Gameday preview: Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

December 5, 2009 

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Clemson running back No. 28 C.J. Spiller rushes for a four yard gain to the five yard line during the first quarter as Clemson defeats Virginia 34-21 at halftime at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. Clemson's last home game of the year is to clinch the ACC Atlantic division and advance to the conference championship game against Georgia Tech.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

  • ACC Championship

    WHO: Clemson (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (10-2)

    WHEN: 8 p.m. today

    WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

    LINE: Georgia Tech by 1

    TV: ESPN (TWC 26/DTV 206/DISH 140) with Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Erin Andrews.

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM with Pete Yanity, Will Merritt and Patrick Sapp

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    SERIES RECORD: Georgia Tech leads 48-24-2. Clemson has won both games at a neutral site, 23-0 in Augusta in 1898 and 41-5 in Greenville in 1899.

    LAST MEETING: The Yellow Jackets’ Scott Blair kicked a 37-yard field goal with 57 seconds left to win 30-27 after the Tigers had rallied from a 24-0 deficit to lead 27-24.

    FAST FACT: Eleven of the past 14 games in the series have been decided by five points or less, including a six-game stretch from 1996-2001 where each game was decided by three points.

Five game storylines, five questions with Thomas Austin, injury report and more.

Five game storylines

It's been a while

Michael Jackson's "Black or White" was No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Kids were wasting time playing the original Nintendo. "Coach" cracked the top 10 in TV ratings.

Clemson's last ACC title came in 1991, the year in which several members of its current freshman class was born. That may not be a long time in a lot of contexts, but for a school that cares as much about football as Clemson, the drought can seem like an eternity.

A little extra juice

Win, and the Tigers advance to the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl in Miami, where they could gain the national spotlight. It would also be the Tigers' first Orange appearance since their 1981 national championship victory.

Lose, and depending on how the ACC sorts out Florida State's availability, the Tigers could plummet to the Dec. 27 Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

Perception vs. reality

Two weeks ago, Clemson was celebrating the Atlantic Division title.

An embarrassing loss at rival USC later, and the complexion of coach Dabo Swinney's first full season as coach could lose a lot of its luster if the Tigers lose two in a row to set up a ho-hum bowl trip.

Second option

Most may feel that since Clemson did well against Georgia Tech's flexbone offense earlier this season, it would be even better the second time around. But both sides will make adjustments.

The greatest challenge falls on Clemson's defensive front, which manhandled the Yellow Jackets' line with a healthy end Da'Quan Bowers and more inspired tackle Jarvis Jenkins.

Closing argument

Heisman Trophy votes are due Monday and while it remains a long shot that Clemson senior running back C.J. Spiller can muster enough votes to be a finalist, it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

With No. 3 Texas and No. 21 Nebraska on ABC at the same time in the Big 12 championship, Spiller does not figure to have the majority of the voters' eyes. But it is still a large platform to catch their attention.

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Five questions with LG Thomas Austin

Austin, a senior from Camden,

Have you forgotten about the USC loss?

Yeah. It was a disappointing loss, and you never want to lose to South Carolina. We had a good streak going. But also it's a good lesson for us that you can't get complacent. There's a fine line between cockiness and confidence, and that's something we have to continue to balance.

For us, it's always a matter of execution. If we don't, we're as average as grits. I still think we're a better team than South Carolina, and I think we were a better team than Maryland. But if we don't play well, then we're not very good. They wanted it more than we did.

When did you evolve into a leader?

For me, playing as a sophomore, coming back that January after the bowl, it was really a new team. I looked around and realized I was the only offensive lineman who'd played a lot. So guys just naturally looked at me as the leader. I'd been one of those guys who tried to lead by example, but then I was forced into a leadership role and had to develop to be more vocal. It's just progressed now to a larger scale. It's really been a trial-and-error process.

Dabo Swinney talks about halftime of the Georgia Tech game (down 24-7) as one of the defining moments for this team. What do you recall?

It was interesting, because no one in there was pointing fingers. And there was no doubt in anyone's mind we were going to come back and win that game. Coach Swinney said we're going to score every time we get the ball and the defense is going to give us the ball back, and we did that. That was a neat, neat game for us, and we just didn't pull it out late.

Your younger brother, Josh, was a good high school player and signed with Presbyterian. What became of his career?

He was a state championship wrestler in high school and blew out his knee his senior year, so he missed that whole season. He went to Presbyterian but has had three more knee surgeries, so he's never actually stepped on the field. He's since lost his football weight and is down to 235, but at a smaller school like Presbyterian, he does all the laundry, drives the equipment truck, so he still works full time for his scholarship, and he'll actually need a fifth surgery in December.

You and you're wife, Margaret, host "fajita night" for about two dozen teammates on Thursday nights. Who's the biggest eater?

Man, that's tough. (Walk-on) Caleb Simmons can eat a lot of food. He's only 5-10, 250, but he can put some food away. (Chris) Hairston will eat anything. He's not a very picky eater. That would be a close competition.

What my wife has figured out is if you make 20 pounds of beef, they're going to eat it. If you make 30 pounds, they'll eat it. You just can't feed them. So she says they can go to Taco Bell if they're still hungry, because they just keep eating.

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GAME WITHIN A GAME

Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt vs. Clemson defensive tackles

About Nesbitt: Georgia Tech's quarterback has been the Yellow Jackets' MVP and runner-up to Clemson's C.J. Spiller for the league's top honor. Nesbitt ranks fifth nationally in rushing among quarterbacks (74.0 yards per game) and ranks second in the ACC in scoring (8.5 points per game), threatening to become the first quarterback to lead the conference in scoring since N.C. State's Scotty Smith in 1979.

How he'll win: Clemson has had issues corralling running quarterbacks this season, and Georgia Tech found a series of keepers for Nesbitt the final two drives of their previous meeting that made the difference. Nesbitt, a physical ball-carrier, is nearly the size of middle linebacker Brandon Maye.

Key number: 35. Plays of 20 yards or more (27 passing, eight rushing)

About the defensive tackles: Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said junior tackle Jarvis Jenkins was probably the best interior tackle Georgia Tech had to deal with this year, and Brandon Thompson was no slouch in their previous meeting, either. Reserve Jamie Cumbie is coming off one of his better performances, while Miguel Chavis logs about 20 snaps per contest.

How they'll win: If the tackles display the discipline and strength to hold their ground in their assigned running lanes, that will discourage Nesbitt from giving Dwyer the ball on the first-choice fullback dive. But they are also responsible for getting a hand on the offensive guards who are trying to block linebackers so Nesbitt can find open gaps.

Key number: 21.4. Georgia Tech's third-down conversion percentage against Clemson (3 of 14)

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INJURY REPORT

Clemson: Out - OL J.K. Jay (back).

Georgia Tech: Out - OL Austin Barrick (heel), WR Kevin Cone (ankle), LB Malcolm Munroe (knee), DE Robert Hall (knee), LB Kyle Jackson (foot), S Cooper Taylor (illness); Doubtful - DT Ben Anderson (knee); Probable - WR Stephen Hill, QB Josh Nesbitt (ankle), RB Embry Peeples, DE Jason Peters, OL Omoregie Uzzi.

PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 38, Clemson 27

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