CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – The Tigers are back on the road for the first time in over a month as they head to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech Saturday at noon.
Clemson handled its biggest test of the season with ease, defeating the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes, 42-17, in Death Valley last week. They hold onto their number one national ranking and they head to Georgia Tech.
Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne were once again dominant in the win. Lawrence threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns while Etienne tallied 149 yards on the ground and two scores. The only question now is: which player is the Heisman frontrunner? Lawrence has been nothing short of spectacular, completing over 72% of his passes for 1,140 yards to go along with ten touchdowns and zero interceptions. But the versatile Etienne seemingly can’t be contained. He has five touchdowns this season, is averaging seven yards per carry and even has 17 receptions for nearly 250 yards as well. He can do it all. And with the two of them, the offense has been rolling. They’re a duo that’s combined for nearly 400 yards per game, and have earned the nickname “T-squared” from Head Coach Dabo Swinney. He and Lawrence outline the Heisman race below:
Amari Rodgers has been a consistent and reliable top target in the passing game, while Frank Ladson Jr., and Braden Galloway have contributed big plays down the field. All three of them are averaging more than 13 yards a catch as the offense continues to push it downfield. After putting up 42 points against a solid Miami defense, the sky appears to be the limit for this unit.
Defensively, Baylon Spector is making a huge impact after being a solid piece off the bench in 2019. He leads the team in tackles, and routinely finds himself in the backfield. He brought down elusive Miami quarterback D’Eriq King on 1.5 sacks, and recorded 2.5 tackles for loss. The Clemson front seven has been dynamic, and they generate pressure at will. After a five sack performance last week their season total is now 18. And they grabbed their fourth and fifth interceptions of the season as well. After struggling to create turnovers the first couple weeks of 2020, Clemson has now grabbed multiple takeaways in back-to-back games.
While they gave up a few chunk plays through the air, the Tigers remained stout against the run. They’re still a top ten defense in that regard. And they’ve been able to shut down the pass as well, although they’ve played against a couple young quarterbacks and run-heavy signal-callers to start the season. Still, this defense is tough to crack.
The Yellow Jackets (2-2) are fresh off of a 46-27 win over Louisville and bring a new offensive system into the matchup this week. In the second year under Geoff Collins, Tech’s offense looks a whole lot different. They switched from the option attack to a more conventional Spread/Pro-Style offense with a talented freshman quarterback in Jeff Sims (#10). And they’re seeing positive results from the switch already. The Yellow Jackets strength is clear: they can run the football well. The team averages 215 rushing yards per game, good for 16th in the FBS. And with Sims providing a threat through the air, they average nearly 240 passing yards per game, an improvement of over one hundred yards from 2019. Georgia Tech was a bottom ten offense last season, scoring just over 16 points per game. And although they were a run-heavy team, they only managed 152 yards on the ground per contest. It’s clear that Collins has turned this unit around, and Sims’ presence is helping the transition.
Sims is another dual-threat quarterback not unlike some the Tigers have faced so far this season. He leads the team in rushing with 251 yards and three touchdowns. Jahmyr Gibbs (#21), another freshman, is a close second adding 232 yards and a couple scores on the ground as well. Gibbs is a threat out of the backfield, too, and is second on the team with 146 yards receiving on just eight catches. He’s a threat to take it the distance on any given play, and already has three touchdowns receiving. Dontae Smith (#28) and Jarnious Griffin (#22) rotate in often.
Sims has quite the arm to match his speed on the ground. He likes to air it out as Collins dials up some deep shots often to the outside receivers. If they’re manned up, you can bet they’re going to go for the home run down the sidelines.
They utilize several different receivers with Malachi Carter (#15) being the leading threat so far. He has 14 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns this season. He’s a big target at 6’3”. But the team has several tall options on the perimeter including PeJe Harris (6’3” – #18), senior Jalen Camp (6’2” – #1) as well as Marquez Ezzard (6’2” – #11). And Ahmarean Brown (#2) is one of their faster options in the receiving corps.
The big problem, though, comes in the turnover department as is the case with many young quarterbacks. Sims has thrown eight interceptions in just four games, and the team has also coughed up four fumbles making it 12 total giveaways this season.
On defense, they have length at outside corner as their shortest player in that group is six-foot. The same goes for their safeties. Junior Juanyeh Thomas (#1) is a sure tackler and great at defending the run. Tariq Carpenter (#2) is another quality player in the secondary who’s not afraid to attack the backfield. Junior Quez Jackson (#44) is the leader among the linebackers. He’s a versatile defender and has two of the team’s nine turnovers so far this season. Sophomore Jordan Dominek (#42) sticks out on the defensive line, and has racked up two sacks already as well as two forced fumbles along with a fumble recovery.
The unit has done a solid job of forcing turnovers and key moments, stalling opportunistic drives. It’s helped keep them in games, and helped them put others away. However, some special teams mishaps have been a huge negative for them.
Clemson has owned the head-to-head matchups with Georgia Tech in recent years, winning each of the last five contests. And although the Yellow Jackets have opened up the offense in a big way, costly mistakes from the quarterback position have given opponents too many opportunities to cash in. If they lose the turnover battle against Clemson, their chance of victory will shrink even more significantly.
Clemson Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables does commit to stopping the run, though, which often leaves defensive backs in one-on-one coverage on the outside. That will likely be Tech’s best chance at finding any success given their size at receiver and ability to beat man coverage.
With that in mind, the Tigers should be able to effectively stymie their ground attack which will also put a young QB into a difficult position, especially with that elite front getting consistent pressure.
On the other side the Tigers’ offense should have no problem moving the football. You can expect T-squared to have another big day. They come in as heavy favorites on the road.
Clemson and Georgia Tech face off Saturday, October 17 at 12 p.m.