Clemson vs Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction


by - Correspondent -
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Will Charlie Whitehurst have time to throw to Clemson's big weapons?

If the season started today, one would have to think Chan Gailey would receive serious consideration for ACC Coach of the Year. That sounds like a rather absurd statement to make about a man that is 1-2 but he's doing a far better job at Tech than most had predicted.


Consider all of the loses he had in the offseason and it's rather amazing that the Yellow Jackets have played so well. They lost 11 players to academic problems this summer. Among those lost was Tony Hollings, Tech's starting tailback and preseason award candidate. Also gone is Greg Geathers. The once promising defensive star may be done for his career because of a kidney ailment.


Add to all of that Tech's three game stretch of BYU, Auburn, and FSU to start the season and you can see that the cards were stacked against Gailey.


Yet, the Jackets have played well and nearly shocked the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Not bad for a bunch that some said wouldn't win a game in the ACC.


What many Tiger fans thought would be an easy victory at the beginning of the season has now turned into a very interesting matchup. One of the closest rivalries in all of football over the last decade looks like it may have another photo finish.


The importance of this game goes far beyond conference standings. Both coaches are feeling some heat and need a victory to momentarily silence their naysayers. Bowden probably needs it more than Gailey simply because Tiger fans had a "W" beside this game back in the summer.

It is tough to judge this Tech team. They struggle in a loss to BYU but bounced back with good showings against Auburn and FSU. Auburn may have been the most overrated team in football to start the season and FSU forgot to show up for the first 52 minutes of their contest.

Based upon casual observations, it appears GT is much better than the so-called experts predicted. They are a dangerous team wth plenty of talent.



OFFENSE

The Tigers will be going against the 22nd best defense in the country this week. This crew may not be as well-rounded as the Georgia defense, but they will still offer a very formidable challenge.

A quick scan of the depth charts does reveal a lot of youth for Georgia Tech. That is especially true amongst the front four. That group is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. There's no question that the linebackers are their strength. Keyaron Fox and Daryl Smith have been there forever. They bring a lot to the table in terms of experience and ability. They are the playmakers of the defense.


On paper, it appears they are extremely tough against the run and much softer against the pass. What they lack in size they make up for with speed. They do a good job of stretching running plays and getting multiple tacklers to the ball.


Clemson has to focus on passing the ball to win. They've had trouble running the ball all year and that's not going to change against this stingy run defense.


Much like last week, Clemson needs to use the pass to set up the run. Whereas they ran the ball just over 60% of the time against MTSU, then will need to pass the ball nearly 60% of the time against GT. The key will be giving Whitehurst enough time to find his receivers.


If Tech is able to apply a lot of pressure, Clemson will have to abandon the three and four wide receiver sets in favor of one and two tight end sets out of the I formation so they can max protect. This is not one of Clemson's strengths, and GT hopes they can force such a move.


What could be successful is the Tigers’ controlled passing game. It's not as sexy as the deep ball, but there's nothing wrong with six and eight yards a clip on slants, outs, and hitches. One missed tackle and a six yard pass could turn into a 60 yard gain. Besides, this short passing game helps set up the deep ball as well as the run.


Look for a few new wrinkles. Most teams always have a few new plays and/or formations in the game plan each week. Clemson has had success against GT in the past with such changes. One play that could be used more may be the QB draw. Charlie showed his ability to run it last week and it would definitely help slow down blitzing linebackers.


DEFENSE


John Lovett better hope he has a solution to the problems the front seven has had in recent weeks against the run. Otherwise, GT will pound the ball all day while controlling the clock and the game. Their big, experienced offensive line is their strength, and they would love nothing more than to successfully run the ball.


The Yellow Jackets have scored some points this year, but they haven't been world beaters. Their longest scoring drive was 53 yards on 2 plays. They did have another drive of 50 yards on 12 plays. The rest have mostly been short, stalled drives resulting in field goals.


They are at or near the bottom of the ACC standing in every offensive category. They've even averaged fewer rushing yards per game than the hapless Tiger ground attack. They try to stick to the basics in hopes of reducing mistakes. They rely on field position and their defense to keep them in games.


Their biggest surprise has been true freshman Reggie Ball. He's shown amazing poise and decision making ability for a QB as young as he. His size and athletic ability already has fans drawing comparisons to Joe Hamilton.

Much like Hamilton, he poses a huge threat with his feet. The Tigers have struggled against mobile quarterbacks in the past. This Saturday will be another such test.


This game will be the Clemson front seven's biggest challenge of this young season. Lovett, defensive line coach Theilen Smith, and linebacker coach David Blackwell need to have their guys ready to play. The outcome of this game could very easily rest on the shoulders of this group. This is their chance to finally make a statement.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Tech has had big plays from this group all year.


Against BYU, they blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. In the Auburn and FSU games, they successfully converted on fourth down by using fake punts. Both conversions kept scoring drives alive. They also have a field goal kicker that is 5-for-5 on the season.


They do give up an average of 28 yards on kickoff returns. Clemson needs to take advantage of this for two reasons.


First, a big special teams play could easily be the difference in this game if it is another close one. Clemson has excellent return men that have the potential to take one back every time they touch the ball.


Secondly, GT has thrived on great field position during their first few games. Clemson can take a big step towards controlling field position by getting the ball out past the 30-yard line to begin most of their drives. Of course, Tommy Bowden hopes this group only gets one shot at affecting the outcome of the game.


Likewise, Clemson's kicking unit must continue to provide great coverage and keep the Jackets at or near the 20. They have yet to prove they can successfully produce 80-yard scoring drives. Personally, I say let Jad Dean take a shot at nailing the inflatable Yellow Jacket every time he kicks off. There's no need giving them an opportunity to run one back.


SUMMARY


Ten of the last 13 games have been decided by 4 points or less. Throw out the 1994 and 1995 contests and 11 of the last 13 have been
decided by an averaged of 3.09 points.


This year's contest look like it will stick to the script and offer another great finish.


The offense will have to successfully pass the ball to win. Running the ball should be something they do just to keep Tech honest.


The defense must find a way to contain Reggie Ball and shut down the run. Forcing Ball to throw will hopefully lead him to make some freshman mistakes that result in turnovers. The defensive front must raise their level of play.


Special teams always play a large role in close games and this one should be no different. Clemson seems to have the advantage here. They must use that advantage to help win the battle for field position.


PREDICTION


Clemson in a blowout compared to years past - 20-14.

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