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Behind Enemy Bylines: Georgia Tech

Behind Enemy Bylines is back this week and highlighting the upcoming matchup with conference rival Georgia Tech. Our very own Cole Little sat down with Georgia Tech student newspaper The Technique‘s sports editor, Emily Dykstra.  
Tiger Sports (TS): The Clemson-Georgia Tech rivalry is long and storied, dating back to the 1890s. What do you think makes the rivalry so special, and what is your favorite memory from it?
Emily Dykstra (ED): Favorite memory of the GT/Clemson rivalry was the 2009 ACC Championship game. It was an offensive blitz on both sides and ended up as a shootout where Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer proved to be the difference makers, making a late push for a touchdown that sealed the game for GT. Even though the win was vacated, it’s tough to forget what a thriller that game was.  
TS: The Yellow Jackets have gotten off to a bit of a shaky start, as they currently stand at 1-2. There have been talks in the media of head coach Paul Johnson being on the hot seat. How important is this season for Georgia Tech, and what could be the ramifications of the Yellow Jackets finishing with an underwhelming record?
ED: I don’t really think this season is any more or less important than seasons previous. Johnson just got signed to an extension that keeps him here through 2022, so although the last two games might indicate that he ought to be on the hot seat, I seriously doubt he is. Yes, Tech could buy him out of his contract, but that would probably anger some pro-CPJ donors, not to mention that our athletic department is still paying multiple men’s basketball head coaches thanks to ill-fated buyouts. For Jackets fans who want Johnson gone, their best hope is that he retires at the end of this season, which would put the Tech administration off the hook financially.
TS: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is known for being a master of shutting down triple-option offenses. Georgia Tech, a team prone to running the triple option under Coach Johnson, has not fared too well against Venables-led defenses. What does the Yellow Jacket offense present this year that could change that trend?
ED: Unless the Falcons’ offensive line (and maybe Julio Jones, and Tevin Coleman would be nice as well) are free for that game, I’m really not too sure. I think Tech’s deficiencies against the Venables defense have less to do with scheme and more with the fact that it’s basically been an NFL defensive line for the last few years; Johnson has said as much. That being said, maybe going a little uptempo could fatigue the Tigers. Long, grinding drives are the key.  
TS: Offensively, Clemson is incredibly deep and talented. Who are some key performers on defense for Georgia Tech who could help shut the Tigers down, and what should Georgia Tech do differently on defense versus Clemson as compared to their two losses thus far this season?
ED: Anree Saint-Amour and Brant Mitchell are both quick and explosive members of Tech’s defense – these guys are the real difference makers on Tech’s defense, who can make the big plays with mobility and dexterity. Look for Tech to try to pressure the QB more than they did against Pitt – Tech struggled with QB pressure and allowing Pitt to convert on third-and-long situations on Saturday. If they want to break that habit, they’ll need to be more aggressive, as tough as it may be against Clemson’s O-Line.  
TS: Georgia Tech has a history of causing problems for Clemson when the Tigers face the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Can the Ramblin’ Wreck pull off the upset this year? What is your score prediction, and why?
ED: Anything is possible, especially if Clemson’s quarterbacks combine for a touchdown and two interceptions like they did against Georgia Southern. But I don’t see it happening. I think Tech rebounds a little from the last couple of games and the defense steps up; final score 28-7. 
Emily Dykstra (ED): How has Trevor Lawrence been early? Does he look solidly better than Kelly Bryant or does it look like Bryant deserves the starting job for now?
Tiger Sports (TS): Trevor Lawrence has fared well so far. He has a completion percentage of 62 percent through three games and has made several impressive throws. However, while filling in for Kelly Bryant, who left last week’s game with a chest bruise, Lawrence made multiple bone-headed plays against the Georgia Southern Eagles that should be expected of a true freshman. With that being said, Lawrence has not looked overwhelmingly better than Bryant, and Bryant should continue to be considered the definitive starting quarterback for the time being. Lawrence is undoubtedly the purer talent between the two gunslingers, but his lack of experience in leading a high-flying college offense has been evident at times this season. Bryant, who should be fine moving forward after suffering the chest bruise, displayed enough poise against the Texas A&M Aggies to prove that his starting job should not be in any danger at this time.  
ED: What went wrong in the passing game last week? Was it just effective running from Travis Etienne that kept you guys from passing so much or did the Eagles defense play that well against the pass?
TS: Clemson’s offense, as a whole, struggled out of the gate against the Eagles this past Saturday. If not for wide receiver Justyn Ross having a breakout performance, the first half would not have offered much of anything in terms of positive storylines regarding the Tigers’ pass attack. Bryant and Lawrence both faltered on multiple occasions in the contest, with each of them throwing an interception on an ill-advised pass. The offensive play-calling has been suspect at times to start the year. It is almost as if everyone involved with the offense is learning how to handle a generational talent like Lawrence. Etienne’s dominant 162-yard rushing performance was part of the reason why the aerial assault was slow to take shape for the Tigers, as the Eagles had no answer for Etienne. However, over the course of the second half, Lawrence settled in and performed much better.  
ED: Brent Venables has cultivated a great reputation as a defensive coordinator. Do you see him as a potential candidate for head coaching vacancies next spring?
TS: Brent Venables is an anomaly. He has been a renowned defensive coordinator for a while now, dating back to his years with the Oklahoma Sooners. However, he has never expressed an interest in becoming a head coach. Venables has been routinely asked by reporters about his outlook on taking a head coaching job but has consistently made it clear that he is perfectly happy as the defensive coordinator of the Clemson Tigers. In July, Clemson made Venables the highest-paid assistant coach in the nation with a lucrative contract extension, which indicates that he is probably set to continue leading the Clemson defense for years to come.   
ED: Clemson had a particularly difficult time against Alabama in the College Football Playoff last season. If there’s a rematch, do the Tigers have a better chance this time around?
TS: While it still really early in the season, one cannot help but wonder if the Tigers will match up the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight time. Clemson had practically no answer for the Crimson Tide’s beastly defense in last season’s 24-6 Sugar Bowl beatdown. This season, the Tigers boast a more experience Bryant and Etienne, as well as the most talented freshman quarterback in the country in Lawrence, and the Clemson defense is stacked up front yet again. As for Alabama, it lost a bevy of talented defensive players to the NFL following the conclusion of last season, but the Crimson Tide has showed no signs of slowing down thus far this fall. Again, it is too early to tell just how well Clemson might match up with Alabama this time around, but if the two juggernauts were to meet in the postseason, it would very likely be a much more evenly matched game as compared to last season’s Sugar Bowl.  
ED: What’s your score prediction for this game?
TS: Looking to defeat the rival Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for the fourth straight time, the Clemson Tigers should take advantage of a Georgia Tech defense that has struggled for the past few weeks. The Tigers’ offense performed well overall in games two and three but also struggled somewhat in terms of consistency. Expect that to change in what should be a complete performance by Clemson against a familiar opponent in Georgia Tech. Furthermore, it deserves reiterating that Venables has owned the Georgia Tech offense in recent years, and, with the incredible talent that Clemson boasts defensively, that should carry on in this season’s matchup. As for a prediction, the Tigers will swat down the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday by a final score of 31-10.  
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