Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson says they are going to find out a thing or two about their football team when No. 3 Clemson visits Bobby Dodd Stadium on Thursday in Atlanta.
“We feel we’re a little better football team than what we were a year ago. We’ll have a good chance to find out here on Thursday night,” Johnson said on Wednesday.
So far, the Yellow Jackets have already matched their win total for all of last year with three straight to open the season. They are coming off a 38-7 victory at home against Vanderbilt, a game in which their defense and their offense was clicking.
Georgia Tech totaled 511 yards in the victory, while holding Vandy to 275. But Johnson knows Clemson is a tremendous step up in competition from Vanderbilt, and definitely the other two victories – Boston College and Mercer.
“Certainly we have a tremendous challenge in front of us. We have a great deal of respect for what Dabo (Swinney) has done there the last few years, building that program up. They’re clearly a top-10 team.”
But don’t let Johnson fool you. His teams are normally very well prepared to play nationally ranked teams, especially at home. Georgia Tech is 7-2 vs. nationally ranked teams at home under Johnson, including 2-0 against Clemson.
“We try to approach each game the same no matter who we play. We play Clemson every year. They’re our crossover rival. We’ve had some great games,” Johnson said. “Other than maybe one time we got them down there in ’08 at Clemson, both teams have been able to win at home. It’s been that kind of game.
“Last year was the one time in Death Valley they dismantled us. They took us apart. We weren’t a very good football team. We all know how good they were a year ago. On top of not being very good, we played very poorly. Other than that, there have been some really close games. I think our guys really respect their program. I know we do as coaches. We look forward to having a chance to play them every year.”
His 2011 beat No. 6 Clemson, 31-17, while his 2014 team beat the 18th-ranked Tigers, 28-6, two years ago. That is the last regular-season game Clemson has lost. The Tigers have won 17 straight.
Also, Tech has won the last five meetings against Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I think it’s always easier to play at home. If you ever played at Death Valley, you know that’s not much fun,” Johnson said. “I’d like to think that playing here can be difficult, too, especially a night game on Thursday night. If we can hang in there for a little bit, I’m sure our crowd will get in there, get into it.
“For us, we’ve got to shorten the game. We’ll try to limit the possessions, get a break or two, and hang around there in the fourth quarter.”
As for this year, Johnson says his No. 1 concern is Clemson’s offense. Despite the Tigers’ slow start, he knows it’s just a matter of time before quarterback Deshaun Watson and his talented playmakers get it going.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons. Offensively it starts with the quarterback. We all know what a great player he is,” Johnsons said. “But the (Wayne) Gallman kid is a really hard runner. Really impressed with the guys who came in behind him, as well, especially the young guy (Tavien Feaster) that played some, and they have great receivers, too.”
Last week, the Clemson offense finally got on the same page as it scored six straight touchdowns to open the game in building a 45-0 halftime lead on S.C. State.
The Yellow Jackets are allowing 305 yards and 10.3 points per game so far this season.
“We’ve had a hard time at times getting people off the field. Certainly we’re going to have to play better defensively. We haven’t been challenged on defense like we’ll be challenged Thursday night,” Johnson said. “The teams we’ve played just don’t have the skill people that Clemson has, the way they play offensively.
“We’ll find out a lot more about ourselves on Thursday night, defensively. I think.”
As for Clemson’s defense, Johnson says Tech will not play anyone with better personnel on the defensive side of the ball this year.
“They’ve done a great job recruiting talent and they’re playing up to that,” he said.
Clemson and Tech kick off on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.
—Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sport