clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What to know before Georgia Tech vs. Clemson

Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney have played some hard-fought games over the past decade. What does today’s game have in store for us?

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally gameday once again as your 4-2 Yellow Jackets make the short trek up to Death Valley for a matchup with No. 8 Clemson in primetime. The Jackets still hold a commanding 50-29-2 hold on the overall series, but Dabo Swinney’s good work in the Palmetto State has permitted the Tigers to win four of the last five against Tech after a hot start to the Paul Johnson era. The good news? We don’t have to watch Deshaun Watson, Sammy Watkins, Deandre Hopkins, Tajh Boyd, or Vic Beasly make plays anymore! The bad news? The 2017 Tigers present a whole new set of challenges. Let’s see what all will be at play this evening on ABC.

  1. Clemson’s defensive line remains among the deepest in the nation. It seems like the Tigers have two to three guys taken in the first few rounds of the draft from this position every year, yet Dabo Swinney and company have no trouble replenishing on short notice. This time around we’ll need to deal with 6-foot-5, 300-pound Dexter Lawrence on the interior and a pair of strong edge rushers in Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. That’s a tough task.
  2. Brant Mitchell is likely in, Jake Stickler is not. Tech will probably be reunited with top linebacker Brant Mitchell this evening after a one-game absence due to an injury sustained in the loss to Miami a couple of weeks back. That’s great news for the defense, which will need every bit of help it can get as it attempts to slow down a Clemson offensive scheme which has had Tech’s number in recent years. Jake Stickler, meanwhile, is out for the game, leaving gaping holes on the offensive line which will need to be filled by Jahaziel Lee and Will Bryan.
  3. Dabo Swinney hasn’t lost two games in a row since 2011. The Tigers lost to Syracuse in disappointing fashion a couple of weeks back, but Dabo Swinney’s teams have been phenomenal at bouncing back since the 2011 season. Clemson followed its sole loss last season — to Pitt late in the year — with an impressive national championship run. This time around, they’ll look for more of the same starting against Tech. That figure doesn’t bode well for the Jackets.
  4. Kelly Bryant is not Deshaun Watson. That’s hardly a knock on Kelly Bryant, by the way; few people on earth are better than Watson. One could argue that Clemson would’ve beaten Syracuse had Bryant not left the game with a concussion early on, and all reports indicate that he’s good to go for tonight’s game. He’s been effective if not a bit underwhelming this year, throwing for four touchdowns against four picks while compiling 1,768 all-purpose yards on the campaign. Look for the Tigers to start off with a conservative gameplan as they ease Bryant back into action.
  5. Mad Clemson or bad Clemson? They’ve looked beatable a number of times this season, but we will soon see whether or not the Syracuse loss was the tipping point for this incredibly talented team. No one wants to play Clemson on the road, especially after a huge loss that effectively revived Dabo Swinney’s least favorite phrase on earth: Clemsoning. My personal feeling is that we’ll see a mad a Clemson out for blood as a result, but stranger things have happened.
  6. Someone come hire Brent Venables. Seriously, he’s young and one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation. Why are we forced to deal with both him and Bud Foster over and over again? Let him coach your football team, athletic directors of the world. On a more serious note, Venables crushes Tech’s offense year in and year out. He was especially effective as a playcaller during the Justin Thomas era, reflecting his desire to shut down the perimeter run game and force the ball up the middle with a smaller quarterback, but perhaps Taquon Marshall plus a strong interior line will help reverse the trend.
  7. Do we play it safe or break out the bag of tricks? It will be interesting to see how conservative Paul Johnson’s playcalling is tonight. As currently configured, the offense is unquestionably best off playing up the middle. However, a defensive as talented as Clemson’s may not always give you those three to four yards as consistently as you’d like. The solution to that could be to stick with the ground-and-pound or it could be to go deeper into the playbook, breaking out calls like the end-around we saw work well versus Wake Forest last weekend or the occasional fake punt on a short-yardage fourth down. There’s certainly risk associated with that, but you have to consider what gives you the best chance to win on the road versus a top-10 team.

If it makes you feel any better, Atlanta United probably filled the weekly quota of Atlanta heartbreak. Maybe that little piece of cosmic justice will protect Tech from another heartbreaking loss, but the fact is that it will take a near-perfect game from the Jackets to secure a win in one of college football’s most electric atmospheres. If you believe in the law of averages, maybe it’s time we catch that type of break. If you believe more in Vegas, however, the fact that Clemson is a two-touchdown favorite is hardly anything to celebrate. We will soon see!