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Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Preview and Prediction

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

The Clemson Tigers have not fared well recently at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, and that's putting it mildly.

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When Clemson last visited in 2014, the Yellow Jackets handed the Tigers their most recent regular season loss, 28-6, in a game where then-true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson injured his knee on a non-contact play.

The Tigers are 0-5 at the Yellow Jackets' home field since 2003, so it's been quite the house of horrors for them.

The fifth-ranked Tigers and unranked Yellow Jackets both come into this game 3-0, but there is still plenty of unknowns when it comes to exactly what each team brings to the table.

Clemson barely escaped Auburn in its opener, 19-13, and slipped by Troy, 30-27, the next week before a 69-0 clubbing of South Carolina State this past weekend. The offense, thought coming into the season to be one of the best in the country, has yet to fire on all cylinders against an FBS opponent.

Georgia Tech is still flying under the radar a bit, but there are signs that head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone option offense is starting to find its groove after a convincing, 38-7 win over Vanderbilt last weekend.

With the entire country focusing on Clemson's looming Oct. 1 showdown with Louisville, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney has to do everything he can to avoid what has to be considered a "trap game," even though the Yellow Jackets are as good a team Clemson has faced to this point. The fact that his team is a road favorite on a Thursday night game makes the upset potential even greater.

Clemson at Georgia Tech

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET

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TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Clemson -10

Three Things to Watch

1. Center of attention

At one point this offseason, Georgia Tech’s offensive line was seen as a potential weakness. Well, right now, the Yellow Jackets seem to have things going pretty well up front, as senior center Freddie Burden earned the ACC's Offensive Lineman of the Week for his work against the Commodores. The B-back or fullback run is crucial to the success of Tech’s distinctive offense, and if the 6-foot-4, 299-pound Burden holds up well against the Clemson front seven, then the Yellow Jackets’ playbook should open up. Against Vanderbilt, freshman B-back Dedrick Mills picked up 58 yards on 14 carries, but he scored three touchdowns. A duplication of that success Thursday night would be ideal if Tech wants to pull off the upset.

2. Boulware's return

One player Burden might have to come out and block at the second level will be Clemson middle linebacker Ben Boulware. After he sprained his ankle against Troy, Boulware was held out of action against South Carolina State by head coach Dabo Swinney, who didn't allow the key defender to hit in practice. But Boulware is a full go for Thursday night, which means the Tigers have their physical tone-setter back. Boulware excels against the run and his ability to direct his teammates against Georgia Tech's diversified attack will be invaluable.

3. Quarterback attack

Deshaun Watson has been overshadowed in the Heisman race by Louisville's Lamar Jackson, and the Clemson quarterback's relatively slow start has some questioning whether or not he can live up to the expectations he set for himself after a brilliant run in last year's College Football Playoff. A strong showing in this primetime matchup against his first ACC opponent could quiet those critics a tad. For Georgia Tech, Justin Thomas is as steady as the signal-callers come. He led the Yellow Jackets with 84 yards rushing and threw for 136 yards on 13 attempts against Vanderbilt, as the offense appears much improved over last season.

Final Analysis

The Tigers may be coming in as a 10-point favorite, but that's a shaky proposition in this scenario. It's tough to gauge just how much the Clemson offense got back on track last weekend because of the opponent, but perhaps this is the game where Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and wide receiver Mike Williams propel the Tigers to the type of output everyone has expected. For Georgia Tech, everything in the intangibles category is set up in its favor. Thursday night home games produce electric atmospheres for any team, and even a three-win Tech team knocked off Florida State last year at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Expect Clemson to do just enough to overcome the Yellow Jackets' initial surge, but if the Tigers continue to sputter, don't be surprised to see Tech send shockwaves through the college football world again.

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Prediction: Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 24

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.