CLEMSON — Clemson has allowed 12 rushing plays of 20 yards or more this season, which ranks 122nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision ahead of only Rice.
The No. 15 Tigers have allowed 20 passing gains of 20 yards or more, ranking 105th.
In a 45-31 win at Boston College on Saturday, Clemson (4-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) again gave up the big play, and again was bailed out by offensive support.
The coaches trace those errors to a common thread: breakdowns in discipline, with Clemson players not trusting what they see or their assignments. And perhaps no team in the ACC can better take advantage of discipline lapses than the misdirection and option of the Georgia flexbone offense that is headed to Memorial Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Despite the early-season struggles of Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-2) — which included a loss to Middle Tennessee on Saturday — its offense has been as productive as ever. The Yellow Jackets are averaging 39.2 points per game, rank third in the nation with 329 rushing yards per game and average six yards per carry.
The Yellow Jackets pose a significant test for a Clemson defense that has combined to allow 80 points and 1,087 yards over the last two weeks.
Clemson was rarely able to slow the Yellow Jackets’ option offense under former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables will get his first shot Saturday.
“We have to demand and get the discipline from them to do some of the most fundamental, basic things and to do it every snap,” Venables said. “I wasn’t stunned (with the breakdowns at Boston College). (Peeved)? Yeah. … It’s embarrassing, though.
“I’m not embarrassed of our guys — they fight. They come in and compete. They invest. But for whatever reason they have this tendency to freak out. We have to get them to play in a better manner.”
Georgia Tech has six rushers who have gained at least 100 yards this season, and quarterback Tevin Washington can also beat teams with his arm.
While Clemson slowed the running game at Boston College, the Eagles rank just 119th in the country in rush yards per attempt. Georgia Tech ranks seventh (6.01), and Florida State, which gashed Clemson on the ground two weeks ago, ranks second (6.88).
“We just have to play smarter. It’s not anything overly complicated,” Venables said. “The game is not real difficult. We make it difficult when we don’t trust our eyes and trust what our eyes tell us to do.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was more optimistic.
“We really grew up in the second half,” said Swinney, who cited several defensive stops, but conceded “we did give up too many chunk plays.”
Garry Peters will get the start against Georgia Tech at cornerback in place of Darius Robinson, who has given up a number of chunk plays to date.
“If we would quit making bonehead, basic mistakes, we could be OK,” Venables said. “We have the players to do it.”
Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins, who missed the Boston College game with an illness, was feeling better Sunday, according to Swinney. Watkins had more blood work done Sunday to determine the nature of his illness. Swinney said he will learn more about the test results today and learn more about Watkins’ status for the Georgia Tech game.