Georgia Tech coordinators break down challenge of playing Clemson

by - Staff Writer -
Etienne is able to make plays he shouldn't be able to make. (Photo courtesy ACC)
Etienne is able to make plays he shouldn't be able to make. (Photo courtesy ACC)

As Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator, Andrew Thacker, knows exactly what to expect from Clemson. His counterpart, Dave Patenaude – Tech’s offensive coordinator – doesn’t have that luxury.

Thacker and Patenaude met with the media earlier this week to discuss the upcoming matchup with Clemson, set to air on ABC at noon Saturday.

For Thacker, he said Clemson’s offense is operating a little different this year with no Justyn Ross or Tee Higgins at the perimeter wide receiver spots.

"Last year, they had No. 8 and No. 5 out on the perimeter, (Justyn) Ross and (Tee) Higgins, so when they really needed a play and maybe weren't operating, they were able to just completely throw it to two really talented kids on the outside,” Thacker said. “They're just as talented (this year) on the outside-- they have great players and don't mean to undermine anyone that they have, but they are using those outside guys less relative to those two superstars they had last year. So they've gotten more scheme-oriented.”

Through four games in 2020, Clemson’s offense is featuring a steady dose of Travis Etienne in running and passing situations.

“Who are the best players on their team? Well that happens to be No. 16 (Trevor Lawrence) and No. 9. Everybody in the country may or may not have heard of (Etienne),” Thacker said. “So, they're finding ways to get him the football in creative ways - screens, draws. But anytime they feel like they may get off schedule or they really need to manage a down, how do we get it to Etienne? So, any schemy things create issues for us but at the end of the day it's their talent.

“Miami, this past week, had people in positions to make plays and Travis was able to get out of things he should not have been able to get out of based on his talent. Travis is as hard to tackle as anyone in the country. The biggest thing with a guy like that is you need multiple guys to the football. How few one-on-one situations can we get and multiple hats to the football topping off the pile?”

While figuring out ways to stop Lawrence and Etienne is never easy for any defensive coordinator, Patenaude isn’t sure what to expect from Clemson’s defensive coordinator, Brent Venables.

"The funny thing with these guys is you never really know what you're going to get until you get there,” Patenaude said. “Coach Venables is as good a defensive coordinator as there is in the country at any level. You know, you often go into a game saying, 'Are they three-down or four-down?' Well they're both. Do they play a middle close or a middle open? They're both. Do they run the odd stack? Yes. Are they in bear fronts? Yes. Do they blitz? Yes. Do they drop eight? Yes. Usually once they settle in, they settle into what they're going to do. But very rarely is it a carbon copy of what they've done in the past. So it's interesting to have to settle into a game with them.”

Patenaude said execution will be key for offensive this week against a talented Clemson defense.

“Your execution has to be-- on plays where it doesn't really matter what they're in, you have to be confident in what you're doing,” Patenaude said. “You can't really scheme them to say this is a 30 run or quarters pass or whatever because they may never run it. They are always in a good call and they try to hold their call to be in a really good call. And it's no secret they have really good players. When you have those combinations, it does lead to an elite defense. I'm comfortable with our plan so far. We executed some stuff today that I thought looked really good."

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