove to be an effective weapon as he adapts to the college level of play.
Oh yeah, I love the special teams. As a former specialist myself, it was awesome to see what we looked like from the kicking side of the ball. First, Pressley Harvin is going to be a dominant weapon as possibly the best punter in the ACC. With an almost textbook punt hitting the top of the pylon, his accuracy seems to have improved. Harvin had an unthinkable 8 punts for 345 yards, averaging 43.1 yards a punt. His ability to flip a field will be crucial in games going forward. And of course, we know the skillset of Wesley Wells after his OT winner against UVA last year. He only had the opportunity for 2 PATs last night, but we know what he is capable of. Kickoff coverage looked fairly consistent for most of the night. While returns were fair at best, let's remember that Juanyeh Thomas is one of the most consistent players on this team. I personally think there was fair catch interference on that first return (the "one-yard rule" or NCAA Rule 6 Section 4 Article 1 part b), and therefore believe there is nothing to be worried about there.
After a long offseason of wondering, we finally have an idea of what our QB situation looks like, and it looks better than you might think. Tobias Oliver mastered the run-portion of the run-pass option (which should not shock anyone given his VT performance last year). James Graham looked poised under center and could be a passing threat for us this year. The timing on his throw to Ahmarean Brown's wheel route for a TD was a thing of beauty and a highlight-reel effort for the night. As we transition away from the option, expect to see Graham behind center a lot more. In my opinion, we had to do what we were comfortable with against a team like Clemson in our first match-up, which is why we relied so heavily on Oliver's legs to make plays last night. As the season moves on, expect to see a lot more of the shotgun-RPO.
This is one thing that I was relieved to see out of this team. Our guys look ready to fight for a win at any opportunity and showed it through effort on the field. This team took a huge emotional hit on the first punt of the game, yet the defense showed promise for much of the first half. In many cases, we were watching 4-5 yellow helmets swarm the ball and take the ball carrier down in the backfield. All of that against a talented O-Line and Heisman candidate RB no less. One play that stands out is Bruce Jordan-Swilling's effort against Etienne to finish a tackle and ultimately knock the ball out for the Jackets. The Jackets are consistently finding the ball and making form tackles to finish the play, something many of us complained about not too long ago. These guys came into Clemson against impossible odds and forced the reigning national champions to punt when the stadium was begging for a TD. That's something you like to see, and is a direct result of Coach Collins' and Coach Thacker's training on defense. Expect that to pay off for the Jackets in the form of wins down the road.
Coastal Up for Grabs
One thing that is a little more out of our control is how the ACC Coastal looks this year (TBD) and how we could come out on top and force a neutral-site rematch against Clemson. Miami is the only team that has played so far and played to a sloppy loss against Florida, allowing ten (10!) sacks, 16 TFLs, and a final QBR of just over 17. As for the rest of the Coastal, it is anyone's guess who comes home with the crown. Pre-season pick Virginia's primary argument is that they are returning QB Bryce Perkins. Two teams, UNC and Miami, are undergoing coaching changes. Duke hopes to not face the fate of so many doomed programs after taking on Alabama in their first game, while also hoping to find a suitable replacement for NFL preseason superstar Daniel Jones behind center. The Coastal is wide open for any team to take control and face Clemson (or a mini-miracle-worker) for the ACC title.
If the Jackets can lean on their strengths, there's a real chance we could see Clemson part 2 in Charlotte.