Clemson vs. Georgia Tech Prediction: Conference play begins


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Clemson plays at Georgia Tech at 3:30 pm
Clemson plays at Georgia Tech at 3:30 pm

Conference play has arrived for No. 3/2 Clemson, which will square off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Clemson's 2018 ACC debut on Saturday, Sept. 22. Kickoff from Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET.

NO. 3/2 CLEMSON (3-0, 0-0 ACC) at GEORGIA TECH (1-2, 0-1 ACC)

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

WHEN: 3:30 pm Saturday
WHERE: Bobby Dodd Stadium (55,000)
TELEVISION: ABC (Mark Jones, Dusty Dvoracek, Molly McGrath)
RADIO: Clemson Tigers Network (Don Munson, Rodney Williams, Reggie Merriweather) **Sirius 94, XM 193, Internet 955**
RADIO: ESPN Radio (Marc Kestecher, Barrett Jones)

NOTABLE

*UNIFORMS: Clemson will be wearing it’s all white “business trip attire” Saturday – the white pants and jerseys with the traditional orange helmet. Over the past several years, the home Yellow Jackets have worn white when playing in Bobby Dodd, and Clemson has trotted out both purple and orange. Saturday, the Jackets are wearing an alternate uniform that pays home to their 1990 National Championship team and Clemson once again gets to wear white. That got Nikki to thinking – when was the last time Clemson wore all white at Georgia Tech? A friend of mine named Mike Roberts (who also goes by the handle Pawsitive Mike) came up with the right answer – 1992. I texted Tim Bourret (who was working the NBC Golf Tour at the time I texted, which coincided with TIGER Woods hitting an eagle on 18 to take a share of the lead in the Tour Championship, in Atlanta of all places) and he had already contacted the Georgia Tech SID to confirm.

For the record – Georgia Tech knocked off No. 16 Clemson by a 20-16 score that day.

The alternate uniform features a gold helmet, blue jersey and white pants — the same combo that the ‘90 Jackets wore for home games, including a 21-19 victory over nationally-ranked Clemson, as well as their 45-21 over Nebraska in the 1991 Florida Citrus Bowl

*The 2018 season marks Clemson's 66th year of membership in the ACC, dating back to the conference's first year of play in 1953. In its previous 65 seasons of ACC membership, Clemson has posted a 39-25-1 record in conference openers.

*Clemson is the highest-ranked opponent to visit Bobby Dodd Stadium since Sept. 9, 2000, when No. 2 Florida State escaped with a 26-21 victory over the Jackets.

*Georgia Tech and Clemson are two of only eight teams that rank among the top 25 nationally in both total offense and total defense this season (GT - 21st in offense, 23rd in defense; Clemson - 20th in offense, 10th in defense).

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told the media last week that the explosive play is alive and well in the Tigers’ offense. Improving the team's explosiveness and ability to create chunk plays had been a primary focus for the offense leading up to the 2018 season, and that focus has paid off thus far this season. The Tigers rank second nationally in plays of 40-plus yards from the line of scrimmage (tied with Ole Miss with 9, Memphis leads with 11).

The difference is particularly pronounced in the passing game, where Clemson has seven passing plays for 40 yards or more this season after posting only 11 during the entire 14-game season in 2017.

The explosive plays have translated into points, but the Tigers are having trouble finishing drives when they don’t get the explosive play. That will be front and center Saturday against a Yellow Jacket defense that is 63rd nationally against the run (144.67 yards per game) but 19th nationally against the pass (just 157.7 yards per game).

Clemson will need to run the ball (free Travis Etienne!) effectively in order for the passing lanes to open up. We are likely to see both Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, and this first conference game might be a good barometer of where the QB competition plays out from here.

For the Tigers it’s simple – the explosive plays are great, but they have to put together drives and finish them, something they didn’t do against Texas A&M and something they failed to do last week against Georgia Southern with the two turnovers.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

WHEN GEORGIA TECH HAS THE BALL

Defending Georgia Tech’s option offense has been the key to victory for the Tigers against the Yellow Jackets the last three years. Clemson has won the games by scores of 43-24 in 2015, 26-7 in 2016 and 24-10 last year. In those game, Georgia Tech has averaged just 13.7 points per game, 121 yards rushing on 41 carries per game, 11 first downs per game and 194 yards of total offense. In 2015 when not playing Clemson, Georgia Tech averaged 5.6 yards per rush and 273 rushing yards per game. They averaged 1.7 yards per rush and had 71 yards against Clemson. In 2016, Georgia Tech averaged 5.7 yards per rush and 272 yards a game against other opponents but had 2.3 yards per rush and 95 rushing yards against Clemson. Unusually, Georgia Tech had exactly 56 plays for 230 yards of total offense in each of its last two games at Clemson.

The Jackets don’t pose much of a threat in the passing game. Quarterback Tayquon Marshall has completed 24-of 51-passes (47.1 percent) for 353 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. Marshall threw five interceptions in 116 attempts all of last season. His completion percentage is up from 37.1 percent rate in 2017, but his passing efficiency rating is 102.5, below his 2017 rate of 124.0.

Field position is also key, and this where BT Potter comes in at kickoff and where Will Spiers will play a part at punter. Last year, Tech’s average starting field position against Clemson was its 25-yard line. The Jackets started 11 of 13 possessions inside their 30. In 2016, a 26-7 loss to Clemson, the average starting point was the Tech 23. In fact, in the past three games against the Tigers – all losses by an average of 17.3 points – Tech has started one drive in Clemson territory.

The Jackets will bust a play here and there, but won't move the ball consistently against Clemson’s front. Of concern is the loss of starting WILL lienbacker Kendall Joseph, the quarterback of the Clemson defense. JD Davis and Shaq Smith will have to step up in his spot.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

There is one truth we all can confirm – whichever punter plays against Clemson turns into the world’s best punter for a day. They turn into Ray Guy overnight and then turn back into a pumpkin once the game ends. Last season against Clemson, Tech punter Pressley Harvin III had five punts that traveled 50 yards or more and three downed inside the 20. However, Harvin won’t turn into a pumpkin because he’s actually one of the nation’s best, but doesn’t rank among the nation’s leaders because he’s only punted seven times.

Field goals is another story – Tech kicker Brenton King is just 1-of-3 and I am not sure Tech head coach Paul Johnson would trust him to make a 45-yarder with the game on the line. Clemson ranks 105th nationally in punting, while Greg Huegel has made 3-of-5 field goals. Clemson has the more dangerous returner at punt return in Amari Rodgers. All in all, this shakes out as even.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Clemson is the better team. Better athletes at almost every position across the field. But we haven’t seen this offense really click, even when it was supposed to. Not against Furman. Not against A&M. Not against Georgia Southern. The offensive line has been ok at times and abysmal at times. I do think the 2-QB system has led to much of the inconsistency, but I was happy to see the coaches use the middle of the field last week.

I have this feeling that the offense won't come out sharp again this week, and Tech will hang around longer than most people think. Someone, at some point, has to take over the job at quarterback and this would be a good week for one of those guys to separate themselves and earn the majority of the playing time going forward.

Etienne and the running backs will also be a key – if Bryant is carrying the rushing load from the quarterback spot, the offense will be in for a long day. If the coaches let the running backs carry the load, the offense should begin to click.

Tigers pull away late.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 31, GEORGIA TECH 14


GUEST PREDICTIONS

Mickey Plyler - 6-9 AM on WCCP 105.5FM - 37-17 Clemson
Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 31-14 Clemson
Nikki Hood - Staff writer - 38-21 Clemson
Brandon Rink - Staff writer - 38-14 Clemson
Hannah Rogerson - TigerNet Intern - 32-10 Clemson
Pigskin Prophet - 38-13 Clemson

GameActualDavid HoodMickey PlylerTony CrumptonNikki HoodBrandon RinkHannah RogersonPigskin ProphetBen Boulware
Furman48-7 CU54-9 CU55-10 CU52-7 CU49-7 CU55-3 CU28-7 CU52-3 CU117-0
Texas A&M28-26 CU27-13 CU34-17 CU31-17 CU28-13 CU34-16 CU31-20 CU31-16 CU28-7 CU
GA Southern38-7 CU47-10 CU42-10 CU51-13 CU38-7 CU45-10 CU32-10 CU48-9 CU69-2 CU
Points - 33393533

* Points: 3 pts for best prediction of the week (tiebreaker is Clemson score), 2 pts for picking score exactly, 1 pt for picking the correct winner

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