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Week 4 Opponent Preview: Clemson Tigers

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On Thursday night, under the lights, the Jackets go to battle in Atlanta, where Clemson is looking for their first win on the flats since 2003.

Clemson v Georgia Tech Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Clemson Season So Far

Expectations for Clemson were sky-high this season, coming into the year ranked #2 in the country. Despite a 3-0 start, Clemson fans hoping for a return to the playoffs this year might be a little concerned.

In week one, Clemson certainly did not look the part of the nation’s #2 team, but were able to survive a scare against SEC foe Auburn. Despite fairly impressive statistics, including 400 total yards, Clemson only sneaked by with a 19-13 win.

In week two, Clemson survived an even bigger scare, squeaking out another six point win, this time against Troy. QB Deshaun Watson threw a pair of interceptions and the Clemson defense allowed Troy to rack up almost 400 yards of offense.

Finally, in week three, Clemson fans saw the team they have been hoping to see this season, with the Tigers beating South Carolina State 59-0. SC State may be an FCS opponent, and not one of the better ones, but the game was so lopsided, the coaches agreed to shorten the quarters in the second half to twelve minutes. Tigers fans had to be happy to see their offense and superstar quarterback finally start rolling, even if it was against a weaker opponent.

Offseason Preview (link)

Who’s Gone? DE Shaq Lawson, DE Kevin Dodd, LB B.J. Goodson, CB Mackensie Alexander, S T.J. Green, S Jayron Kearse, OL Joe Gore, and OL Eric MacLain

Who’s Back? Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Artavis Scott, WR Mike Williams, WR Deon Cain, WR Hunter Renfrow, TE Jordan Leggett, OL Tyrone Crowder, OL Jay Guillermo, OL Mitch Hyatt, DT Carlos Watkins, LB Ben Boulware, CB Cordrea Tankersley, K Greg Huegel

Who’s New? DT Dexter Lawrence, DE Xavier Kelly, WR T.J. Chase, WR Diondre Overton, WR Cornell Powell

The Clemson defense will look a bit different this season after losing Alexander, Dodd, Green, and Lawson to the first two rounds of the NFL draft. That said, they get a lot back from last year’s playoff team, including Heisman contender Deshaun Watson. Thanks to Clemson’s #6 ranked recruiting class, they have also added a number of impact freshman, the gem of which being Lawrence.

Matchup Preview

As one of the ACC’s best rivalries, Georgia Tech and Clemson are very familiar with each other. The two teams have played every season since 1983 and 80 times overall. Despite Clemson’s recent success, the Jackets lead the overall series 50-28-2. Tech has had extreme success at home and Clemson has not won in Atlanta since 2003, the product of five straight GT wins.

Stylistically, it would be tough for the Jackets and Tigers to be much different. While Paul Johnson’s offense is known for its long, break the defense down drives, the Tigers play at one of the quickest tempos in the country. Over three games, the Jackets have had 30 possessions, with an average drive time of just over three minutes, while the Tigers have had 39 possessions, with an average drive time of just over two minutes. For Tech to compete in this game, they will need to limit the number of possessions and stay out of an uptempo game.

The most critical component of the Jackets game plan will be to shut down QB Deshaun Watson. Last year’s third place Heisman finisher had a strong day against the Jackets last season, finishing 21/30 for 265 yards, a pair of TD’s and an INT. Tech did a fairly good job containing the dual-threat QB on the ground, holding him to just 16 yards, but RB Wayne Gallman ran wild, with 115 yards on just 13 carries, two of which reached the end zone. Gallman has just 75 yards over the last two weeks, and limiting him will help the Jackets focus in on Watson.

While the short week affects both teams preparation, one would have to think it hampers the Clemson preparation more. With the Jackets running the unique triple option offense, it might be tough for an inexperienced Clemson defense to fully prepare with limited practice time. That said, Dabo Swinney and staff spent time this offseason preparing for the Georgia Tech offense, knowing they would not have much prep time this week. The Tigers will also have to be careful not to look ahead to next weekend’s matchup against #3 Louisville, who are coming off of a 63-20 dismantling of Florida State.

Finally, the Jackets will need to improve on their offensive production from last season or the game might as well not even be played. Last year in Clemson, the Tigers were able to hold the Georgia Tech offense to just 71 yards rushing on 42 attempts, an almost hard to believe average of 1.7 yards per rush. This season, the playmakers around Justin Thomas have seemed to step up and the star quarterback once again appears to be comfortable running the offense. The offensive line is executing better on both run blocking and pass blocking and the offense appears to have that rhythm again that it was missing in 2015. It is going to need to be almost flawless on Thursday night.

Prediction

5-0 - the Jackets home record under Paul Johnson when playing a ranked opponent while unranked themselves. 11-4 - Georgia Tech’s record in night games under Paul Johnson. 3-1 - Tech’s record against top 10 teams under Paul Johnson at Bobby Dodd. Five - the number of consecutive home wins for Tech over the Tigers. While Clemson is clearly the more talented team, I keep coming back to those stats as reason to believe the Jackets have a great shot at winning on Thursday night. Over that five game win streak, the Jackets have had some magical moments against Clemson, including Calvin Johnson’s 2004 TD, the 2009 fake FG, and the 2011 upset. Here’s to hoping another magical moment is made Thursday night. It should be a good one! Jackets win 34-31.

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