CLEMSON – There is, believe it or not, a source for optimism going into the Georgia Tech grudge match this year, and while reversal of home field helps (it always does), that’s got nothing to do with it.
Let’s go back to the last game of the 2013 regular season, when Clemson turned the ball over six times to its opponent’s none, committed eight penalties for 52 yards (foe: 3 for 20), absorbed five sacks, ran 21 fewer plays and held the ball for 16 fewer minutes. Seriously, though, minus-six in the turnover margin.
South Carolina won by 14 points, despite all that. You know what happened in the rematch.
Well, let’s look at the 15th day of November last year. First of all, a 14-0 head-start based on two bad, bad pick-sixes. Only 10 first downs, and 3.5 yards a play, against a pretty mediocre defense. Once again, a decided disadvantage in time of possession (Clemson held it for less than 25 minutes) and in third-down conversions (Clemson 3-for-13; the other guys 7-for-14.)
Oh, and of course, Clemson changed quarterbacks mid-stream. Twice.
So for all that, the fact Georgia Tech “only” won by 22 ... and now has to go to Death Valley, with a presumably healthy and in-rhythm quarterback leading Clemson ... well ...
Georgia Tech coach: Paul Johnson (58-35, 8th season)
Returning starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
2014 record: 11-3, 6-2 ACC
Scoring offense: 37.9 points per game (12th in FBS)
Scoring defense: 25.7 points allowed (53rd)
Series: Georgia Tech leads 51-27-2; Clemson leads 12-6 at home
Last meeting: Georgia Tech 28, Clemson 6: Nov. 15, 2014 in Atlanta
Opposing beat writer to follow: Ken Sugiura, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (@KSugiuraajc)
1. Finish on fire: That was a season Yellow Jackets won’t soon forget, and with good reason. In succession, the Ramblins wrecked Clemson and Georgia, very nearly toppled Florida State in the ACC Title game and lastly dismantled Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl. That’s a 3-1 mark to close, all vs. top-20 teams (and three against top-10s.) Throw in the earlier win over Miami, and in 2014 Georgia Tech went 4-1 against the SEC, Clemson, FSU and Miami – after losing its previous nine games consecutively against that group of teams.
2. Jackets still fly on the ground: To be frank, 2013 was a disastrous year for Georgia Tech’s triple option. The Yellow Jackets finished an embarrassing sixth overall in rushing offense. See, the Jackets have finished in the top two four times in seven years under Johnson, and were fourth the other two years. But anyway, only Georgia Southern (out of the Sun Belt) had more rushing yards per game than the Institute last year, as three Jackets were 800-yard rushers in QB Justin Thomas and B-Backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey. Besides the QB Thomas – an ACC Preseason Player of the Year candidate – Tech’s four leading rushers were seniors. However, as Phil Steele discovered, the Jackets only had 10 returning starters going into its Orange Bowl year, so Johnson knows how to rebuild. Remember the names C.J. Leggett and Quade Weimerskirch.
3. If they could only play D: The age-old question persists: is it a good thing to return a whole bunch of starters if those starters weren’t top-of-the-line quality? Georgia Tech shall find out, since there are eight defenders back in uniform led by defensive linemen KeShun Freeman and Adam Gotsis. The thing Georgia Tech did do well on defense was turn the ball over, giving its running game more opportunities. But if the Jackets can’t get to the quarterback – particularly against a Clemson offensive line on whom the jury is still out – Oct. 10 could develop into a shootout.
Week before: Notre Dame
Next week: Boston College
On the horizon: at Miami, at NC State