ATLANTA — When C.J. Spiller played his final down in Clemson’s Music City Bowl win over Kentucky last December, the cheering around Midtown Atlanta should have been deafening.
No more would Georgia Tech have to face the slippery, fleet-footed ballcarrier. For a team that regularly saw his Tigers each season, it was time finally came to say, good riddance, he was officially out of the college ranks.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Yellow Jackets (5-2, 3-1 ACC) were to get their final look at such quick test out of the Tigers backfield. In fact, when they take on Clemson in a cross-division showdown Saturday afternoon, they may be seeing Spiller’s younger, slightly different clone.
“(Andre) Ellington, he’s shifty; reminds me of Spiller,” Georgia Tech cornerback Dominique Reese said.
Clemson’s go-to tailback this season, Ellington ranks among the ACC’s leaders with 476 yards rushing this season. He has already rushed for eight touchdowns in the Tigers’ (3-3, 1-2) six games, and he has four carries that have gone for more than 20 yards.
Tack on the fact that like Spiller, Ellington is now returning kickoffs for touchdowns — he had an 87-yarder against Maryland last week — and the similarities continue.
“Ellington is a really good player who took Spiller’s place,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “They may be the most talented team in the league. They have good players.”
While Ellington’s statistics are enough to boast the type of success he has had this season, the Yellow Jackets also will draw on their limited experience in having faced the sophomore.
Even though Spiller raced for 233 yards and three touchdowns in a game MVP effort against the Yellow Jackets in last season’s ACC championship, Ellington made occasional appearances backing him up.
“He got in the game a couple of times last year and we’ve just got to attack him like we attack everybody,” Reese said. “If you don’t give him creases, it will be hard for him to run.”
Poole ’s steady climb
Georgia Tech punter Sean Poole took his share of playful ribbing three weeks ago, when he lost a high snap and had to revert into a short rugby-style pooch kick in order to get the ball away from hard rushing defenders.
“I’ve gotten some good jokes about it in the locker room, but I took responsibility because it was my fault on that one,” Poole said.
Since then, he has been as close to perfection as he can be.
Aside from one second-quarter punt last week against Middle Tennessee State, the redshirt freshman has been booting punts inside the 20-yard line with regularity, even landing one on the 1-yard line late in the game against Virginia two weeks ago.
“Every week, you don’t want a return. Sometimes, you’re going to hit that bomb and they’re going to get a return off of it, but you just try to focus every week on getting consistency,” Poole said.
Such consistency can be difficult to string together, especially when a punter isn’t used with regularity. Last season, the Yellow Jackets went three games without punting once.
According to Poole, that’s the idea behind the game.
“It’s a great week for a punter when you don’t get a chance to play,” Poole said. “You practice all week to play, but that just comes with the territory. Whenever they call your number, we try to pin them back as much as we can.”
Swinney: Time to pass
Clemson’s passing game hasn’t been as fluid as Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney would have hoped this point in the year, and for that reason, he has plans to open it up even further.
“We got to catch the ball better,” he said Wednesday on the ACC coaches’ teleconference. “I definitely think that it’s going to turn around and we’ll get better. But no, we’re nowhere near where we need to be in our passing game.”
Part of the reason for the inconsistency has been a problem the Yellow Jackets have dealt with at times this year, too: drops.
According to Swinney, the Tigers had six drops against Maryland last week and five the week before.
As a result, the team’s completion rating is 50 percent, with starter Kyle Parker—who Swinney added has actually been throwing well, considering the drops—
marginally better at 51 percent.
“We have to be able to throw and catch the ball,” Swinney said. “We hadn’t really thrown the ball a lot. … We got good players. We just got to get it to the right guys. That’s what we’ve got to do a better job of. When we talk about opening it up, it’s making sure certain guys are getting their opportunity to impact the game.”
The Yellow Jackets got a dose of good news Wednesday, as defensive end Jason Peters returned to practice and should be at full go by Saturday.
Peters was hurt last week after suffering a sprain to an undisclosed part of his body against Middle Tennessee State. During one second-quarter tackle, he was run from the game after colliding hard with Blue Raiders quarterback Dwight Dasher.
Receiver Quentin Sims, who also was banged up following the Middle Tennessee State game, missed his third consecutive practice.
Four Yellow Jackets hail from South Carolina, with two claiming roots relatively close to Clemson’s upstate campus.
Outside linebacker Anthony Egbuniwe, a former Tulsa transfer, grew up in nearby Greenville, S.C. and is expecting to seat some 20 guests at Memorial Stadium this weekend.
Defensive tackle Ben Anderson is from Aiken, S.C.
For the Tigers, 15 players hail from the Peach State, including former Baldwin standout Corico Hawkins, a starting linebacker.
Bedford has CLASS
Yellow Jackets senior center Sean Bedford on Wednesday was named a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, honoring FBS players who excel in the following areas: community, classroom, character and competition.
The aerospace engineering major was chosen with other finalists from a list of 30 that was originally compiled in August. Fan voting for the award has now begun, and will last through Dec. 6 on the Lowe's Senior CLASS award website.