Clemson Football: 4 Keys to Game vs. Georgia Tech
The Clemson Tigers are off to a solid 4-1 start to the season, with their only loss coming at No. 3 Florida State on Sept. 22. The offense has continued its impressive play, rolling up 510.8 yards of offense per game. However, the defense has been leaky, surrendering 438 yards per game to opponents.
The Tigers host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Death Valley this weekend. The Tigers started last season with an unblemished 8-0 record before falling 31-17 to the Yellow Jackets on Oct. 29, 2011.
The Tigers topped Boston College last week 45-31 behind the excellent play of quarterback Tajh Boyd, who accounted for four touchdowns. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, is coming off an embarrassing 49-28 home setback against Middle Tennessee State.
Here is what Clemson must do in order to emerge victorious on Saturday.
Minimize the Damage on the Ground
It will be impossible for Clemson to completely shut down Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, but the defense must not let the Yellow Jackets impose their will on the ground.
In last year's meeting, the Yellow Jackets collectively ran 67 times for an eye-popping 383 yards in the 31-17 win to knock Clemson from the ranks of the unbeatens, including 176 yards by quarterback Tevin Washington.
This season, the senior has already ran 78 times for 304 yards and 11 touchdowns in his team's first five games. In fact, Georgia Tech boasts six players who have at least 100 yards rushing, and they are third in the nation in rushing, averaging 328.4 yards a contest.
If the Tigers limit their opponents to around 200 yards on the ground, they will be primed to win. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables must emphasize to his unit the importance of forcing Washington into 3rd-and-long situations where he must complete passes for first downs.
In five games in 2012, Washington has completed just 40-of-64 passes for 660 yards and three touchdowns.
Get Sammy Watkins Involved Early and Often
According to ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson, Watkins is expected to suit up on Saturday. Watkins missed last Saturday's game against Boston College with an abdominal virus.
Watkins has only appeared in two of Clemson's five games this year as he also missed the first two games serving a suspension for an offseason drug arrest. In two games, the dynamic sophomore receiver has ran six times for 95 yards and a touchdown and caught 10 passes for 76 yards.
His production has been a far cry from where it was in 2011, when he was named first team AP All-American.
DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as quarterback Tajh Boyd's go-to guy this season, racking up 604 receiving yards and six touchdowns in five games, but Watkins has to be counted on for a monster game on Saturday.
In last year's meeting, Watkins torched the Yellow Jackets' secondary for 159 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches.
Boyd must not be afraid to take a few shots downfield to Watkins in the early going. The multi-talented sophomore must have a big game if the Tigers want to run their record to 5-1.
Don't Fall into an Early Hole
Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro put Clemson ahead 3-0 with a field goal in the first quarter of last season's meeting, but the Yellow Jackets surged ahead with 24 unanswered points to take a commanding lead into the locker room.
The Tigers turned the ball over four times in the game as Boyd threw two interceptions and the running backs lost two fumbles.
Clemson must jump out to an early lead and dictate the pace of the game to its opponents. If the Tigers score early and often, their counterparts will be forced to pass more often than they would like in order to keep up.
Don't Underestimate the Yellow Jackets
It's easy to look at Tech's 2-3 record and last week's lopsided loss to Middle Tennessee State, a game in which they were outscored 28-7 in the second half, and think the Yellow Jackets may be losing hope on their season.
The visitors are out to prove they still belong with the best teams of the ACC. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and his coaching must tell their players to ignore what happened in the past and prepare for the task at hand.
This is still a dangerous Georgia Tech team that, after losing their opener 20-17 to a good Virginia Tech team, followed by putting up 115 points in the next two weeks. The Yellow Jackets will bounce back and win the game if the Tigers do not take them seriously.