Behind Enemy Lines: Georgia Tech beat writer Ken Sugiura, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – For the final time this fall, we go outside the Post and Courier family for some helpful tidbits on Clemson’s upcoming opponent. That’s because Thursday night, the eighth-ranked Tigers play their final ACC game of the year in visitor Georgia Tech, as well as their last regular season foe hailing from outside the state of South Carolina.

Ken Suguira of the AJC knows far more about the Ramblin’ Wreck than you or I. Please, allow him to explain. Follow Ken on Twitter here.

Aaron Brenner, The Post and Courier: Don’t know if you knew this, Ken, but Georgia Tech’s run-pass season ratio has shifted toward the pass every single season the past four years. The Yellow Jackets ran it 82.5 percent of the time (!!!) in 2009, but that figure’s plummeted each season since to the 2013 percentage of … 79.7. So we can expect a transformational aerial attack from Vad Lee and the Bees Thursday, right?

Ken Sugiura, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Tech is definitely passing more than it has in previous years, but Paul Johnson has put the brakes on the passing game in the past three games. The Jackets have passed the ball 24 times in the past three games out of 196 plays total, an 88/12 ratio for run/pass. Quarterback Vad Lee is without question a better passer than either of his predecessors, Josh Nesbitt and Tevin Washington, which led to the increased number of passes early on, but protection wasn’t very good, Lee wasn’t as sharp as he could have been and the receivers weren’t pulling their weight, either. As a result, Johnson pulled the reins back and has stuck to the basics of the offense, which to this point has proven to be successful. Johnson has said he’d like to throw the ball more, but until protection improves, it’s not likely to happen.

Brenner: Overall, Georgia Tech’s had a quietly respectable season, going 6-3 with two separate 3-game winning streaks. Where has the team been most consistent?

Sugiura: Probably the running game, with a couple of hiccups against Virginia Tech (which always gives Georgia Tech trouble) and BYU (which has defended the Jackets well in the teams’ two-game series), and maybe special teams. Georgia Tech is No. 5 in the country in rushing (311.2 yards per game) and perhaps more importantly is  No. 14 in the country at No. 14 in the country at 5.5 yards per carry. The option game has particularly come on in the last few weeks. A-back (slotback) Robert Godhigh, who gave Clemson a lot of trouble last year, is playing phenomenally and B-back (fullback) David Sims of Calhoun County High has been running hard up the middle but has had ball-security issues.

Special teams has been better. You may remember the Jackets had a special-teams disaster last year (returner Chris Milton slipped and fell on a kickoff return, putting Tech at the 2 and setting up a safety two plays later).

Tech has an excellent kicker in freshman Harrison Butker and the punting game has been pretty dependable also. The return game has been fairly healthy, even though return specialist Jamal Golden is out for the year with a shoulder injury.

Brenner: Do the Jackets absolutely, positively need this game Thursday night to keep pace in that circuitous ACC Coastal race, or is there a way they could find their way to Charlotte at 5-3?

Sugiura: I suppose there’s a possibility, but it would require Virginia Tech to lose to Maryland and Virginia and for Miami to lose two of three to Duke, Virginia and Pittsburgh. Tech can do no worse than a share of the Coastal title if it beats the Tigers Thursday, but will need to win it outright or share it with Duke to go to Charlotte, which would mean both Virginia Tech and Miami would have to lose one more. The trifecta (Georgia Tech win over Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech both lose once more) is possible, but hardly likely.

Brenner: Is anybody making much of a big deal of Clemson facing its former athletic director, Dan Radakovich, for the first time?

Sugiura: Not really, actually. I wonder if it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind sort of thing. I think part of it is that I think fans are pretty happy with his replacement, Mike Bobinski (who came from Xavier) and Radakovich is an administrator and not a coach, so it’s not like fans have been seeing him on the sidelines this fall. I know parts of the fan base were pretty upset when he left, because of the timing in the middle of the year and because he left for a rival school within the conference, and there are no shortage of conspiracy theories about him being something of a Trojan horse and setting up the back-to-back road trips to Death Valley for Tech. But the fact is that he did a lot of good for the athletic department, particularly in the area of facilities.

Brenner: Since Georgia Tech’s ACC Championship win over Clemson in 2009, the past three matchups have been decided by 14, 14 and 16 points, each won by the home team. Does that sound about right Thursday, or do you see the Jackets making it a tighter battle?

Sugiura: I think it’ll be close. In truth, at least the 2011 and 2012 games were hardly decisive results. Tech was actually ahead early in the fourth quarter last year, and Clemson certainly had chances to win in Atlanta in 2011. I imagine a lot of Clemson fans remember Tajh Boyd’s interception into the end zone on a pass intended for Sammy Watkins. I certainly think there’s a chance for this game to turn into a runaway for the Tigers, but as long as Georgia Tech can hold onto the ball, I think the Yellow Jackets will give Clemson a game.

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