Keys to the Game: Georgia Tech at Clemson

Streeter Lecka - Getty Images

These ACC Rivals square off once again in Clemson on Saturday at 3:30. How will this game be won?

I know, Tech fans. I know. After the last two losses, it makes complete sense that you would make a better coach than CPJ. And yes, the pick and roll probably would be more effective than the triple option. I get it, we should be sending the baseball team up there instead -- they may have a better chance in this game than our actual football team. I completely agree, Stevie Wonder would make better defensive play calls than Al Groh. I'm not here to argue any of that.

But let's say, just for the sake of argument and this article, that Georgia Tech has any sense of chance in this game, eh? Got your mind in gear for considering that one? Good -- here's what will make-or-break that imaginary victory for the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech's Energy

Last week, the team came out as flat as flat gets and was run out of its own building by a team that should have felt privileged to be there to begin with. If you think that they have any chance of coming out with that kind of energy and making it through the 3rd quarter without Clemson's score hitting 3 digits, you've got another thing coming. If they're going to have any chance of winning, they'd better be HYPED like I've only seen a couple of times in my time here (two good examples are Virginia Tech '09 and Clemson '11, both home wins against top-5 teams).

Georgia Tech's Defense Tackling

If you're wondering what I mean by this, you haven't been watching us for the last couple of games. When the Clemson offense is loaded with Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, Sammy Watkins, and DeAndre Hopkins, missed tackles turn into 60, 70, and 80 yard plays, which then turn into an awful lot of points. To have any chance, Georgia Tech needs to make tackles the first time they have the opportunity to on each play.

Georgia Tech's Offense Passing

It's been well documented this year that Clemson's defense is very vulnerable to a good offensive attack, especially to one focused on running the ball (also worth noting is that they've struggled against us during CPJ's tenure in stopping our offense). However, giving them the ability to put 9 in the box will end in our running game going nowhere. We need to show potency in connecting on middle- and long-range passing routes in order to force their defense to back off and let our rushing attack work. I know, I know, a balanced offense isn't quite a ridiculous, innovative concept. But Clemson's one of our opponents that, more than others, we won't be able to get away with being one-dimensional on offense.

Georgia Tech's Pass Rush

Yes, our secondary is talented, but Clemson's receivers are also very talented, and if they have time to get open, they will. For Tech's defense to have a shot at slowing Clemson's high-powered offense, it will need to put constant pressure on Tajh Boyd and force him to make decisions a lot faster than he'd like to. In my opinion, the best way to do that might be to run a few ridiculous, confusing blitz packages that are designed to leave Clemson's O-Linemen unsure of who to block (if you're a Falcons fan, watch their defense this year for a good example of what I'm talking about). If Tech's defense can't get pressure on Boyd, Clemson's receivers will run wild in our secondary and Clemson's offense will have a big game.

You'll notice that, so far, all of these have to do with how Georgia Tech plays. That's not unintentional. I think we more or less know what we'll see in this game from Clemson, and most of the unknowns will fall on the Yellow Jackets' performance. That said, the last key to this game will be...

Keeping It Close

If Tech comes to play on Saturday, this one will go to the wire. If not, the scoreboard will show a big number and a small number, with the big number more likely to belong to the school whose fans will notice that they don't have that many fingers and toes for counting to it. The only way Georgia Tech has a chance of being in this game is if it never gets outside of a 2 touchdown margin. A lead of 17+ points for Clemson, and I won't be surprised to watch the team roll over and lose focus, causing the lead to snowball. However, a theme I've noticed in college football is that when one team is supposed to win, but lets their opponent stay in the game late into the 4th quarter, is that the team expected to win has a much lower chance of actually doing so. Let Georgia Tech say in the game later and later into the second half, and Clemson will be playing Russian Roulette with increasingly bad odds of winning.

That's what I'm looking for on Saturday. How about you? If Georgia Tech is to win, how will they do it?

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