Clemson opens its league schedule at Georgia Tech on Sept. 22, the sixth straight year it has had its first ACC game on the road.
Clemson has won at Georgia Tech just once since 2003, a victory which took place in 2016 during the Tigers’ National Championship season. While Clemson has won six of the last eight meetings — including the last three by an average margin of 17.3 points — it still trails the overall series 51-30-2.
Last meeting: Clemson won 24-10 on Oct. 28, 2017, at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Last season: Georgia Tech went 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Coaching Staff: Paul Johnson enters his 11th season at the helm of the Yellow Jackets coming off just the third losing season of his tenure, but the second in three years. Georgia Tech has finished first or second in the ACC Coastal Division six times in his 10 seasons as head coach. 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.
Returning Players: Tech returns the top six rushers from a year ago to its vaunted ground attack, including quarterback TaQuon Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson, both of whom surpassed the 1,000-yard mark last season. The Jackets also return three of their top four tacklers from a year ago in linebackers Victor Alexander and Brant Mitchell and defensive back A.J. Gray.
Additions: Recruiting success has never been the foundation of Johnson’s program — which one could argue is why it has been on the decline in recent years — but the Jackets signed four-star prospects Jaylon King and Justice Dingle on the defensive side of the ball, while a third four-star, James Graham, is being groomed to possibly be Marshall’s successor in directing the option attack.
Subtractions: While the passing game is somewhat superfluous to the Yellow Jackets’ offense, Johnson’s best teams have typically had a deep threat to keep defenses honest. Last season, that was Ricky Jeune, who hauled in 25 catches for 545 yards — good for 21.8 yards per reception — and six touchdowns. To put his departure in perspective, he accounted for 58 percent of Tech’s total receptions and no other player had more than four.
Key matchups: While this used to be one of the most hotly contested series in the ACC, Clemson has won the last three meetings comfortably — by an average of 16 points — thanks to its defense totally smothering the Yellow Jackets’ ground game. While Tech rushed for 198 yards last season, it converted just three third downs, while the Tigers had 11 tackles for loss. The previous year, Tech was stuffed for only 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 afternoon for Johnson’s rushing attack.