Thursday marks the real beginning of the 2019 college football season. While the two games last Saturday served as an entertaining amuse-bouche, this is the true start of week one of the new season. Week One, and particularly Thursday, is usually smattered with a bunch of cupcake games, warm ups for top programs.
However there are some marquee matchups between ranked squads across the schedule and some games that may not feature two ranked teams, but a formidable test for a title contender. Clemson’s 8:00 PM (ACCN) home opener against Georgia Tech is exactly that kind of game.
The defending National Champions will kick off the season against Georgia Tech in their first game under the new head coach, Geoff Collins (formerly of the Temple Owls). Collins is taking over for the now retired Paul Johnson and hoping to bring the Yellow Jackets into a new era, both in terms of success and style. The Yellow Jackets have been running the triple option offense for what feels like millenia. The run-heavy style of offense poses a unique challenge to defenses that requires hyper-discipline and high levels of awareness. With three potential runners on any given play, a passing game that heavily features deep passes to tall, athletic receivers and offensive linemen that are cutting almost every down, the Yellow Jackets at their best were ruthlessly difficult to deal with. However, such a specialized offense required uniquely talented personnel, something the roster couldn’t deliver on a yearly basis. Paul Johnson retired a legend, but no doubt knowing college football had outgrown his offensive orthodoxy.
Geoff Collins comes in with a predicament in year one. How do you shift the Yellow Jackets into the new age when the offensive personnel is still largely built for the Triple Option? Collins will likely keep many elements of the previous playbook while slowly shifting in a more conventional direction. While this poses a challenge for the Yellow Jackets, it will present an arguably bigger obstacle for Tech’s opponents this season.
Clemson sees Georgia Tech every year. But they’ve never seen this Georgia Tech. What will they be running? How do you prepare for an offense that could look substantially different than it has in over a decade? Tech still has handfuls of quick ball carriers, athletic receivers and fantastic run blockers in the trenches. The mixture of unpredictability and talent gives Tech a chance against the best team in the country.
The Clemson defense will have their hands full. Sure, this is the team that brutalized the Crimson Tide in the Championship last year, but they then lost their entire starting defensive line to the NFL. Three of them were first round picks. This is a different unit than the loaded Championship squad. Their most important holdover, and a key in keeping the Yellow Jackets at bay, will be Isaiah Simmons.
Simmons has a breakout sophomore year. The hybrid defender had nearly 90 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, three forced fumbles and a pick six. The athletic, 6’2” 230 pounder was a force against the run, covered ground in the passing game, raised hell as a blitzer and even flashed as a slot defender. Simmons’ sophomore year was outstanding and he’s poised to have a massive season. Simmons was named to the Preseason All-American team and it’s clear why if you watched Clemson at all last year.
However, 2019 could be a whole new challenge for him. He’s now the spotlight defensive player on the top team in the country. Christian Wilkins is gone. Clelin Ferrell is gone. Dexter Lawrence is gone. Hell, Kendall Joseph, who helped hold down the linebacker position with him last year, is also gone to the NFL. Not only is Simmons the top player on the unit, but he doesn’t have an NFL level defensive line making things easier in front of him.
Georgia Tech’s offense will serve as Simmons’ first challenge of the season. Sure the Tigers will face better, more talented teams as the season rolls on, but this is week one… This is an opening statement for a 2019 campaign to be a high first round pick. Most of us don’t know exactly what Georgia Tech will be throwing at College Football this year and Clemson is the testing ground. Simmons’ play will determine how close this game will be. The Clemson offense is stacked with Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. That team is going to score points.
But how many points will Tech score? Will Tech be able to set the pace? Will a green Clemson defense be caught by surprise and get punched in the mouth? There are always a handful of questions for each team week one of the season. Thursday night, Isaiah Simmons will deliver the answers.