Clemson football (8-1, 6-1 ACC) enters its annual game against interdivision rival Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2 ACC) ranked 8th in the BCS and with an eye towards another premier bowl game.
The Ramblin’ Wreck sits in a four-way tie atop the ACC’s Coastal division and must win in order to keep their conference championship dreams alive. Although Clemson comes in a double digit favorite, it is important to remember that two years ago Tech knocked off an undefeated, 5th ranked Tiger squad. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that will prove pivotal in deciding Thursday night’s winner.
1) Offensive Efficiency at a Premium – Clemson is a better football team than Georgia Tech. One way to win with inferior talent is to shorten the game, and that is exactly what Paul Johnson’s flexbone offense can do when they play well. Tech controls the clock for just less than 34 minutes a game, which is 3rd most in the country.
Like most no-huddle, spread advocates, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris could care less about time of possession; however, a more serious problem emerges from Tech’s ball control offense: fewer possessions and plays, something Morris covets dearly.
Clemson averages 86 plays per game, the 5th most in the nation, and preaches tempo incessantly. Georgia Tech allows opponents only 63 plays per game. Something has to give in this clash of contrasting styles. The Tigers will likely have fewer possessions, so they need to execute from the opening kick. If Clemson turns the ball over or has too many three-and-outs, Tech may be able to control the ball long enough to squash the Tiger’s BCS dreams.
2) Stay Awake on the Back End – Playing defensive back against Georgia Tech is not fun. You spend most of the day fighting off blocks and attempting to bring down ball carriers. Moreover, when Tech passes, you are typically on an island against Tech’s big receivers.
While Tech only goes to the air 14 times a game (compared to 57 rush attempts), they often find success over the top. Keep an eye on WR DeAndre Smelter (6-3/220). This is Smelter’s first season playing football after spending three years on the Ramblin’ Wreck’s baseball team. A shoulder injury ended his baseball career, but he has found success on the gridiron, leading Tech in receiving with 312 yards and a solid 16 yards per catch. Clemson’s defensive backs must help against the run game, while not surrendering a game-changing pass. This is no small task.
3) Control Attaochu – Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu can be a terror off the edge. The senior has 25 career sacks and enters Thursday’s game with 6 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss on the season.
More importantly, Attaochu made the switch from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end this season. After a slow start, he seems adjusted to the new position: he has 4 sacks in the last two games. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, and company will surely make plays, but the Tigers cannot afford to allow Attaochu and the Jacket defense to create some big plays of their own.
Despite their offensive prowess, the Tigers rank 84th in the nation in sacks allowed, surrendering 22 on the year. If the Clemson line keeps Boyd clean, it will be a long night for Georgia Tech.
Prediction: With extra time to prepare, Brent Venables will have the Tiger defense prepared. Boyd will conduct business as usual and lead Clemson to a 38-24 win.