Advanced Outlook: Clemson-Georgia Tech projections

by - Staff Writer -
Etienne has been unstoppable so far but Georgia Tech has a playmaker putting up big numbers too. (ACC photo)
Etienne has been unstoppable so far but Georgia Tech has a playmaker putting up big numbers too. (ACC photo)

Clemson’s Tigers head down I-85 this week for their annual game with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Saturday (noon/ABC).

It’s a battle of programs in very different places but both coming off a home win under the lights.

Through four games, No. 1 Clemson (4-0) holds top-6 ratings on offense and defense with SP+ (No. 3 offense/No. 4 defense) and ESPN FPI efficiency metrics (4/6), while Georgia Tech (2-2) ranks as high as 51st on offense and 31st on defense (ESPN FPI).

Efficiency ranks: Offense | Defense | Special teams

CU SP+ ranks (No. 2 overall): 3 | 4 | 19

GT SP+ ranks (No. 48): 74 | 35 | 72

CU ESPN ranks (No. 2): 4 | 6 | 51

GT ESPN ranks (No. 65): 51 | 31 | 54

(SP+ is a metric from ESPN's Bill Connelly, formerly of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, that combines ratings for the five factors of efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. ESPN’s own measure follows a similar formula to measure team efficiency and is tied to the ESPN Football Power Index.)

Three players to watch: Georgia Tech

RB Jahmyr Gibbs

The former 4-star Peach State product has turned heads as a true freshman through four games, narrowly edging Travis Etienne for a top-5 spot nationally in all-purpose yards per game (171.67) with five touchdowns. He is averaging 8.7 yards per touch over 59 plays after posting a receiving touchdown in the last three games and topping the 100-yard mark rushing at Syracuse (105 yards). Minimum 25 snaps a game, he ranks second on the team and tops on offense with a 78.1 overall grade, leading in grade on passes (83.5) and runs (78).

DE Jordan Domineck

The redshirt sophomore (6-3 247) has paced the Yellow Jackets grades-wise through four games (80.3) with solid marks against the run (77.1) and in pass rush (75.2) and also in limited coverage opportunities (81.2 in seven snaps). He has 11 QB hurries, 10 stops, nine solo tackles, five QB hits, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a batted pass over 174 snaps.

QB Jeff Sims

Georgia Tech is riding the wave of a true freshman dual-threat QB, who’s made some plays but is also grading the second-worst of any starter in the ACC (51.8; former Clemson QB Chase Brice in the cellar currently at 51 with Duke). He is coming off of his best grade (66.8) in a home win over Louisville with an 81.2 mark in the run game and a 53.9 grade as a passer. With Clemson’s pressure-heavy attack ahead, Sims has more picks than touchdowns both versus pressure (5 to 3) and without pressure on him (3 to 2). He’s completing 50 percent of his passes under pressure for 10.1 yards per attempt and is either passing or scrambling for a first down 34.4 percent of the time in that situation (which compared to Trevor Lawrence is pretty good actually, who has converted a first down under pressure 23.8 percent of the time this season). Seven of his eight interceptions have come in throws either to the middle (5) or the left side of the field (2)

(Grades and advanced stats per Pro Football Focus)

Extra point

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has emphasized that this week is more of a “statement game” than last week’s 42-17 win over No. 7 Miami. How will his team respond to the extra hype? Recent history says they will be just fine.

Clemson has won by an average of 30 points per game when facing an unranked team directly after a ranked win since 2015, with the closest game being a 37-27 win at Syracuse in 2015.

The Projections

Clemson is favored by a little less than that figure they've averaged in this situation, as 27-point favorites, and two of the three metrics we track here are right in the neighborhood.

FEI has Clemson covering slightly (27.7-point margin projected), while FPI is right there at a 27-point margin in rating. ESPN’s SP+ has taken the points against Clemson in each FBS game this season and went off the mark for the first time with that strategy last week.

Georgia Tech has found some success with its young playmakers, but facing their first top-40 defense of the season, this one could get ugly quick for the Jackets versus a Clemson team still seeking its complete effort in all three phases.

Metrics outlook | Prediction

SP+ projection: 88% Clemson (Clemson by 20.5)

ESPN FPI: 95.5% Clemson (Clemson by 27)*

FEI: 97.2% Clemson (Tigers by 27.7)

* Point spread from the FPI rankings, which project a margin based on a neutral field.

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