Reese, Tech defensive backs hope they can control Clemson once again

ATLANTA — For almost a year, Dominique Reese has been keeping a secret from Sedric Griffin.

Reese’s wallet would like to keep it that way.

After getting bailed out by Griffin on one of the most memorable plays of Georgia Tech’s 2008 campaign, Reese — a junior defensive back from Auburn, Ala. — promised the linebacker a reward for helping him turn a bad play into one good moment.

“I told him I was going to take him out; I probably shouldn’t remind him,” Reese said, laughing.

Defensively, it was a busted play. Nothing was working correctly for the Yellow Jackets. Players like Reese weren’t where they were supposed to be, and it seemed their opponent — Clemson — had just pulled a fast one.

Handed the ball off on a reverse, Tigers receiver Tyler Grisham started running back across the field, stopped and tried to fire a strike past Georgia Tech’s secondary. But with Griffin supplying some unexpected heavy pressure on the receiver-turned-passer, Grisham’s pass flew straight into Reese’s open arms.

“Actually, I was in the wrong position. They were setting up the reverse pass, and I was coming down for the reverse,” Reese said. “Luckily Sed got some pressure on Grisham, and he ended up making a bad throw and I was there to intercept it. Plus, I had (cornerback) Mario (Butler) and (defensive end) Michael Johnson in front of me, so I knew I was going to score.

“Sed kind of saved me on that play.”

Thirty-four yards after picking the ball out the air, Reese cruised in for a first-quarter touchdown that gave the Yellow Jackets a much-needed spark en route to their 21-17 road victory.

The interception was one of four that day for Georgia Tech, as it fought to beat the Tigers in the typical down-to-the-wire finish that has defined this series for more than a decade.

Much like last year, the play of Georgia Tech’s secondary will be a big concern for Clemson when the Tigers face the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium in tonight’s ACC opener for both teams.

Giving Clemson a look at their newly modified five-defensive back set for the entire game, the Yellow Jackets are hoping to use their speed to an extreme advantage. That should make them tough to move the ball on, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.

“That will be a good matchup for the game,” Swinney said. “We had six turnovers in the game last year and had the lead with five minutes to go, so hopefully we can correct some of our mistakes and not help them out as much as we did last year with some miscues.

“But they’re very, very good. You’ve got to put drives together against them, one of the better secondaries we’ll play.”

Right in the middle of that unit is Reese.

One of the unsung, less-hyped players in Georgia Tech’s defensive backfield, he has taken a bit of a backseat to the high praise that has been bestowed upon preseason All-America selection Morgan Burnett — who came up with the game-ending interception against a driving Clemson with three seconds left in last year’s game — and speedster Cooper Taylor.

The fastest man in Georgia Tech’s spring practice, Taylor was slated to start for the Yellow Jackets at the “Wolf” or “Husky” position in the secondary. He drew his share of recognition for that in recent months. But just before the start of the season, Reese, who played semblances of the position last year, replaced him.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do,” Reese said. “However I can help the team. Whether it’s at ‘Husky’ or free safety, anything. I’m just going to fly to the ball.”

Last week against Jacksonville State, Reese did a lot more than just fly. He ripped, roared and zipped his way across the field to record five total tackles, including one for loss.

But while he had a strong afternoon, his efforts weren’t enough to help the unit have the overly powerful, dominating performance it wanted to see, he said.

“We only had one turnover. We need to get that up. We had some times where we left some guys wide open. The D-line got pressure on their quarterback, so that kind of saved us. But we definitely have to play better against Clemson (tonight),” Reese said.

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson agrees.

“We knocked some balls down, but we just need to come up with some,” Johnson said. “We had two or three in our hands that we dropped. In conference games and other games, those are big plays, you need to make them.

“I’m not going to accept that effort that we had (Saturday).”

For those reasons, Reese said he is going to have his eyes glued to Clemson’s skill players this evening, because if any of the Tigers’ playmakers get away from him and the other defensive backs, it could be a long night.

“They’ve got speed everywhere, and C.J. Spiller is one of the most electric (running) backs I’ve seen or ever played against, and Jacoby Ford on the outside is a speed guy who’s just as fast as C.J.,” Reese said. “So you definitely have to have your eyes in the right place playing against those guys. No false steps or they’ll be out the gate. Any seam and C.J. Spiller’s gone.

“I mean, we say we want to win the ACC, and this is where it starts.”