By Ashley Denny.
ATLANTA, GA- When the Clemson Tigers started off their 2000 season 8-0 with quarterback Woody Dantzler under center, it was against the pesky Georgia Tech triple option that they fell to 8-1. Although Dantzler was injured during the game prior to Clemson’s meeting with the Yellow Jackets, and Clemson’s backup quarterback carried the offense against the Jackets, it’s been proven that Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Georgia Tech in general have gotten the best out of the Clemson Tigers in the past.
The Yellow Jackets lead the Tigers in this series 48-23-2, and lead the series 42-13 when the two teams meet up in Atlanta. However, this is a new Tigers’ team, one with playmakers like Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd who have yet to play against the Jackets. The Yellow Jackets offense, although very similar to what they ran against the Tigers last season is also very different due to first year starting quarterback Tevin Washington and several young play makers.
“This is a rivalry game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said during his press conference on Tuesday. “This is a game where you can throw out everything else and just get excited about this game. This is an especially tough road game. We know what to expect out of Georgia Tech and they know what to expect out of us.”
Although the Yellow Jackets have lost two in a row, a 24-21 heartbreaker against Virginia and a 21-7 loss to Miami, Swinney and his players know that the Yellow Jackets will be ready to play and will give it their all against the Tigers on their Homecoming night.
Georgia Tech on Offense-
“Everything is pretty familiar with their offense,” Swinney said. “They’re a typical Georgia Tech team, they lead the nation in third down offense and are 5th in rushing offense. But they’ve thrown the ball a little more this year. The big plays are a concern to us; they’ve had eight one play touchdown drives, four pass plays of 70+ yards, and 14 touchdowns of 20 yards or more.”
Georgia Tech is lead by quarterback Tevin Washington, a junior and first year starter. Washington and Georgia Tech’s offense are rated 17th in the nation in total offense, as they average 478.5 yards per game, (Clemson is 15th in the nation averaging 482.5 yards per game.)
Washington has several playmakers on his offense, including junior wide receiver Stephen Hill. Hill averages 31.2 yards per carry and has six receptions of 40 yards or more, and three for 70 yards or more. Hill enters the Clemson game only 2 yards shy of having 1,000 receiving yards on the season.
Another play maker for the Jackets will be Orwin Smith, a junior A-Back. Smith averages 12.3 yards per carry, and has scored 8 touchdowns on the season. Smith ranks 8th in the ACC in rushing with 64.5 yards per game, Clemson’s Andre Ellington stands at #4, averaging 93.1 yards per game. Through the air, Smith averages 23.8 yards per reception and his 8 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving touchdowns tie Smith for 2nd in the ACC in touchdowns on the year.
Georgia Tech’s Week 8 Performance on Offense-
In the Yellow Jacket’s 24-7 loss to the Miami Hurricanes, Tech’s triple option offense sputtered to a halt. This loss was based off of two very costly special teams errors, and quarterback Tevin Washington was not able to get into a rhythm on offense, as the Jackets ended the game with a season low 134 rushing yards and 211 yards of total offense.
The Jackets only tallied up 14 first downs against the Hurricanes, and had a season high of three turnovers. Tech’s seven points were its fewest in a road game since November 8th, 2008 against UNC. Georgia Tech ended the game completing no offensive plays of 20 yards or more.
Advantages for Georgia Tech’s Offense-
The main advantage for the Yellow Jackets coming into Saturday’s contest is their home field advantage. Although the Tigers have had success on the road this season, something that they couldn’t say in 2010, Bobby Dodd Stadium has always been a difficult place for Clemson to come away from victorious. Add to that fact that it’s the Yellow Jackets’ homecoming game and an 8:12 kickoff; it will be a loud, rowdy crowd on Saturday.
Another advantage for the Jackets is their ability to make big plays. Clemson’s secondary, although they have gotten better at defending against the big play, still gave up a few against North Carolina last weekend including a 100 yard kickoff return for touchdown. If the Tigers cannot remain disciplined and defend against the big play, then they’re in for a long night. Opponents realize that Clemson’s weakness is their secondary, specifically their safeties, with Rashard Hall playing on an injury that will require surgery after the season, so I’m sure that Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech will do their best to expose Clemson’s weakness and take advantage of them biting on the double moves.
Third, Georgia Tech runs the triple option, a very unique offensive scheme that Clemson has had trouble defending in years past. As you saw in the Maryland game a few weeks back, Clemson has had trouble in the past against running quarterbacks, which is a big part of Georgia Tech’s offense. If the Tigers defensive front cannot stop Washington from running the ball, then I don’t know if they’ll be able to stop them.
Clemson’s Defensive Performance in Week 8-
Clemson’s defense was spot on for the most part in their 59-38 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tigers forced a season high of 6 turnovers, including three interceptions (Meeks, Brown, Robinson) and defensive end Kourtnei Brown came away from the game with two defensive touchdowns off an interception and a fumble and a tipped pass that led to Clemson defensive back Darius Robinson’s interception on the Tigers’ goal line. The Tigers’ first team defense only gave up 17 points against the UNC offense and although that sounds impressive, they still made a few mistakes. It was clear against the Tar Heels that Clemson’s safeties have a bad habit of biting on double moves, something that Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele said he would get corrected for this week’s road challenge however how quickly can they break such a bad habit?
Also, because the Tigers were blowing the Tar Heels out of the water, Swinney decided to give his backups some significant playing time on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels were able to put up 21 points on Clemson’s second team defense, something that Swinney and his coaching staff were very frustrated about after the game. All in all, it was a good day for Clemson’s defense, however it was proven that they still have a lot of work to do in order to exceed their expectations that they’ve set for themselves.
Advantages for Clemson’s Defense-
The Tigers are coming into this game with a perfect record of 8-0, and from what I’ve seen from them this week, they are very focused and ready to go into Atlanta and come away with the W, whatever it takes. Clemson’s defense used to always be the story for being one of the best in the ACC, however this season its Clemson’s up tempo offense getting all of the national attention. Although defensive players haven’t come out and said it, I’m sure that they’re continuing to try and play at the same level that their offense does. And the momentum that Clemson’s offense gets from scoring, rubs onto the defense as you’ve seen from them. They don’t want to let their teammates on the offensive side of the ball down, so whenever they score, the defense steps their game up.
Another advantage for the Tigers is that they’re not listening to the National hype surrounding their program. They have a completely new mindset, taking one game at a time and their enjoying themselves in the process. Their quiet confidence, and their even keel attitude will definitely help the Tigers on Saturday since they’ve come from behind to win in several of their games (Troy, Auburn, Maryland). So if the Jackets take an early lead on the Tigers, instead of expecting the Tigers and Tajh Boyd to get frazzled and dig themselves into a hole, expect them to come out poised and ready to claw their way back into the game.
Third, the Tigers have been preparing for this triple option offense since spring practice and know what it will take to stop Georgia Tech’s offense since they were able to do it last season in Death Valley. If the Tigers are able to dominate the line of scrimmage, do their jobs, and not try and help out their teammates, leaving their man open they should be able to make a few stops.
Lastly, Georgia Tech got off to a great 6-0 start; however their back to back losses have shown that their offense and quarterback Tevin Robinson have taken a few steps back. Although Georgia Tech will come into Saturday’s game hungry and hoping for a victory, they may not be clicking, and going on all cylinders as they were in the beginning of the season. If Clemson can capitalize on some of Washington’s first year quarterback mistakes that he may make, it will be a long night for Georgia Tech.
Overall, this has got to be the most evenly matched game on paper for the Tigers. Tech leads the nation in third down conversions, where Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd leads the nation in completing third down passes. Both GA Tech and Clemson are in the top 20 in total offense, with Clemson at 15 and GA Tech at 17. Although GA Tech’s passing attack isn’t nearly as effective as the Tigers, they’ve had a lot of success running the football. Both teams are run by first year quarterbacks and have multiple play makers. Clemson however has a few more play makers and I see that making a difference in this game. Georgia Tech will try and stop Clemson’s freshman threat Sammy Watkins, and when they double team him that will leave Dwayne Allen, Nuk Hopkins, Andre Ellington, and Martavis Bryant open for a big play. I believe that this game will be a high scoring game, mostly because Clemson’s defense hasn’t done well against running quarterbacks or big plays, and no team has done well against the Tigers fast paced offense. In the end I see the Tigers defense being able to make a few critical stops, just like they did against Maryland, Auburn, and Florida State.