The Final Breakdown

There's plenty at stake when Clemson and Georgia Tech renew their annual rivalry in Atlanta on Saturday.

WHAT: No. 5 Clemson at Georgia Tech
WHERE: Bobby Dodd Stadium (55,000) - Atlanta, Ga.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 29 (8:12 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -3.5
TV: ESPN

For No. 5 Clemson [8-0, 5-0 ACC] to keep hope alive in the push for BCS National Championship, the Tigers need to exit Bobby Dodd Stadium with a win. A victory would make it nine-straight to open the season, something that hasn't been done at Clemson since 1981.

If Georgia Tech [6-2, 3-2 ACC] is to remain in the chase for the ACC Coastal division title, Saturday is a must-win. Back-to-back losses to Virginia and Miami have Georgia Tech behind the eight-ball in the push for an early December trip to Charlotte, N.C.

Led by fourth-year head coach, Paul Johnson, the reeling Yellow Jackets are out of the top-25 for the first time since Sept. 11.

But Johnson is 3-1 against Clemson since arriving in Atlanta. (He was 4-1 against the Tigers before the 2009 ACC Championship win was vacated because of NCAA infractions.)

Third-year Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is 1-3 against Georgia Tech. His first-game as the Tigers' interim head coach in 2008 was against the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech won, 21-17. One of those three losses is the 2009 ACC title game.

The series has been one of the most tightly contested in ACC play. Of the last 16 games, 12 have been decided by five points or less, which includes a run six-straight games [1996-01] that saw every outcome determined by exactly three points.

In 2000, the last time Clemson started 8-0, a 31-28 loss to Georgia Tech prevented a 9-0 run.

What will happen Saturday night? Here's a look at what to expect:

TECH RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
This season's review of Georgia Tech's offense should be split into two parts.

Part one: non-conference games [three].

Part two: ACC games [five].

After facing the likes of Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Kansas, Georgia Tech was first in the country in rushing offense [427.67 yards per game], total offense [675.33 yards per game] and scoring [59.33 points per game].

Five games later, Georgia Tech is fifth in rushing [321.13 yards per game], 17th in total offense [478.5 yards per game] and 17th in scoring [38.38 points per game].

After rushing 50 times for 604 yards and seven touchdowns against Kansas, Johnson's offense has seen a steady decline in production.


Orwin Smith leads the team with 516 yards rushing and is second with eight touchdowns. (Getty Images)
Against North Carolina Tech rushed 58 times for 312 yards and three touchdowns.

Versus N.C. State - 52 carries, 296 yards and three touchdowns.

Maryland - 60 carries, 272 yards and three touchdowns.

Virginia - 53 carries, 272 yards and two touchdowns.

Miami - 48 carries, 134 yards and a touchdown.

Ball control. That's the aim of the triple-option offense Johnson has been running in his 15 seasons as a head coach. Just as long as he's chewing up clock and getting points on drives, Johnson can live with substandard stats. He wants to keep Clemson's offense as close to 10 possessions as possible.

To keep up with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Johnson needs Washington to distribute the ball better on the pitches to Orwin Smith, Roddy Jones, Orwin Smith and Tony Zenon.

Though the Georgia Tech A-backs aren't superb in space, if the execution is right, there's potential for big plays.

Smith leads the team with 516 yards rushing and is second with eight touchdowns. Jones has 270 yards and two scores, Peeples has 24 carries for 230 yards and Zenon has carried 12 times for 73 yards.

Clemson defensive tackles Brandon Thompson, Rennie Moore and Tyler Shatley should able to handle most of the between the guards runs from Washington and B-back David Sims. The loss of starting center Jay Finch will make it even tougher for the Yellow Jackets to attack the middle of the Clemson defense.

If Clemson is able to keep Georgia Tech from gaining too many yards on first and second-down, that could force the Yellow Jackets to pass when they don't want to.

The Tigers have given up an average of 169.38 yards on the ground. It's hard to point the advantage in their direction because only one team this season has come anywhere close to that mark is Miami.

Georgia Tech wants to run it and likely will easily surpass 200 yards Saturday night.

For prognostication purposes, advantage to the home team.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. TECH SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Much of Clemson's success this season can be attributed to Tajh Boyd's start.


Tajh Boyd is ninth in the country in passing yards per game [297.38], seventh in total passing yards [2,379], 11th in passing efficiency [160.68 rating] and second in points accounted for [22 per game]. (Roy Philpott)
Boyd's favorite target, Sammy Watkins, has also made a name for himself on the national scale. Watkins is seventh in the country with 819 yards receiving and 16th with 102.38 yards receiving per game.

With two touchdown catches, he would tie Aaron Kelly for the single-season Clemson record of 11 touchdown catches.

Not bad for a true freshman.

The one-two punch has a pretty tough challenge with Georgia Tech this weekend. The Yellow Jackets' pass efficiency defense rating of 109.27 is 18th in the country.

Opponents have thrown for over 200 yards against Georgia Tech just twice this year -- Kansas [211] and North Carolina [204].

As a team, the Yellow Jackets also have nine interceptions. Isaiah Johnson and Rod Sweeting are tied for the team lead with three apiece.

The pass-rush has been mediocre. Georgia Tech averages two per sacks game, which is 55th nationally.

On first and second-down, Boyd will see plenty of cover-2. Look for Georgia Tech to sit back in a soft zone and dare him to force throws into tight windows. As long as Boyd's patient and takes care of the ball, the Clemson running game should loosen things up the secondary.

Boyd must also avoid another slow road start. Here's to thinking he starts well and ends even better.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. TECH FRONT SEVEN
Even with Andre Ellington listed as questionable, Clemson should be able to create positive running plays with some of the other options at Chad Morris' disposal.

Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard, who was named the starter for Saturday, have rushed for 238 and 167 yards, respectively, and both have averaged over 4 yards per carry. Howard is first on the team with 6.7 yards per rush while Bellamy's 6.3 is second.


Freshman RB D.J. Howard leads Clemson with 6.7 yards per rush this season.(Roy Philpott)
Still, with those two, there are sconcerns about ball security and pass blocking.

Boyd has also shown that he's a capable runner with 302 yards gained. His 81 carries, which is second-most among Tiger runners, have netted 165 yards. Many of the 137 yards rushing lost are a result of sacks. The four rushing touchdowns he's scored this season are also second on the team.

If Ellington is unable to play, Watkins provides another option to take handoffs from Boyd. His 6 yards per carry [21 attempts] is third-best on the team.

Still, Ellington's production can't be ignored. He's got 146 carries for 745 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Bellamy, Howard and Boyd have combined for 144 carries, 570 yards and seven scores.

With or without Ellington, Georgia Tech's run defense is still 77th in the country with an average of 177.5 yards given up per game.

And the yards per contest increased in every non-conference game.

Western Carolina had 40 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

Middle Tennessee recorded 29 carries for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

Kansas - 42 carries, 151 yards and two touchdowns.

There has been a similar trend against ACC opponents.

North Carolina - 27 carries, 128 yards and two touchdowns.

N.C. State - 38 carries, 195 yards and a touchdown.

Maryland - 41 carries, 246 yards and two touchdowns.

Virginia - 47 carries, 274 yards and two touchdowns.

The uptick ended with Miami, which rushed 41 times for 122 yards and two scores.

Clemson, the No. 40 team nationally in rushing offense [178.88 per game], should finish somewhere near or between the N.C. State and Maryland totals, even with a nicked up Ellington.

ADVANTAGE:

TECH PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Once again, the non-conference/conference split applies to the Georgia Tech passing game.

Three games in, the Yellow Jackets were first in the country with a pass efficiency rating of 322.73, and it's been on a steady decline since.

After...

North Carolina - 283.59

N.C. State - 260.48

Maryland - 209.14

Virginia - 190.14

Miami - 175.23


Tech QB Tevin Washington has completed 45 of 93 passes for 1,139 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. (Getty Images)
Georgia Tech is now sixth in the nation and the onus falls on Washington.

He's completed 45 of 93 passes for 1,139 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. His top target, Stephen Hill, has 18 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith is the only other Yellow Jacket pass catcher with double-digits in receptions [12].

There's truth to the cliché -- a pass in this offense is like a trick play. Double-moves are a staple of the Georgia Tech passing game, and Clemson has certainly been burned by those, both this season and years past.

Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks and how disciplined they play could determine how much success the Yellow Jackets have through the air.

It could be a hit or miss matchup, for either side. Or it could be pretty insignificant. Too close to call.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. TECH SPECIAL TEAMS
Anyone who's kept a close watch on Georgia Tech this season will tell you that special teams have been downright awful this season.

Earlier this week, Johnson said special teams woes don't standout until the losses start coming, and that is all the Yellow Jackets have done in their last two games.


Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro is 13 of 16 on field goals this year. (Roy Philpott)
Win or lose, they're bad.

Georgia Tech is No. 12 in the ACC in field goals. Justin Moore has connected on just half of his eight attempts, with a long from 40.

Georgia Tech is No. 11 in the ACC in kickoff returns, averaging 19.6 yards per return. Zenon's 79-yard return against Maryland the best of the season.

Georgia Tech is No. 10 in the ACC in punting with 34.9 yards per attempt. Sean Poole has hit six punts of 30 yards or less. Chandler Anderson has punted twice in as many weeks, and neither was returned.

Georgia Tech is No. 9 in the ACC in kickoff coverage. The Yellow Jackets average 61.3 yards per kickoff with only four touchbacks.

Georgia Tech is No. 5 in the ACC in punt returns, averaging 7.6 yards.

Clemson's had its ups and downs on special teams this season - scoring on a kick return against Maryland before giving up a 100 yard touchdown versus North Carolina last week.

But Georgia Tech has had far more downs than ups.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 49 Georgia Tech 42


CUTigers.com Top Stories