1. The head men of the Clemson-Georgia Tech rivalry are despised and ridiculed by the teams’ opposing fan bases. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Tech coach Paul Johnson have no such antipathy, however.
“Paul and I are friends and get along very well,” Swinney said Wednesday on the ACC coaches teleconference.
Swinney called Johnson “down to earth” and said that he has been very gracious and insightful to him since he became a head coach midway through the 2008 season. Swinney’s first game as head coach, in fact, was against the Yellow Jackets in what was also Johnson’s first year at Tech. Swinney declined to share the insights that Johnson has shared, but praised his understanding of the game and coaching business.
Beyond pre-game exchanges, Johnson and Swinney have gotten to know each other through ACC meetings and Nike-sponsored trips. Their wives, as well, have become friends.
Said Johnson, “We get along great.”
2. Tech should enter the Clemson fairly clean from an injury standpoint. Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and cornerback Louis Young, both of whom sat out last Saturday’s game with injuries, are expected to play. Inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy was held out of contact portions of practice Wednesday with an undisclosed injury, but “we think he’s going to be alright,” Johnson said.
B-back David Sims, who was held out of practice Tuesday, practiced Wednesday and is cleared to play.
3. The Tech offensive line has been expected to be a team strength this season, with four of five starters back from last season. Johnson called its play thus far “a mixed bag.” He noted injuries, notably to Will Jackson and Morgan Bailey, have kept Tech from playing with the group that it intended to have at the preseason (Ray Beno, Jackson, Jay Finch, Omoregie Uzzi, Bailey).
“They’ve had their moments,” he said. “Have they played as good as I thought they would play to this point? Truthfully, probably not consistently, but that doesn’t mean they’ve played poorly.”
4. Secondary coach Charles Kelly’s take on last year’s 31-17 win over Clemson:
“[Cornerback] Jemea [Thomas] did have a terrific game, as far as having some turnovers. I thought being able to re-route some of the receivers, getting our hands on guys, I thought that was good. I thought we played physical. That’s the way we have to play.”
Clemson wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins are likely the best pass-catching duo in the ACC and they might be the top two receivers in the league overall. As a freshman last year, Watkins hammered Tech for nine catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s got a lot of speed, quickness,” cornerback Rod Sweeting said. “He’s a game-changer. We’ve got to focus on him a lot.”
5. Defensive coordinator Al Groh said he likely will return to the field after coaching the Middle Tennessee State game from the coaches box.
“It’s kind of like a very sterile environment,” Groh said of the box. “It’s alright. I don’t know that we’ll repeat it, but just thought we’d get a different look of things.”
Johnson gave the impression Tuesday that Groh would continue to coach from the box, which affords a better vantage point and can be a less distracting environment, but ultimately left the decision to Groh. The initial change was made in an attempt to help Groh call plays more quickly.
6. At his news conference Tuesday, Swinney praised a number of Tech players, stopping longest on A-back Orwin Smith.
“For some reason, not many people talk about Smith, but he’s a dangerous player,” Swinney said. “I remember him well. I recruited him out of high school. He’s a fast guy. … He’s a guy that’s very capable of hitting a home run.”
Smith has gained 245 rushing yards in five games this season, with all but one of them in the past three games. He is averaging 9.8 yards per carry.
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog