The Final Breakdown

Clemson is riding a six-game winning streak into Saturday's matchup at Georgia Tech.

WHAT: No. 19 Clemson at No. 22 Georgia Tech
WHERE: Grant Field - Atlanta, GA (51,000)
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 15 (12:00 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 3
TV: ESPN

GEORGIA TECH RUN GAME VS CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Synjyn Days has rushed for 503 yards this year. (Getty)
Clemson has faced strong running games this season but nothing like it will see this week. Georgia and Boston College both are run-first teams, but neither does anything like Georgia Tech with its option offense. And the Yellow Jackets have gone back to a true option attack this season with Justin Thomas running the show after getting away from the option last year. That move has paid off with Thomas rushing for 781 yards on just 142 carries to lead the Yellow Jackets to 336.0 rushing yards per game, which tops the ACC. Zach Laskey has rushed for 595 yards on 120 carries despite missing the past three games. In his place, Synjyn Days has been outstanding, rushing for at least 100 yards the past three games to have 503 this season. Laskey returns this week, and that should add to the test that Clemson’s defense will face. But the Tigers’ defense has passed most of those rushing tests this season (outside of the second half against Georgia). The Tigers rank second in the ACC, allowing just 90.5 yards per game, and they lead the conference, allowing just 2.7 yards per carry. This will be strength on strength, and the Tigers’ veteran defense will need to stay focused and disciplined throughout the game to try to slow down the Yellow Jackets’ attack. So give Georgia Tech the slightest edge because it focuses so much on the run game, but this matchup should be fun to watch throughout the game as Brent Venables matches wits and chess pieces with Paul Johnson

Advantage:

GEORGIA TECH PASS ATTACK VS CLEMSON PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Vic Beasley must provide run support Saturday. (Getty)
Georgia Tech’s passing game offers a strange challenge for the Clemson defense. The Yellow Jackets rank 13th in the ACC in passing yards (145.7) and only complete 51.3 percent of their passes. Yet, the Yellow Jackets lead the conference in passing efficiency. Another interesting note: Georgia Tech has completed only 77 passes, yet it has thrown 15 touchdown passes. Thomas has completed 67-of-134 passes for 1,294 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. His favorite target is DeAndre Smelter, who has 27 catches for 594 yards. Smelter is averaging 22.0 yards per catch and is ninth in the ACC with 59.4 yards per game. Clemson’s pass defense leads the ACC, allowing just 161.1 yards per game, and it has done that by being a complete pass defense. The pass rush has been strong, and the secondary has been dynamic throughout the season. A matchup to watch is cornerback Mackensie Alexander going up against Smelter. Smelter is a big, physical and fast receiver who is at his best making big plays, but Alexander seems to thrive in those kinds of situations.

Advantage:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. GEORGIA TECH FRONT SEVEN
The return of Deshaun Watson should help the ground game. (Getty)
Clemson’s running game hasn’t been strong for most of this season, but it seems to be finding its footing. And it has certainly found a go-to runner in Wayne Gallman. The redshirt freshman has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games and now has 405 yards on 95 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Clemson is 10th in the ACC and is up to 141.2 yards per game, which has slowly been climbing the past few weeks. That could continue against a Georgia Tech rushing defense that hasn’t been very good. The Yellow Jackets are 10th in the ACC, allowing 169.0 yards per game on the ground, and they are solid on their defensive front, led in the middle by Adam Gotsis and Shawn Green. But the Yellow Jackets’ linebackers have struggled against the run, and Clemson’s offense will try to take advantage of that.

Advantage:

CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. GEORGIA TECH PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Artavis Scott is having a breakout freshman campaign. (Getty)
Georgia Tech’s passing defense has been even worse than its rushing defense. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 239.7 yards per game through the air (13th in the ACC) despite having a veteran secondary with three juniors and a senior in the starting lineup. Freshman Keshun Freeman has been a pleasant surprise at defensive end, but Georgia Tech hasn’t generated much pass rush. That’s not good with Deshaun Watson returning to the starting lineup as the Tigers’ quarterback. Cole Stoudt was solid filling in for Watson after the dynamic freshman broke a bone in his hand against Louisville, but the Clemson attack is different with Watson running the show. Watson has completed 75-of-112 passes for 1,176 yards with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. If he’s not rusty – it would be understandable if he is – he could have a big game against Georgia Tech, and that means big days for Mike Williams and Artavis Scott.

Advantage:

SPECIAL TEAMS
Ammon Lakip is a Lou Groza Award semifinalist. (Getty)
Harrison Butker has been inconsistent as the Yellow Jackets’ place-kicker, while Ryan Rodwell handles the punting duties. Butker has made just 7-of-12 field goal tries, including just 1-of-5 from 30 to 39 yards. Clemson’s special teams play has become a strength for the team since a rough start to the season, but Ammon Lakip needs to continue that on the road. He could be key, along with Bradley Pinion setting up the field position game, against a Yellow Jackets team that wants to keep the ball for long periods of time.

Advantage:

OVERALL
Georgia Tech looked like it was in trouble after losing to Duke and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks in October, but the Yellow Jackets have responded with three straight wins, showing quite a bit of character when many folks were calling for Johnson’s job. Sitting at 1-2, the Tigers needed to get back on track, and they have with six straight wins. So there will be two hot teams meeting up in Atlanta, and the winner keeps its hopes alive of playing for an ACC title, although it would still need a lot of help. A strong bowl game is a real possibility for the winner, while the loser likely is headed to a second- or third-tier game. Clemson hasn’t won in Atlanta since 2003, but defense travels and helps overcome the home team’s advantage. Banking on that defense, and the return of Watson, should give the Tigers plenty of confidence and momentum going into this game. That said, this one should be a fight from start to finish and should be exciting and intriguing to watch throughout.

PREDICTION: Clemson 34, Georgia Tech 24

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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