By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — Dalton Freeman remembers feeling helpless as he watched Georgia Tech’s option offense eat precious seconds and minutes away in last year’s 31-17 loss in Atlanta, Ga.
The Yellow Jackets possessed the football for 39 minutes last October, including 13 minutes and three seconds in the fourth quarter.
“I think offensively, we were all frustrated,” Clemson’s starting center said. “We were not getting the 80 or 90 snaps that we are used to because they do such a good job of controlling the clock.”
It’s obvious that will more than likely be the Yellow Jackets game plan Saturday when they invade Death Valley for a 3:30 p.m. kick. The 15th-ranked Tigers, who will be looking for their 10th straight home win, know they have to make the most of their opportunities on offense so they don’t have a repeat of last year’s performance.
“We need to go out there and be able to execute and score every time we have the ball,” Freeman said. “We are going to have our chances. We just have to be able to capitalize on those chances.”
Clemson (4-1, 1-1 ACC) has had many chances when it comes to beating the Yellow Jackets, but they seldom have capitalized on those opportunities. Since 1997, the Tigers have beaten Georgia Tech just five times, while losing 11 of those 16 matchups. Twice the Yellow Jackets have won four in a row during this stretch and are 4-3 in Death Valley.
Under head coach Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech is 4-1 against the Tigers, including a 39-34 victory in the 2009 ACC Championship Game.
“I think it is becoming more and more personal each year we play these guys,” Freeman said. “They have had our number. You have to give them a lot of credit. They ruined our season last year.”
The Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the BCS Standings coming into last year’s contest and were thinking maybe they had a shot at a national championship when four turnovers and 383 rushing yards from Georgia Tech ended the dream in front of a nationally televised audience.
“We were 8-0 going down there and ranked No. 5 in the country and they were coming in with two straight losses and we went in their house and they beat us,” Freeman said. “They definitely play well against us and matchup well with us.”
The Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-2) again come into the Clemson game with two straight losses, including last week’s 49-28 collapse to Middle Tennessee. But the Tigers know that’s not the team they will see Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.
Georgia Tech has had some tough luck this season, losing overtime games to Coastal Division rivals Virginia Tech and Miami. Even with that, the Yellow Jackets are still averaging 39 points and 329 rushing yards per game coming in.
“This is a rivalry game,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is always a tough game. We have had some knockdown drag outs with these guys, but we have not won much as of late. This is a huge game for us, but it is a huge game for Georgia Tech.
“They are a team right now that is coming off two overtime losses, which is a very difficult thing to deal with when you work your tail off all year and try to go out and have a great season. They lost two games literally on the last play of the game. I’m sure they are disappointed with how they played last week, but we will get their ‘A’ game. We will get the best they have and our guys know that.”
The Tigers not only know that, but they remember what that feels like and how helpless they were because they could not do anything about it last year.
“It was an awful loss,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “My house got egged as a result. We didn’t play with the same intensity as we should have and it did not work out the way we wanted it to. We just did not execute.”