By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Thursday’s 7:31 p.m. kickoff (ESPN) as No. 6 Clemson hosts Georgia Tech at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Clemson enters the game with an 8-1 overall record, including a 6-1 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Yellow Jackets are 6-3 overall and have a 5-2 mark in the ACC.
Quarterback: Clemson’s Tajh Boyd seems to have found his joy again and looked relaxed in the Tigers’ win over Virginia 12 days ago. The question on Boyd is how healthy is his ankle and knee he after the open week? A healthy Tajh Boyd makes this Clemson offense a whole lot more challenging to opposing defenses. Vad Lee is completing 45.6 percent of his passes and is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry on 138 carries. Advantage: Clemson
Running back: Tech’s David Sims is a monster up the middle. The B-Back is averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the dive and has nine touchdowns. His backup, Zach Laskey is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has scored six touchdowns. A-Back Robert Godhigh has rushed for 473 yards and is averaging 11.3 yards per carry. He has three touchdowns with a long of 65 yards. Clemson is down one running back (C.J. Davidson) and has another who is banged up (Zac Brooks), but Roderick McDowell continues to get better as the season goes along has he has 677 yards and three scores, including a 5.2 yards per carry average. Advantage: Georgia Tech
Wide receiver / Tight ends: Clemson has lost tight end Jordan Leggett after it was discovered he will be suspended for tonight’s game. But the Tigers still have Stanton Seckinger, who has shown he can get the job done when he is focused, while Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries give the Tigers one of the best combination of receivers in the country. Watkins leads the ACC with 982 yards, while his 66 receptions and seven touchdowns both rank second in the conference. Georgia Tech, as expected, will not throw the football too much, but when it does, it usually goes to David Smelter, who has 19 catches for 312 yards and two scores. The longest pass-play all year by Tech has been 59 yards. Advantage: Clemson
Offensive line: It’s not that Georgia Tech is more athletic than Clemson up front, but the Yellow Jackets are more physical and tougher than Clemson. Georgia Tech leads the ACC with 311 yards a game rushing and the offensive line is the reason why. Center Jay Finch is having an all-ACC caliber season. The Tigers made some improvements at Virginia, but Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney wants to see the tackles for loss be limited. Right now, the Tigers rank near the bottom nationally in tackles for loss allowed and sacks allowed. It will be interesting to see if reserve tackle Isaiah Battle plays more, especially at right tackle. Advantage: Georgia Tech
Defensive line: Clemson’s defensive front will be tested a lot with all of Tech’s chop blocks. Though the Tigers will not need the services of its great pass rush for the majority of the game, the Tigers will need to stay at home at the end positions and not get caught peeking too much in the backfield or getting up field too fast. Defensive ends Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford need to contain the edges. Defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and D.J. Reader need to be able to shut down the dive play in Tech’s option offense. Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu has six sacks this year and 25 for his career. Emmanuel Dieke is also a solid pass rusher. Tech is second in the ACC at stopping the run. Advantage: Clemson
Linebackers: The Tigers’ linebackers will be responsible for lining the defensive line up and doing their jobs the way Spencer Shuey did it in the second half of last year’s game. Clemson’s Stephone Anthony has 89 tackles so far this season, while Shuey has 83 tackles. Georgia Tech’s linebackers are the weakest link of what is a pretty good defense. Strong side backer Brandon Watts is ranked second on the team with 47 tackles. Advantage: Clemson
Secondary: Clemson’s secondary has recorded 15 interceptions this year, which ranks third in the ACC. The Tigers’ pass efficiency defense is also ranked third in the ACC with a 110.9 rating, while they are giving up 223.7 yards per game. The Clemson safeties will have to be careful though and not get caught sneaking up to the line to stop the run and forget their assignments. Tech’s secondary is giving up 226.1 yards a game, but ranks 12th in the ACC in pass efficiency defense. Safety Jemea Thomas leads the team with 58 tackles and eight passes defended and has one interception. Advantage: Clemson
Special teams: Georgia Tech is averaging 24.5 yards per kick return with Lynn Griffin is averaging 30.5 yards on six kicks and Jamal Golden is averaging 27.8 on five returns. DeAndre Smelter is averaging 15.4 yards on eight punt returns. Placekicker Harrison Butker has made 5 of 8 field goal tries with a long of 49, while punter, Sean Poole, is averaging 44.1 yards per punt, including a net average of 38.6 which is one of the best averages in the ACC. Chandler Catanzaro continues his strong season of being 9 of 10 on field goal attempts, while Bradley Pinion is averaging a net of 38.3 yards on 46 punts. He is averaging 40.3 yards per punt with 20 of his punts being downed inside the 20-yard line. He has no touchbacks. Humphries ranks fifth in the ACC with 10.7 yards per punt return average. Advantage: Georgia Tech
Prediction: Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 17