The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - The final breakdown as the Tigers head to Atlanta to face off with No. 15 Georgia Tech.

QUARTERBACKS: When comparing quarterbacks, it's almost an apples to oranges routine. Georgia Tech's option offense doesn't leave much room to throw with Josh Nesbitt. Although Kyle Parker has attempted only 20 passes in his college career (all last week), it was more than Nesbitt attempted in all of 2007 when he took a lot of direct snaps in the 11 games he played in as a true freshman.

With Paul Johnson on board for his first year at Georgia Tech in 2008, Nesbitt threw 123 times in the 11 games he started. Though he barely 44 percent of his passes last year, they went for 808 yards. Nesbitt is truly the most effective on the ground, where he's racked up over 1,000 yards with a 4.6 average yards per carry.

Parker's arm is stronger and he's shown mobility, not quite like Nesbitt's though. Nine of 20 last week with four drops, Parker also showed his dual-threat ability with 44 yards rushing.

Because of his experience and knowledge of Johnson's system, we give Nesbitt the slight edge. With Willy Korn backing Parker and Nesbitt's backup Jaybo Shaw out for another few weeks, the Yellow Jackets could be in serious trouble if Nesbitt goes down (he missed two games last year).


RUNNING BACKS: Two of the most explosive players in the ACC will go toe-to-toe Thursday and it's the match up that's got most of the country interested in the game. Two contrasting styles of runners, Conference Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer versus the all-purpose bolt of lightning C.J. Spiller is reason enough to call the it a push.

In addition, both teams have depth beyond their respective feature backs.

Clemson's young stable includes Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, a smash and dash/thunder and lightning duo that's got Tiger fans excited for life after Spiller. They'll get carries with Spiller still at Clemson though.

Georgia Tech has a stable of runners at the A-back position that includes Roddy Jones, who carried for 690 yards a year ago, and Anthony Allen, a Louisville transfer who had over 1,000 yards in two years with the Cardinals, leading the team as a freshman with 14 touchdowns.

Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 1,395 yards in 2008 on his way to being named the ACC's Player of the Year. 110 of those yards came in Tech's 21-17 come-from-behind win over Clemson. (Getty Images)

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Like the running backs, Clemson and Georgia Tech have two contrasting kinds of superstars. Georgia Tech's DeMaryius Thomas is a big, physical, 6-3 specimen who could play just about anywhere in the country. Clemson's Jacoby Ford is a few inches short of 6-feet and a few steps faster than just about everyone in college football.

Both have futures in the NFL, but Ford's size, durability and skill is outmatched by Thomas.

Beyond those two, each team has questions at receiver. If Clemson had one other reliable veteran wide receiver, then it's Clemson's advantage, no question. Michael Palmer has proved that he's a capable pass catcher at tight end, but he didn't record a catch against Middle Tennessee.

With Marquan Jones' emergence through camp and against Middle Tennessee, he's showing potential to be Ford's complimentary receiver.


OFFENSIVE LINE: Clemson's five starters along the offensive front all check in over 300 pounds. Georgia Tech's Cord Howard is the only starter and one of two on the Yellow Jackets' two deep that's over 300 pounds.

Howard and Clemson guard Thomas Austin are both considered all-conference talents.

Joining Howard from last year's line is Joseph Gilbert. In 2008, Georgia Tech led the ACC in rushing and was third in the country. Tackle Brad Sellers moved from tight end during the spring and Austin Barrick started a few games at the end of last season, but played in every game. Center Sean Bedford is a former walk-on who has been a career backup.

C.J. Spiller's 159 yards in the return game broke last Saturday's game open against Middle Tennessee. (Kevin Bray/
Clemson's offensive line has been a question mark since the spring. It's shown some continuity with Chris Hairston at left tackle, Austin at left guard, Mason Cloy at center and Antoine McClain at right guard. Cory Lambert and Landon Walker continue to go back and forth at the right tackle spot, though both have played and started over the years.


DEFENSIVE LINE: Georgia Tech lost three starters from 2008 to the NFL. Defensive end Michael Johnson was taken in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals, defensive tackle Vance Walker in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Darryl Richard in the seventh round by the New England Patriots.

Derrick Morgan returns at end and has been talked about a lot by Clemson players and coaches this week.

Clemson's skill and depth starts in the middle with Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson and moves outside with Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers. Throw in Malliciah Goodman and Kevin Alexander on the edge and Clemson's ends are among the best anyone in the country has to offer. In the middle, Miguel Chavis, Jamie Cumbie and Rennie Moore will see plenty of snaps in hopes of eating up Dwyer's work through the middle.


LINEBACKERS: Clemson's 2008 Freshman All-America Brandon Maye mans the middle with Scotty Cooper/Alexander and Kavell Conner flanking him. Conner, who is on the Butkus Award watch list, has 202 career tackles. Depth at linebacker is one of the few concerns for the Clemson defense.

Though Georgia Tech runs a 4-2-5, free safety Cooper Taylor is also listed as a linebacker. We'll throw him in with the linebackers to make the numbers a little more fair. He was second on team and second among ACC freshman in tackles last year.

Ricky Sapp has proven he is back at 100 percent after ACL surgery last November. (Roy Philpott/
Outside linebacker Sedric Griffin began 2008 as a back-up before moving to a starting role. He showed grittiness through the end of the season by playing after injuring his knee against Miami in late November. Inside linebacker Brad Jefferson missed four games in 2008 because of injury but started in three of the nine he played in.

Neither Griffin nor Jefferson have proven themselves to be capable producers at linebacker over the length of a season.


DEFENSIVE BACKS: On the perimeter, Clemson's Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor are two of the top cover corners in nation. Georgia Tech cornerback Mario Butler could emerge this season as one of the nation's best after four pass deflections and an interception as a sophomore in 2008.

Georgia Tech ROVER Morgan Burnett was an All-American last year and tied for first nationally with seven interceptions.

DeAndre McDaniel is making a name for himself as one of the nation's hardest hitting safeties. Beside him is either Marcus Gilchrist or Sadat Chambers at free safety. Fellow free safety Rashard Hall showed up in a big way against Middle Tennessee with 10 tackles.

Clemson showed there are some very capable back-ups at corner behind Butler and Chancellor. Gilchrist also plays in the nickel and dime spots. Byron Maxwell and Xavier Brewer showed last week they'll develop into solid options for the future.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Spiller and Ford alone give Clemson the edge because of their abilities to change games with one return. Jerrard Tarrant showed big play capabilities last week against Jacksonville State, scoring on a 68-yard punt return himself.

Georgia Tech kicker Scott Blair was 12-19 on field goals last year with all of his misses coming outside of 40 yards. Clemson kicker Richard Jackson has a strong leg and showed it last week, making a 44-yard field goal. But he also missed two from outside 40 yards.

Punter Chandler Anderson punted six times last year for an average of 41.7 yards for the Yellow Jackets. He punted twice last week for a 51-yard average. Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman landed two of his punts last week inside the 20 and had a long of 51. His average last year was 38.5.


The bottom line is Clemson's defense and game breakers on special teams will prove to be the deciding factor in picking up a big Thursday night conference road win.

PREDICTION: Clemson 17 Georgia Tech 16 Top Stories