Georgia Tech

5 things to watch for as new Georgia Tech squad takes on no. 1 Clemson in Death Valley

Yellow Jackets quarterbacks excited about new offense

Georgia Tech quarterbacks James Graham (14) and Lucas Johnson (7) talk to the media after the Yellow Jackets spring game April 26.
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Georgia Tech quarterbacks James Graham (14) and Lucas Johnson (7) talk to the media after the Yellow Jackets spring game April 26.

There would much less pressure on the Georgia Tech football if the Geoff Collins Era was playing its first game on a Saturday afternoon against a non-Power Five Conference school and doing in the friendly confines of Bobby Dodd Stadium. The players would have more time to get adjusted, the coaches would be able to manage the game differently and the new regime would have a chance to hang a “W” on the board.

But that isn’t the case when the Yellow Jackets and their new coaching staff, new offense and new defense start the season on Thursday night. The occasion is a big one and college football fans throughout the nation will be watching as Georgia Tech gets things started against Clemson.

That’s Clemson, as in the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. That’s Clemson, as in the defending national champions. Oh, and that Clemson in question will be unveiling the national champions banner to commemorate the 2018 success.

So much for the low-key, getting-adjusted periods that most new coaching staffs are allowed to enjoy. This one will be all business from the start, with no chance for the young Yellow Jackets to get their sea legs.

Kickoff for the game will be Thursday at 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.

Here are five things to watch for in Thursday night’s game:

1) How will Georgia Tech deal with the setting? Clemson’s Death Valley is one of the most intimidating places in college football and this will be no exception. Considering the road games that lie ahead, this will easily be most soul-crushing place the Yellow Jackets will play this year.

Collins is sticking with the old “we’ll worry about ourselves” theory. “You play really hard and you compete, things naturally take care of themselves. So that’s our competitive focus,” Collins said.

2) Who will start at quarterback? There are three candidates who landed “above the line” and all three could play against the Tigers. Lucas Johnson is probably the best all-around quarterback. Tobias Oliver is the most experienced player and an excellent runner. James Graham is probably the best all-around athlete of the three.

“We have three unique athletes back there that all do three different things,” Collins said. “We have a base offense we can run with all of them, but there are some specialized things that we already have in the works to be used for each different guy. I’m excited but I don’t want to say much more than that.”

3) What is the defense line going to look like? This area may be the most inexperienced on the team. There are six defensive ends and five defensive tackles who will make the trip on Thursday. Only Antwan Owens and Jaquan Henderson have experience at end and Chris Martin and Brentavious Glanton have the most time at tackle. This position group includes two true freshmen — ends Chico Bennett Jr. and Sylvain Yondjouen — and two redshirt freshman, end Justice Dingle and tackle T.K. Chimedza. Applying pressure on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence won’t be easy, especially for guys just getting their feet wet.

4) Are there really going to be tight ends on the field for Georgia Tech? Yes, there certainly will be, for the first time in a dozen years. There are four tight ends on the travel roster — graduate transfer Tyler Davis, senior Tyler Cooksey (a converted linebacker) and two true freshman, Dylan Leonard and Dylan Deveney. Davis has put himself in position to be a draftable player by bulking up to 250 pounds and will be crucial cog in the attack thanks to his various skills and experience.

5) Who are going to be the playmakers on this team? There are several potential game-breakers on the roster, including receivers Jalen Camp, Ahmarean Brown and Malachi Carter, running backs Jamious Griffin, linebacker David Curry and defensive backs Juanyeh Thomas, Tre Swilling and Tariq Carpenter. But given the newness of the system — offense and defense — there are bountiful opportunities on both sides for players to make a name for themselves.

“Expectations are to build a culture that’s built on effort, where we compete in every single thing we do, learn our processes on how we become a great football team,” Collins said.

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