3 early keys against Georgia Tech

CLEMSON - If the Tigers are going to win their first ACC Championship in 18 years, it starts with these three keys Saturday night in Tampa.

How many times have we heard this over the years? First it was Wake Forest with its misdirection offense that gashed opposing teams on the backside. Now it's Georgia Tech, with its triple option attack that leads the universe in rushing for the second consecutive season under Paul Johnson.

Making matters more complicated is the fact Clemson's defense has struggled consistently stopping the run in recent weeks, and really struggled with quarterbacks on the ground. Now facing Josh Nesbitt, the ACC's top signal caller when it comes to rushing yards, it becomes more important than ever the Clemson defense does it homework and follows through on its assignment for every single snap Saturday night in Tampa. The spotlight here resides squarely on the shoulders of Clemson's linebackers- especially Brandon Maye and Kavell Conner. They can't over pursue and must stay in their assigned gaps to help limit Tech's ground attack.

Dabo Swinney has to get his team to bounce back one more time Saturday against Georgia Tech if the Tigers are going to win the ACC. (Getty Images)
Where is Clemson mentally after being upset by its archrival? Where is Georgia Tech, for that matter, having suffered the same fate, at home no less, against underdog Georgia? Which team responds the best after both teams suffered disappointing losses will likely dictate the outcome of the ACC Championship Game.

The Tigers have shown outstanding bounce-back ability this season but that will be tested in a major way Saturday after their six-game winning streak was snapped in Columbia.

This goes on both sides of the ball ... the Tigers have to limit Tech on first down to try and force the Jackets to the air on second down or third down and long. In addition, Clemson must be much more productive on first down than it was against South Carolina this past weekend to create manageable second and third down situations to help sustain drives. Most fans will point to the fact Clemson was 3-for-13 on third down against the Gamecocks and say that's the area that needs the most improvement, however the majority of those third downs were of the 3rd-and-7 or longer variety.

The Tigers have to get better production on first down to setup manageable situations later on in order to sustain long drives and beat Tech.

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