Last week’s results
No. 8 Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) was off; Tigers beat Virginia 59-10 Nov. 2.
Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2 ACC) was off; Yellow Jackets beat Pitt 21-10 Nov.2.
Can Clemson handle Georgia Tech’s flexbone option offense
In 2008, Dabo Swinney’s first game as Clemson interim coach came against Georgia Tech. The Tigers lost 24-14, and since then the Yellow Jackets have been a consistent nemesis.
Swinney is just 2-4 against Tech and Paul Johnson, including a 39-34 loss in the 2009 ACC title game. Both of Swinney’s wins over Johnson have come in Clemson, a plus for the Tigers this week.
Since Johnson took over at Tech in 2008, the Jackets have averaged 304.8 yards rushing per game, best in the FBS. This season, they average 311.2 yards per game, third in the FBS.
A year ago, the Jackets rolled up 483 yards of total offense (339 on the ground) and led 31-30 with 13 minutes left before Clemson scored the game’s final 17 points in a 47-31 win.
Swinney said his defense must be disciplined against the flexbone.
“Sometimes guys want to make plays,” he said. “This is a game where it’s not about making plays. It’s about doing your job. As soon as you don’t, you pay for it. You can’t get bored about doing your job. It might cost you the game.
“A defensive tackle doesn’t make many plays in a game like this, he’s tackling the dive, tackling the dive, tackling the dive, doing his job so others can do their job and make plays. For them, it’s the ability to keep the ball. If they’re out-executing you, the big plays come off that.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables says the Jackets “always have an answer” for opposing defenses. He says teams don’t run exotic defenses against the option; just using the 4-3 or the 3-4 is exotic enough. The key is consistency.
“There’s some simplicity in it. There’s more intricacy in it than you think,” he said. “They’re not running the same dive scheme. The fullback’s getting it, they’re piping it, keeping it tight. They’re changing the schemes in what they’re doing, they’re having some complexity, with the simple plays it looks like they’re running. You have to be, the first thing they’d like to see you do three, four, five crazy things, radical things, that’s what they’d love to see you do. So you have to wear them out with precision and discipline.”
Can Clemson score on Georgia Tech’s defense
The Yellow Jackets have been very stingy under first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Tech allows 18.8 points per game (third in the ACC) and 329.6 yards per game (also third in the ACC). The Jackets are 12th nationally in total defense, 14th in scoring defense and 10th in rushing defense.
Meanwhile, Clemson averages 39.8 points per game (15th nationally) and 507.4 yards per game (11th nationally).
Senior defensive end Jeremiah Attoachu was a preseason first-team All-ACC selection and his 25 career sacks rank fourth among current FBS players. Cornerback Jemea Thomas leads Tech with 58 tackles and is regarded as one of the league’s top secondary players.
“This is one of the better groups we’ll see all year, collectively,” Swinney said. “It’s a big challenge for us offensively. It starts with the guys up front. They have an excellent front. We need to do a better job avoiding negative plays and eliminating the negatives. That we can control.”
To be successful Thursday, the Tigers must make the most of their opportunities with the ball.
What will Clemson's first Thursday home game since 2002 be like
Memorial Stadium has built a reputation as one of college football’s most intimidating environments, but it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like on Thursday night.
Clemson has not played a home Thursday night game since 2002, citing concerns over how the influx of 80,000 fans would affect campus life. Campus officials are canceling Thursday afternoon classes, but normally raucous tailgaters will not be allowed into lots until 2 p.m., five and a half hours before kickoff. Swinney admits he’d rather play a Saturday game and have a true bye week, but he called on fans to be loud Thursday night. Will Clemson’s usual night game atmosphere prevail? We’ll see.
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Radio: Clemson and Georgia Tech radio networks (regional), ESPN Radio (national)
Spread: Clemson -10 via VegasInsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.