Preview Capsule – Clemson
Georgia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC) at Clemson (3-3, 1-2 ACC)
Time: 3:30 p.m./Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Last meeting: Georgia Tech won 39-34 in the ACC championship in 2009
Georgia Tech: Joshua Nesbitt is just 44 yards from matching former Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler’s ACC record for most rushing yards by a conference quarterback. Nesbitt, who is averaging 92.7 yards rushing per game — enough to rank second in the ACC in rushing — should reach that mark Saturday afternoon. In order to get him there, however, the Yellow Jackets will need to shore up blocking concerns with their offensive line, and protect against big Da’Quan Bowers rushing into the backfield from defensive end.
Clemson: The Tigers’ offense features a much more balanced set than Georgia Tech’s run-based scheme, but don’t be surprised if Clemson sticks mostly with the ground game, too. So fart this season, Clemson is just 50 percent passing as a team, with starter Kyle Parker throwing at a modest 51 percent for his completion rating. Drops, misconnections on routes and the like have hampered the Tigers and have caught the coaching staff’s attention. Head coach Dabo Swinney isn’t trying to get away from passing, but the Tigers also must realize the treasure trove they have in running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. Look to see how much they run with the two.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech: Just as it seems the Yellow Jackets’ offense has finally begun to turn the corner and is playing its best football, the Yellow Jackets’ defense has become equally strong. Against Middle Tennessee State, the defense allowed 316 yards of total offense, much of which came after starters were being rested late in the blowout win. Linebackers Brad Jefferson and Julian Burnett have been difference-makers as of late, as they have found success getting into opposing backfields and disrupting rushing offenses and sacking quarterbacks. With their pressure and that of the defensive line, the secondary has capitalized over the last three games, as well. Last week, the Yellow Jackets had four interceptions, including two by safety Jerrard Tarrant.
Clemson: Pressure has been the name of the game for the Tigers this season, who have relied on defensive end Da’Quan Bowers to be their physical presence in an opposing backfield. He already has nine sacks. While Bowers has made good push on the line and has emerged as one of the ACC’s best defensive linemen, one of the conference’s most athletic players has been dominating in Clemson’s secondary. Safety DeAndre McDaniel, the Tigers’ second-leading tackler — behind another safety — has been all over the field this season. Expect to hear his name called often Saturday afternoon.
Georgia Tech: For the first two seasons and the start of this year, special teams have been one of the Yellow Jackets’ biggest problem areas. The last few games, however, it seems Georgia Tech has hit its stride on most units. While place-kicker Scott Blair missed a field goal last week, it was his first miss all year. At 9-for-10 this season, the senior has enjoyed a strong start, coming on the heels of his 4-for-4 performance against Clemson in last season’s ACC championship game. Punter Sean Poole also has played well of late, pinning opponents deep in their own territory. He punted a ball against Virginia two weeks ago that was downed on the 1.
Clemson: In recent season’s past, Clemson’s special teams was enough to strike fear in an opposing team. The main reason why? C.J. Spiller. But the former do-everything All-ACC star is no longer in upstate South Carolina, as he has headed to the NFL. But that doesn’t mean all is lost in Clemson’s punt and kick return games. Last week against Maryland, Ellington, Spiller’s offensive replacement, was inserted at kick return and took back an 87-yard jaunt that ended in a score. On punts, cornerback Marcus Gilchrist is averaging 13.0 yards per return. On field goals, Tigers place-kicker Chandler Catanzaro is 4-for-6 on the year.
Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson has subtly turned the Georgia Tech-Clemson rivalry into one that may be nearly as big as Georgia Tech-Georgia in importance. That’s because, he contends, his No. 1 goal each year is to win the ACC. Beating Georgia comes secondary to that objective. In order to win the ACC, each year, he has to beat a typically good Clemson team, and this season is no different. Although his troops will be on the road in a very hostile environment, Johnson, the king of leading chipped shouldered teams, likely will have his players feeling like underdogs. How his team responds to that could be the difference in this expected close contest.
Clemson: Dabo Swinney’s first game as a head coach came nearly exactly two years ago, when he took over midseason for previously excused head coach Tommy Bowden. Taking over following a drama-filled week that even had a bit of a quarterback controversy to it, he led the Tigers against a Georgia Tech team desperate to prove itself as a legitimate ACC power on the rise. This season, he will be facing a similar Yellow Jackets program. The only difference is, this year’s Georgia Tech bunch comes in riding the wave of four-straight victories and a conference title over Swinney’s group. Expect Swinney to search for that same emotion that existed two years ago at Memorial Stadium.
EDGE: Georgia Tech
Offense: Georgia Tech’s tackles vs. Bowers. The intimidating 275-pound defensive end has been a sack machine this season, and has found permanent residence in a slew of opposing backfields. To keep him from Nesbitt, the Yellow Jackets’ tackles will have to bring Bowers to the ground and hold against him.
Defense: Tarrant vs. Parker. After picking off two passes last week, Tarrant will have his eyes trained this week on Parker’s every move. The quarterback’s decision-making has been questioned at times, and if the Yellow Jackets’ line can pressure him, Tarrant could have another big week.