Containing Travis Etienne and the Clemson running game will be a high priority for Georgia Tech
Both Clemson and Georgia Tech played their best football of the season last week and will look to build on those performances when they meet up in Atlanta on Saturday. Clemson had heard all week about Miami's resurgence and then put the Hurricanes in their place with a 42-17 thrashing.
While Clemson's victory may have been easier than the score indicated, Georgia Tech's 46-27 win over Louisville was a tight contest until the Jackets scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes for the final margin of victory. After winning just three games all of last year, Tech is now 2-2 in Geoff Collins' second year in charge.
Georgia Tech actually leads the all-time series 50-32-2 but the Tigers have won the last five and eight of the last 10.
No. 1 Clemson at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -27
When Clemson Has the Ball
Miami did make it hard on Clemson at times this past week. Outside of the 72-yard touchdown run by Travis Etienne and a 31-yard completion from Trevor Lawrence to Frank Ladson, Clemson didn't have a ton of big chunk plays. But that is the beauty of the Clemson offense; they don't need the home run to be effective.
Right out of the gate, Clemson went on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took 5:10 off the clock and ended in a touchdown. After getting the ball back just 2:29 later, the Tigers put together an even longer journey for a touchdown: 16 plays for 89 yards that lasted 7:27. At that point, it was clear what the outcome of the game would be.
First and foremost, Georgia Tech has to slow down Etienne. That has been an area of concern for the Yellow Jackets early in the season. UCF ran for 243 yards on the Georgia Tech and Louisville had 242 yards on the ground. Syracuse had 163 rushing yards and the Orange haven't had more than 68 in any of their other three games. Getting pressure on Lawrence would be nice, but that will be irrelevant if the Jackets can't stop the run.
Also, though Clemson's methodical approach against Miami worked, the Tigers can connect on a big play as well as any team in the country. Georgia Tech has allowed 24 plays of more than 20 yards this season, tied for worst in the ACC. The Jackets need to keep everything in front of them and tackle very, very well.
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
Head coach Geoff Collins has found his quarterback of the future. Jeff Sims has given coordinator Dave Patenaude's offense life, throwing for 944 yards and running for 251 over four games. The team that averaged 16.7 points per game last year is up to 25.8 so far in 2020. The offensive line has allowed just two sacks and Jahmyr Gibbs — a true freshman just like Sims — has sparked the nation's 16th-ranked rushing offense.
Okay, so there are things that need to be pointed out. Three of the teams that Georgia Tech has played — Florida State, Syracuse, and Louisville — are not very good on defense. Plus, turnovers have been a big problem for the Jackets. Only Duke and Mississippi State have given the ball away more times (Tech has 12 turnovers). Sims has already thrown eight interceptions on just 119 attempts.
That puts Sims in a bad spot facing this Clemson defense. If he plays tentative, worried about making a mistake, the Jackets will struggle to get many first downs. If Sims plays recklessly, the Tigers will force multiple turnovers. The young Georgia Tech quarterback must stay calm and loose, but can't force the issue.
Which is easier said than done against a defense that seems to go at 100 mph all the time. Baylon Spector leads the Tigers in tackles, but it is the depth of talent that makes this unit so special. The secondary, led by corners Derion Kendrick and Andrew Booth, is very strong and coordinator Brent Venables rotates dozens of amazing athletes up front. Virginia and Wake Forest had some success throwing the ball on Clemson, but Miami's D'Eriq King had just 121 passing yards last Saturday.
If you are a Georgia Tech fan looking for hope, know that in its fifth game last year, Clemson narrowly escaped a 2-2 North Carolina team. In their fifth game in 2018, they barely survived Syracuse. In mid-October of 2017, the Tigers lost at 3-3 Syracuse. Also, Clemson will be coming off the emotional high of the win over Miami. Of course, none of that will probably matter a whole lot this weekend. Clemson has too much of everything at this moment. Trevor Lawrence is completing passes at a 72% percent clip with 10 touchdowns and no picks, Travis Etienne is again running strong, and the new faces on defense play a lot like the old faces. Not many teams in the country have answers for problems Clemson presents, especially not Georgia Tech.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Georgia Tech 13
Podcast: Week 7 Preview and Predictions
— 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.