ATLANTA — Third-ranked Clemson visits Georgia Tech today to kick off the ACC part of the schedule. The game is set to kick at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
The Tigers (3-0) have not won at Georgia Tech since 2003, losing five straight in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets have won the last two in Atlanta against nationally ranked Clemson teams. The Tigers were ranked No. 6 in 2011 and were 8-0, but fell 31-17. In 2014, Clemson was ranked No. 18 and lost 28-6. That was Clemson’s last regular-season loss, and has won 17 straight since.
Clemson’s defensive ends vs. Justin Thomas: They key to stopping the triple-option offense is stopping the dive play. However, the strength of the Clemson defense is its interior defensive line. I can’t see Paul Johnson having Thomas trying to break through that wall, especially early on. Look for Thomas to attack the edges instead. Clemson’s defensive ends are inexperienced, and Johnson is going to test them early. If defensive ends Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell hold their own then the Tigers will be in good shape, but if Ferrell gets frustrated with the cut blocks, then Thomas will be living on the edge tonight and that will open up the rest of the offense. Advantage: Georgia Tech
Deshaun Watson vs. Georgia Tech secondary: Georgia Tech is very young in the secondary. Four players on its two-deep are either freshmen or sophomores. One starter, A.J. Gray, is a sophomore. The Yellow Jackets are green on the back end and this is where Clemson has its biggest advantage thanks to its experienced corps of wide receivers. Look for Watson and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott to try and attack this area right off the bat. With guys like Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Artavis Scott and Ray Ray McCloud the Tigers should be able to make plays in the passing game. Of course, that’s counting that Clemson’s receivers have fixed the drop issues they had in the first two games. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s special teams vs. Georgia Tech’s special teams: It always seems Clemson’s loses this matchup when it plays at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets always have a kicker who makes the tough kicks and they always seem to have a long punt or kick return. But can Clemson have the edge this year. Ray Ray McCloud is second in the country at 23.5 yards per return. Tavien Feaster, who showed off his athletic ability last week, will be returning kicks. Greg Huegel has been kicking the ball in the end zone, which should neutralize J.J. Green, who is averaging 24.3 yards per return. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: There is no doubt Clemson has better personnel than Georgia Tech. But it always seem like the Ghost of Bobby Dodd comes out and haunts the Tigers. Clemson has been the better in four of the last five games played in Atlanta, but Tech has won all five meetings. With that said, Clemson is better equipped this time around to handle any adversity that may strike tonight—and it will. The Tigers have the weapons to handle the Yellow Jackets, though the home team will make it interesting.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Georgia Tech 27