By Lee Lance.
Saturday’s match up between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Clemson Tigers will be the 76th time that the two teams have met on the grid iron. In those 75 other games, Georgia Tech holds a 49-24-2 lead over Clemson.
The Clemson vs. Georgia Tech series has been among the most competitive series in the ACC over the last 14 years. Twelve of the last 15 games, including both last year, have been decided by five points or less, including a six-game streak between 1996-01 in which every game was decided by exactly three points.
Since taking over as head coach for the Tigers, Dabo Swinney has lost three close games to the Jackets. His first game after taking the job was against the Jackets.
Tiger Offense vs Yellow Jacket Defense
After struggling last year on defense, Georgia Tech’s Head Coach Paul Johnson decided to make a change at defensive coordinator and brought in the recently unemployed(at that time) Al Groh. Tiger fans know Coach Groh well, as he had just been let go by Virginia shortly before being hired by Coach Johnson.
Through the first seven games of the 2010 season, the Jackets haven’t seen much improvement under Groh. In fact, the Yellow Jackets are on pace with last years numbers almost exactly, giving up an average of 151 yards rushing and just at 200 yards passing per game. However, after forcing six turnovers is last weeks game against Middle Tennessee State, some argue that the Tech players might finally be gelling with the new 3-4 defensive scheme. I’d argue, it was Middle Tennessee State.
The Tiger’s will field the best offensive line that the Jackets have seen all season, as well as the best running back they have seen, Andre Ellington. Ellington will have to have a big game in this one, and if the Jackets stick to the 3-4 set, he should have a great shot. I expect Coach Groh, though, will most likely be stacking the box, much like other opponents the rest of the way might, and then we should see the ball being tossed around close to the line and right over the middle by Kyle Parker. Look for Dwayne Allen to finally have another big game, and look for lots of the screen package too, but don’t be shocked to see Tiger OC Napier calling for the deep ball early on to try and back the defense off.
If the Tigers can hit a few of those early longer passes, and assuming we don’t see another case of turnover madness creep up, then we could possibly see some big numbers put up by the offense.
Tiger Defense vs Yellow Jacket Offense
This one isn’t hard for anyone to figure out. The Tigers and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele have had several shots at a Paul Johnson offense, including two last season, but have yet to show they ability to shut it down. The Jackets aren’t what they were last year, but the plays will be the same and so will the coaches.
One thing the Tigers have going this time around is the fact that they HAVE seen that offense a few times, and the fact that they are much improved over last years defense, which wasn’t a bad one either. Much like the offensive line will test the Jackets, so will the defensive line. The Tiger defensive front will be one of, if not the, best lines that the Jackets will face, but is that enough to stop Paul Johnson’s style of offense? No, of course not. That type of offense can only be stopped with good linebacker play and good run defense out of the secondary guys to go along with the line. Luckily for Clemson, they do have one of the two.
The Clemson defensive backs have faired well against the run and have shown they are very capable of helping to defend against it, but linebacker will remain a question mark until someone steps up, and that hasn’t happened. Regardless of how anything looks for now or on paper, and regardless of this years defense seemingly being improved over last years, not one person could give Clemson an advantage in this category. Not until the Tigers prove that they can stop Coach Paul Johnson, and do it for a full four quarters.
Edge: Yellow Jackets
The Yellow Jackets are giving up just 17.9 yards per kickoff return, but are yielding over ten yards per punt return while the Tigers are averaging 24 yards per kick return run and over 13 yards on punt returns.
On the other side, the Jackets are averaging 20 yards and six yards on kick and punt returns, while the Tigers have been holding opponents to nearly those same numbers, 21 and six.
Kicking has been strong for the Jackets again this year, as Scott Blair is 9-of-10 this season, including 4-of-5 from 40-49 yards. Tiger fans should remember Blair well, as he kicked seven total field goals against them last year, and also threw a touchdown pass. Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro is just 4-of-6 on the year, but those four made were all from 40-49 yards out.
Final Analysis and Prediction
The Tigers need a win in this one, sitting at 3-3 and coming off of a win over Maryland that seemed to still leave numerous questions in the minds of most. The biggest question in this one, of course, will be can Kevin Steele and the defense shut down that troublesome offense. Until the final minutes tick off the clock, that is still anyone’s guess. Clemson should score some points in this one and I really expect to finally see that group come closer to hitting on all cylinders than we have seen since the first 25 minutes at Auburn. Can they do it for a full 60 minutes? That will be the other important question. The Tigers are averaging 30.8 points this season, but just 11 of those are coming in the second half, on average.
To win this game, the Tigers have to start strong and finish strong and I expect them to do just that for the first time this season against a quality opponent. It won’t be easy, and the Jackets will get their yardage, I’m afraid, but in the end the Tiger defense will hold Georgia Tech just under their points per game average, and will win what will be another classic close one between the two teams.
Clemson 31 Georgia Tech 27