Clemson and Georgia Tech will tangle for the 84th time this Saturday when the Tigers make their way down to Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Jackets hold a 51-30-2 advantage, but lately this rivalry has been all orange.
After surviving a trip to College Station, Texas, the No. 3-ranked Tigers took a while to get going last Saturday, but they eventually dismantled Georgia Southern. It was not one of Clemson’s best performances, but right now Georgia Tech would do anything for a win like the Tigers had against the Eagles.
That’s because the Yellow Jackets have lost both of their games against FBS opponents and facing Clemson probably isn’t the best medicine. But after two weeks on the road, at least Paul Johnson’s crew is back in Atlanta.
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia Tech vs. Clemson defensive line
Um, Yellow Jackets, good luck. Texas A&M had 501 total yards two weeks ago against Clemson, but Kellen Mond’s arm was responsible for 430 of those. Georgia Tech can’t do that. So the only hope is for the Yellow Jacket offensive line to open up some seams for quarterback TaQuon Marshall and the running backs. In many situations, Tech’s option system can work against bigger, faster defenders because they can exploit their opponent’s lack of assignment discipline. The problem this week is that Clemson is not only supremely talented, they also know what to do. Furthermore, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins have faced Georgia Tech multiple times, so they will not be surprised by anything. This will be an extremely difficult challenge for the Jackets' offensive line.
2. Cleaning up the Clemson offense
The Tigers have had plenty of hiccups in the early going this year. Last week they had three turnovers that stalled drives and had some costly penalties. But more than anything else, the offense hasn’t looked smooth, whether Kelly Bryant has been captaining the ship or Trevor Lawrence. There have been big plays, but with this talent a little more was expected. It starts up front with an offensive line that’s been good, but perhaps not great, and a collection of athletic skill guys that are still finding their way. Georgia Tech’s defense has limited explosive plays, so Clemson will likely have to be efficient with their drives this weekend.
3. Georgia Tech special teams
Saying that they’ve been awful doesn’t seem harsh enough. South Florida returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter. The kicking game has been a mess, as they have converted just one of three field goals (though both misses have been from 50-plus yards) and have missed two extra points. Punter Pressley Harvin nailed a 62-yard punt against USF... and then moments later shanked one that went just 10 yards. And on Saturday, the Jackets failed miserably on a fake punt. Clemson is too good; they don’t need help from Georgia Tech miscues on special teams.
Over the last 12 years, just when you think opponents may be catching up to Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech turns things around. After 2010’s 6-7 record, the Jackets won the first six games of 2011 and climbed to No. 12 in the AP Poll. After mediocre finishes in 2012 and '13, Georgia Tech went 11-3 and beat Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl. They stumbled to 3-9 the next year, then rebounded to 9-4 in 2016, which included a win over in-state rival Georgia in Athens. So it stands to reason that the Yellow Jackets would recover from last year’s 5-6 disappointment. But so far they haven’t and with Clemson coming to town this week, things don’t look much brighter. In the last three meetings between the two schools, Georgia Tech has averaged a little more than 150 rushing yards per game. That’s not enough for on option-oriented offense and this Clemson defensive front is the best Tech has faced. The Tigers' offense is still developing, but they will do more than enough to secure an easy road victory.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Georgia Tech 7
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.