Clemson pushed its record to 8-0 with a 59-38 thumping of North Carolina, and the Tigers now head to Atlanta, Ga., to take on Georgia Tech. Bobby Dodd Stadium hasn't been friendly to Clemson recently, and the Tigers will have to exorcise those demons if they want to keep their undefeated season alive. Let's see how these teams stack up.
Clemson offense vs. Georgia Tech defense
Clemson's offense keeps getting better by the week. It seems like once Tajh Boyd gets comfortable against the defense de jour that day, this team can pretty much move the ball at will. Even when they couldn't run the ball this past week, they continued to have success through the air. DeAndre Hopkins was the star of the day, but Sammy Watkins is still making plays despite being the focus of defenses. Georgia Tech has defended the pass well at times, but they haven't faced a passing attack like Clemson's this season. Georgia Tech's defensive front is undersized, so Clemson should be able to run the ball better than it did this past week, even with Andre Ellington questionable for the game.
Key matchup: Clemson running backs vs. Georgia Tech front seven
D.J. Howard will be starting in place of Ellington, and we really don't know how much of Ellington we will see. But Howard is a more than capable replacement, and if Mike Bellamy runs it well in a backup role, success on the ground could lead to big plays through the air.
Georgia Tech offense vs. Clemson defense
Paul Johnson's wingbone option attack looked unstoppable early in the season, but Tech's success came to a screeching halt the last two games, both of which they lost. Quarterback Tevin Washington has been running the offense poorly of late, keeping the ball himself too often and not completing passes like he was earlier in the season. Orwin Smith and David Sims are capable backs, and Washington really needs to get them the ball more. The Yellow Jackets didn't have a play longer than 11 yards last week against Miami, which is unbelievable considering the way they were playing earlier in the season. Clemson has done about as good a job as any team over the last few years of stopping Georgia Tech's offense (aside from the 2009 ACC Championship Game), and the Tiger defense played better against North Carolina after struggling to slow down Maryland.
Key Matchup: Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill vs. Clemson secondary
Obviously the Clemson front seven's ability to stop Georgia Tech's option attack in the center of attention, but where the Jackets can be very dangerous is when they can catch safeties and cornerbacks cheating to stop the run and throwing over the top to not only Hill, but other backs and receivers as well. Clemson's secondary will have to play with discipline and make Tech earn its scores rather than giving up wide-open touchdown passes.
Clemson's special teams have looked good, aside from Chandler Catanzaro missing a field goal against UNC. Dawson Zimmerman continues to punt well, and Watkins is a threat every time he fields a kickoff. Georgia Tech's special teams are not very special. Justin Moore is just 4 for 8 on field goals, and Sean Poole is only averaging 37 yards per punt. They also don't have much to brag about in the kick return game, although punt returner Zach Laskey is decent.
After starting the season 6-0, Georgia Tech is reeling right now after two straight losses. Clemson is just rolling along taking care of business. This game won't be that cut and dried though. Clemson has always struggled in Atlanta, and I expect this to be a competitive game late into the second half. If Georgia Tech can put together long drives and keep Clemson's potent offense off the field, it can certainly win this game. But with the way the Jackets have been struggling offensively, I don't think they can keep Boyd and Co. off the field enough to pull off the upset.
Clemson 31 Georgia Tech 21