CLEMSON — When Georgia Tech has the ball
Playing Georgia Tech is a completely unique experience thanks to the Yellow Jackets’ flexbone option offense, which averages 328 rushing yards per game, second-best nationally. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt needs 44 rushing yards to become the ACC’s all-time quarterback rushing leader, and Anthony Allen has breakaway speed, averaging 85.7 yards rushing per game. Discipline is the ultimate key; make a wrong move, and Tech can break a big play. They can also pass; Nesbitt averages 84 yards passing per game, and broke big pass plays in each of the teams’ 2009 meetings. Clemson had its best two defensive games of the season against Maryland and North Carolina, but the Tigers are banged up; Brandon Maye, the most experienced linebacker, is questionable with a calf injury, leaving “Will” sophomore Jonathan Willard to carry a heavier load. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss and must be a huge factor today.
Edge: Georgia Tech
When Clemson has the ball
Scoring hasn’t been an issue for the Tigers against Tech; they averaged 30.5 points per game last year. But after getting 407 yards of total offense at Auburn, the offense hasn’t hit on all cylinders, averaging 276.3 yards over the last three, and getting only 185 yards rushing in the past two games. The lack of a vertical passing game has hurt; wideout DeAndre Hopkins missed last week due to an upper-body muscle injury but should return this week. Drops have also been a consistent problem. Clemson had success moving the ball last year against Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme at Virginia, and Tech allows 151.7 yards rushing per game, 65th-best nationally. Moving the ball on the ground will be key.
Clemson’s special teams have developed into among the ACC’s best. The Tigers lead the league in punt return coverage and are second in kick and punt returns; Andre Ellington’s 87-yard kick return touchdown against Maryland was a gamechanger. Chandler Catanzaro has made four of six field goals, all between 42 and 48 yards. Tech’s return teams rank eighth and 11th in the ACC, respectively. Sean Poole averages 38.8 yards per punt, while Scott Blair has made nine of 10 field goals.
The bottom line
Today looms as another very winnable game, and a crucial one; lose, and the Tigers head to Boston College below .500. Win, and it could be the foundation of another Atlantic Division title run. Clemson has lost four straight to the Jackets, the last three by five points or less. Stop the flexbone option and avoid special-teams mistakes, and that could change today. Clemson must control the clock and keep the flexbone off the field, and be disciplined against it when it is on the field. Tech has been a nemesis for Dabo Swinney, but one very capable of being conquered this weekend.
Prediction: Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 21