The Clemson vs. Georgia Tech matchup last year was one to remember as the Tigers won 24-10 in some of the craziest and rainiest weather conditions. Hopefully the weather will be a little better this time as Clemson travels to Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta to open its league schedule at Georgia Tech, the sixth straight year it has hit the road for its first ACC game of the season.
Clemson has just one win at Georgia Tech since 2003, a win that occurred during the Tigers’ national championship season in 2016. Clemson has won six of the last eight meetings in the series, including three straight.
The Tigers have not won four straight in the series since 1993-’96 and has done it just twice before in the 83-year history of the rivalry.
Paul Johnson is entering his 11th season as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach, but he is coming off his third losing season and the second in three years. Last season Georgia Tech went 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, the Jackets have finished first or second in the ACC Coastal Division six times in his 10 seasons under his guidence.
Known for his Flexbone scheme, Johnson serves as his own offensive coordinator and Tech has led the ACC in rushing every year since he took over. Nate Woody was hired in the offseason to oversee the Jackets’ defense after directing Appalachian State’s defense for the past five seasons.
The good news for Tech is it is returning the top six rushers from a year ago, including quarterback TaQuon Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson, both of whom surpassed the 1,000-yard mark last season. The Jackets also have three of their top four tacklers from a year ago coming back in linebackers Victor Alexander and Brant Mitchell and defensive back A.J. Gray.
“I think (Marshall) had a good spring,” Johnson said. “You know, I think that we had some individual things that we were trying to work on, getting comfortable in the pocket and improving in our throwing motions in the game.
“I think he accomplished some of those things and clearly he’s got a better understanding overall of what we’re trying to do and accomplish and can put the offense into some good situations with checks and that kind of thing.”
While the passing game is almost irrelevant to the Yellow Jackets’ offense, Johnson’s best teams have typically had a deep threat to keep defenses honest.
Last season, Ricky Jeune hauled in 25 catches for 545 yards and six touchdowns. He accounted for 58 percent of Tech’s total receptions and no other player had more than four. Therefore his departure leaves a hole in Tech’s offense.
While this used to be one of the more exciting matchups in the ACC, Clemson has beaten Tech very comfortably in the last three meetings thanks to its defense shutting down the Yellow Jackets’ ground game.
Although Tech rushed for 198 yards against the Tigers last season, it was well below its season average of 307. 4 yards per game. It also converted just three third downs, while the Tigers had 11 tackles for loss.
The previous year, Tech only had 22 total yards in the first half, most of which came on the final play before halftime. With six of seven starters returning in the front seven, it could be another long day for Johnson’s rushing attack.
“I think our running game will be fine,” Johnson said. “We have a return at QB, the top two B backs, top three A backs. So we should be okay in that category and four of the five offensive linemen. If everybody’s healthy that, should be okay.”
But will it be enough to beat Clemson?