Seventh-ranked Clemson looks to get back on track tonight as it hosts Georgia Tech in a key ACC showdown for both schools.
The Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-1 ACC), like the Tigers, already own a conference loss and cannot afford to lose another game if it wants to stay in the Coastal Division race.
Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) is coming off a bye week following its loss to Syracuse on Oct. 13. The Tigers have had to wait two weeks to make amends for the stunning loss that currently has them sitting in second place, a half a game back of NC State, in the Atlantic Division standings.
So, who has the edge in tonight’s contest?
Georgia Tech’s offensive line vs. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence: This battle is really about what happens in the middle of the line of scrimmage. For Georgia Tech’s triple option to work, it has to establish the dive guy, B-Back KirVonte Benson (652 yds, 5 TDs). In the previous two meetings, Clemson has done a great job taking away the dive and subsequently Tech’s option-offense generated just 71 yards in 2015 and 95 in 2016. Christian Wilkins (6-4, 300) and Dexter Lawrence (6-4, 340) will be the two main cogs in the middle as the Tigers try to assert their dominance up front once again. Tech’s offensive linemen like to fire off the ball and go low at the defenders legs and cut them. Wilkins and Lawrence must remember to keep using their hands and pushing the center and guards into the ground so it can take away the dive play while allowing Clemson’s linebackers to flow to the football as well and make plays. Advantage: Clemson
Georgia Tech’s TaQuon Marshall vs. Clemson’s Dorian O’Daniel: If Clemson’s interior D-Line is taking away the dive man, like I think it will, then the next match up becomes the quarterback. The Tigers first must take away the quarterback’s ability to run the ball. TaQuon Marshall might be the best quarterback the Yellow Jackets have had running the option since Josh Nesbitt. He currently leads the ACC in rushing yards (704) and rushing touchdowns (11). As good as Marshall is, Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel is just as good at taking away he quarterback and the pitch man. O’Daniel has been known as the “Yellow Jacket killer” the last three years as he has been one of the Tigers’ top tacklers. He has 26 tackles, including six tackles for loss and two sacks in the previous three meetings against the Yellow Jackets. The key to O’Daniel’s success has been his discipline. He has stayed within the frame work of the scheme and has only done his job, which is what defenders have to do to stop the triple option. If the Tigers take away Marshall and Benson, then Tech’s triple option now becomes just one option and so far that option (the pitch man) has not been as lethal as the other two. It also forces Marshall to have to throw the ball, which he does not want to do. He has attempted just 51 passes in the first six games of the season. Advantage: Clemson
Kelly Bryant vs. Georgia Tech’s defense: The question here is how healthy is Kelly Bryant? We know he practices this week, but how hard was he asked to run the ball and what are his limitations with his ankle? Bryant should be in the neighborhood of 90 percent on the ankle, which should be better than what he was at Syracuse. If Bryant is almost healthy, then he puts an element back in Clemson’s offense that it desperately needs – his legs. In a game like tonight, when it is supposed to rain and rain a lot, the Tigers will need to run the football as the field shrinks and Clemson’s other playmakers (Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain) are taken away because of it. Tech will try to counter with a run defense that has been solid this year. The Yellow Jackets are allowing just 116.8 yards on the ground, which is a big reason why they rank third in the ACC in total defense. Of course some of that has to do with the fact the offense has controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes per game. If Bryant and company can switch that role, then you could see Tech start to wear down on defense and the Tigers gain total control of the line of scrimmage. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: With the way Clemson has dominated Tech’s offense the last two years, and knowing who the Tigers still have up front and at linebacker to do it, it is hard to imagine Georgia Tech having much success on offense. Also keep in mind the wet conditions will affect the way Georgia Tech’s offensive linemen, who have to get real low, fire off the ball. Two weeks ago at Miami, when it really started to rain, Tech’s linemen could not get any traction, which allowed Miami to run over them in the second half and slow things down considerably. If Tech cannot do anything on offense, then I think Clemson, obviously, has enough playmakers to make a few more plays and win an ugly game, which in the end is all that matters.
Prediction: Clemson 21, Georgia Tech 10