Thursday night the Yellow Jackets (6-3 overall, 5-2 ACC) travel to Death Valley to take on the 8th ranked Clemson Tigers (8-1 overall, 6-1 ACC) in the final ACC regular season game for both schools. While Clemson can no longer win the Atlantic division, Georgia Tech can secure a tie for the Coastal division title, and keep its ACCCG hopes alive with a win. In the CPJ era, these teams have met 6 times in the previous 5 years with Tech holding a 4-2 edge…though GT has lost the last 2 at Memorial Stadium.
Now, I know you’re asking yourself…"Didn’t we play them in Death Valley last year?" Thanks to John Swofford, and his infinite fairness towards GT Athletics, you would be correct! Last year’s game, which ended up being former DC Al Groh’s last, saw Tech hold a 31-30 4th quarter lead…only to piss away a very winnable game away late with a blocked FG, fumbled snap on 4th-and-1 in Clemson’s territory, mishandled kickoff return, and subsequent safety that led to a final score of 47-31.
On offense for Clemson, it’s still the Tajh Boyd show. The (thankfully) senior QB has put together quite a season, hitting 66% of his passes for 2620 yards, a robust 8.97 YPA, and 20 TDs to only 6 INTs. On the ground, he’s been contained by opposing defenses to a 1.9 YPC, but leads the team with 7 rushing TDs. The other game-breaker, as you all know, is junior WR Sammy Watkins who already has nearly 1000 yards receiving, a 14.9 YPC, and 7 receiving TDs. The main rushing threat is senior Roderick McDowell, who has 637 yards on the season, a decent 5.2 YPC, but only 3 TDs. They are led by OC Chad Morris, the highest-paid assistant coach in the country at $1.3MM annually, who brings an offensive philosophy about 5 years removed from HIGH SCHOOL. Just in case anyone you meet in purple and orange goes there…
Defensively this might be one of the better Clemson teams we’ve seen, statistically speaking, under DC Mike Venables. The Tigers’ defense is ranked 32nd nationally in rushing YPC (3.69), 45th in passing YPA (6.8), and 23rd in scoring defense at 20.6 points/game (I use per-play defensive stats for rushing and passing yards because given their offense, their defensive snaps might skew their per-game numbers). They are tied for 5th nationally in 3rd down conversions allowed at 28.6%, , tied for 9th in INTs with 14, and tied for 6th in sacks with 30 (led by Vic Beasley’s nationally-leading 8 sacks). Two games stick out, however. First, a win against the Dwags where they gave up 35 points and 545 yards to a then-fully healthy UGA offense. The second, a dismantling against FSU where the Noles capitalized on 4 Tiger turnovers and put up 51 points and 565 yards.
Clemson is tough to figure out. They came through with one of the marquee ACC non-conference wins against Georgia. Losing to FSU is understandable. However, the other 5 ACC teams they’ve played (NC State, Wake Forest, Syracuse, BC, Maryland) have combined records of 22-44 overall and 8-20 in ACC play. They struggled with a BC team at home that controlled the ball on them, as well as a depleted Maryland team (they pulled both games away late). To be fair, they also will play USCe, which (despite 2 FCS games against Savannah State and The Citadel) make a very admirable non-conference schedule. Which Clemson team is going to show up? Since losing to the Noles, Clemson responded with their Maryland hangover game (40-27) and a thumping of UVA in Hooville (59-10). Will Dabo Swinney have them motivated to reach 11 wins?
Tech’s keys to winning Thursday night will be simple…
On offense, GT must be good on 3rd down, limit turnovers, and hit a few big plays. They can factor into the defense’s strategy if they can win the TOP battle. Clemson has historically played the inside tough and limited the BB, opening the edges for the QB and ABs to have big games. Vad Lee must ATTACK the edge when given room to do so, and ball security on pitches will be a must. He must also hit the open receiver, as there will be plenty of opportunities given Clemson’s attacking style. I think giving Justin Thomas 1-2 series in this game would be very prudent, as the QBs will be running quite a lot. Also, DeAndre Smelter must be a threat.
On defense, 3rd down is the most important down against a fast-paced offense. Like he did with UNC’s stud TE Eric Ebron, expect Jemea Thomas to live in Sammy Watkins’ back pocket and cover him all over the field. Our front 4 needs to bring the intensity they’ve showed the past few weeks and control the LOS. If Tajh Boyd doesn’t get any pressure, he will pick any defense apart. Given his mobility, Tech will have to be creative on how to bring pressure, since Jeremiah Attaochu won’t be able to tee off as he has done the past 3 weeks. Keeping this offense under 30 isn’t easy, but might be necessary for Tech to have a good chance to win.
How do you see this game turning out?