GAME NOTES: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will try to keep pace in the ACC Coastal Division race as they pay a visit to Death Valley to challenge the eighth-ranked Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium.
Both sides were off this past weekend to prepare for the Thursday night matchup.
Coach Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets went into the open week after a 21-10 victory over Pittsburgh. The win was the third in a row for Georgia Tech, which improved to 6-3 overall and 5-2 in ACC play to hold a half-game lead over Virginia Tech in the divisional standings. The Yellow Jackets have very little room for error as they are just one of four schools in the Coastal Division with two losses in league play.
Clemson coasted to a 59-10 decision at Virginia before heading into its bye. Thanks to the rout of the Cavaliers, coach Dabo Swinney's team returns to South Carolina with an 8-1 overall record and a 6-1 ACC standing. The Tigers are in second place in the Atlantic Division, sitting one-game back of Florida State, which has already secured the division's spot in the ACC Championship Game.
This will be the 79th meeting in history between these conference rivals. Although the Yellow Jackets own a 50-26-2 all-time series lead, they were downed, 47-31, by the Tigers in last season's matchup, which also took place in Death Valley.
Despite losing by 16 points, Georgia Tech amassed 339 rushing yards versus Clemson in the most recent encounter. The Yellow Jackets' option attack could be difficult to contain again this season as they are averaging an ACC-best 311.2 yards per game on the ground, which is also the fifth best average in the nation. Tech has plenty of capable rushers to keep the opposition on its heels. David Sims has been the most productive with 610 yards and nine touchdowns on 114 carries. The senior back paced the squad versus Pittsburgh with 94 yards and a score on 18 totes. Robert Godhigh continued to be a big- play machine as he picked up 14.8 yards per carry en route to 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The effectiveness of the Yellow Jackets' attack is apparent to Clemson's head coach.
"Very tough. You gotta do a great job at the line of scrimmage and really hold up at the point of attack," said Swinney on Georgia Tech's offense. "You gotta be very, very disciplined. Their scheme forces you to be incredibly disciplined. You can't make mistakes. If you do, it's chunks, 20 yards, 40 yards, those type of plays."
Vad Lee would be an ideal signal caller to engineer the Yellow Jackets' offense if he could operate with a little more efficiency. The redshirt sophomore has rushed a team-high 138 times for 394 yards and six of the team's 31 TDs, while also amassing 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns through the air on 54-of-114 passing. Godhigh is also a threat in the aerial attack when utilized out of the backfield, as he has averaged 19.6 yards per catch. DeAndre Smelter is the team's leading wideout with just 19 receptions for 312 yards and two TDs.
The Yellow Jackets' run heavy offense is complemented nicely by its stifling defense, which is ranked third in the conference in points allowed per game (18.8) and total yards allowed (329.6). During the course of the current winning streak, the defensive unit has allowed only 35 points in three games including a shutout versus Syracuse. Senior defensive back Jemea Thomas had another outstanding outing in the victory over the Panthers as he tied for the team-high with six stops in addition to one TFL and his first interception of 2013. Thomas is the pacing Tech with 58 total tackles.
Although Thomas is excellent in coverage, he will have his work cut out for him as he goes up against Clemson's dynamic duo of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd is second to only Florida State's Jameis Winston in the ACC rankings in both total offensive yards per game (312.7) and passing efficiency (159.6).
"Well, I think he's a very dangerous player. There's no question," said Johnson on Clemson's star signal caller. "He's going to leave there with about every record that they've had. And he's experienced. I think that he has a great understanding of what they're trying to do and he's hard to fool."
Boyd has been an exceptional leader, guiding the Tigers to 507 total yards of offense and 39.8 points per game to rank second in the ACC in both statistical categories. Having an All-American caliber receiver on the outside like Watkins makes things a lot easier as well.
Clemson showed in its rout of Virginia it is far from one-dimensional on the offensive side of the ball as it amassed 175 yards and five TDs on the ground. The team's feature back, Roderick McDowell, led the way with 70 yards on 12 carries.
Of the Tigers' nine opponents, only Georgia and Florida State surpassed the 30-point mark. Clemson was relentless in its last outing as it limited the Cavaliers to just 277 total yards and 13 first downs. It also recorded 12 TFL and three takeaways in the rout. Bashaud Breeland spearheaded the team with 10 total tackles and two pass breakups. Linebacker Stephone Anthony is a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball as he has tallied 89 stops, 10 TFL, four sacks, one forced fumble and a recovery through nine outings.
The Yellow Jackets have a lot on the line as they venture to Death Valley, but the Boyd and Watkins connection is very rarely halted. Georgia Tech will need to avoid turnovers and control the clock or the Tigers could run off to another double-digit victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Clemson 38, Georgia Tech 24