CLEMSON - Fans clamoring for Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden to finally take the reigns off his wide receivers may get their wish tonight.
The Tigers (2-1) are in Atlanta to face a Georgia Tech (1-2) team which allows only 72 rushing yards per game, including an impressive shut down of Florida State running back Greg Jones a week ago. Clemson averages just over three yards per rush, struggling as it attempts to add more power to its running game.
The Yellow Jackets' defensive success has caught many by surprise, especially with the team crippled after 10 players were dropped from the roster for academic reasons.
But not Bowden, who points to one specific reason for Tech's strong play.
"I think more so than anything their defensive coordinator (John Tenuta) really has done a good job," he said. "They are playing hard but their scheme is difficult. He is a good coach. He was at Ohio State for a long time and with John Bunting (at UNC) for one year. With the limitations on scholarships everyone has good players but he really has done a good job. The kids have bought into it. They are playing with a lot of confidence.
"I really thought their last game (against FSU), even though they beat Auburn, I thought was their best game offensively and defensively."
But while the Yellow Jackets have been strong vs. the run (16th in the country), they have shown some weakness against the pass.
When BYU rallied from a halftime deficit in the season opener to beat Tech, it did so through the air. Florida State, which shot itself in the foot in the passing game in the first half last week, recovered in time to rally for 14 fourth-quarter points behind the strong right arm of Chris Rix.
So if Clemson's offensive line can protect quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, the Tigers passing game could be the difference in tonight's matchup. Airese Currie, coming off the most receptions (12) in Clemson single-game history, Derrick Hamilton showing signs of coming around and Kevin Youngblood developing better consistency - those three and their fellow receivers could play the deciding role in the game.
But, Bowden warns, it won't be easy.
"Our receivers and quarterbacks will have to be really sharp," he said. "(The Yellow Jackets) are going to challenge the throws. Against Middle Tennessee they played a little softer. We could catch it and they gave us running space, but every catch will be challenged now.
"The bodies will be a bit closer. The hits will be little more frequent and they will be a little more centered up."
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.