Back in October, the outlook for the remainder of the Georgia Tech football season looked pretty bleak. The Yellow Jackets had lost three straight games (two of them to ACC Coastal opponents), and the meatiest part of the schedule was still in front of them. Now Tech sits poised in a veritable four-way tie for first place in the division entering Thursday’s huge game with the No. 8 Clemson Tigers.
The Yellow Jackets are no stranger to upsetting top-ranked teams under the leadership of Paul Johnson. They toppled No. 15 Florida State and No. 11 Georgia in 2008, No. 4 Virginia Tech in 2009 and–of course–No. 5 Clemson in 2011. But does this Georgia Tech team have that type of upset in them this year?
The short answer. Absolutely.
History would probably disagree with that assertion, as since upsetting Clemson in 2011, the Yellow Jackets are 0-7 against ranked teams, and Clemson has won two of the last three meetings. But history can change on Thursday night.
Little by little, this team that seemed so inept at running the triple-option offense has become quite adept, and seems to break off huge gainers several times a game. A-back Robert Godhigh and B-back David Sims have taken over and started to make this clock-grinding, ground control offense run at peak efficiency.
While the Yellow Jackets have slowly and steadily improved after stumbling early on, the Tigers have taken an opposite track, finding once again that post-halfway point games are not always kind to Clemson and head cheerleader Dabo Swinney. The Tigers were routed 51-14 by Florida State at their home stadium on national television, followed up by struggling to beat a Maryland team who has thrown everyone including the waterboy into their injury-riddled lineup.
Besides the diversion in direction of the two teams, Tech has the ability to do the one thing that can neutralize the high-flying Clemson offense…
Keep the Tigers offense off the field.
The Jackets just need to play their game; control the ball, control the clock, and control how much time Tajh Boyd and his posse of receivers are able to spend not sipping Gatorade and spinning away on the warm-up bike.
And the Clemson defense is ripe for the picking in what Tech can do when they are on. Georgia did it probably better than anyone, and Syracuse, Florida State and Maryland followed suit. They ran the ball, stretched out the Clemson defense, and kept the defensive linemen on the ground. If Yellow Jackets quarterback Vad Lee uses his legs and makes good decisions, then Tech should be able to practically run at will against this speedy but undersized Clemson defense.
The Yellow Jackets must be able to get positive yardage on first and second downs though, because faced with third and long (and the obvious weak link of the Jackets’ passing) the Clemson defense is at their best and can force turnovers that will turn the game around.
It’s simple for the Yellow Jackets. Control the clock, don’t turn the ball over, keep big plays–especially by Sammy Watkins–to a minimum on defense. That’s the road map for beating Clemson. The pressure is all on the Tigers to try to remain in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid. The Yellow Jackets can march into Death Valley and be the same spoiler they were in 2011.