If seventh-ranked Clemson is to beat Georgia Tech for a third straight year on Saturday night then there is one thing it has to do more than anything else, especially on the defensive side of the football. It has to be disciplined.
The Yellow Jackets come into the 8 p.m. kickoff in Death Valley ranked second in the nation in running the football, averaging 372.8 yards per game. Their triple-option offense, like most years, has been unstoppable.
However, no one has done a better job at stopping it the last two years than Clemson. Tech is averaging just 83 yards per game on the ground in those two games and just 2.1 yards per carry. The key to the Tigers stopping Paul Johnson’s triple option in both games … discipline.
“You know that’s what defeating that whole scheme is about,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “It’s not about winning your matchup or just having the better guys on the opposite side of the ball. It’s just about being disciplined because the one time you get lazy and don’t want to run the ball down the backside or tackle the guy or have a quarterback on display, the ball can break 50,60 yards for a touchdown so that’s the biggest thing.
“We’ve just been very disciplined on this defense, very sound.”
Before completing shutting down the Jackets (4-2, 3-1 ACC) the last two years, defensive coordinator Brent Venables quietly figured out a way to slow down them down. Tech rushed for just 248 yards in 2013, 51 yards less than their ACC leading averaging of 299.3. In 2014, the Yellow Jackets ran for 251, though they led the ACC at 342.1 yards per game.
In 2015, against other opponents, Tech averaged 5.6 yards per rush and 273 yards per game. In 2016, the Yellow Jackets averaged 5.7 yards per rush and 272 yards per game against all other opponents.
A team that lives and dies by running the football, Georgia Tech has just one rushing touchdown in the last three meetings against Clemson. So what is it Venables has figured that no one else has?
“It differs because we see different stuff other teams do against them and we may see something we like,” Ferrell said. “Again, it depends on how good the receivers are because you know they run the ball so much and they’ll throw it deep if they have good receivers out there like when they had Calvin Johnson and you had to account for that guy a little differently than you would just any other guy.
“The quarterback is very important too and seeing if he likes to pitch it more or if he likes to run it more because that changes things. This year it’s going to be really tough because those guys really fight for the quarterback they play behind each year. We know it’s a new guy in there but he’s a really good player.”
That guy is TaQuon Marshall, who leads the ACC in rushing at 117.3 yards per game. He is also tied with Louisville’s Lamar Jackson for a league best 11 rushing touchdowns and leads the league scoring as well.
Luckily for the Tigers (6-1, 4-1 ACC) they have had an extra week to get ready for Marshall and Tech’s triple option.
“Like I said, Georgia Tech is running the hardest game plan against you even though you know what they’re going to run,” Ferrell said. “It’s just the discipline you have to have because the triple option is something that is not very common in college football. Only Navy and the Army and Air Force schools still run it and Georgia Tech, obviously. Georgia Tech’s a team who runs it better than anybody else in the country so it’s great to have preparation for them definitely.”