WHERE: Raymond James Stadium (65,857) - Tampa, Fla.
WHEN: Saturday, December 5 (8:06 PM)
SPREAD: Georgia Tech favored by 1
On Sept. 10 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, the 13th ranked Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 24-0 lead and withstood the Tigers' 27 unanswered points to win 30-27. Scott Blair kicked the 36-yard game-winning with 57 seconds to play.
Saturday's game will be the 75th meeting between the two schools, and will be the first neutral site game between the two since 1899 when the two met in Greenville, S.C.
Clemson finished 8-4 overall (6-2 in ACC) and winner s of the Atlantic Division. Georgia Tech finished 10-2 overall (7-1 in ACC) and winners of the Coastal Division.
Here's one last look at the matchups that will determine who heads to Miami in January:
CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH VS. GEORGIA TECH PASSING GAME
Paul Johnson is known for his wingbone option offense, but it's the Yellow Jacket big play passing game versus the Clemson secondary/pass rush that's the most important matchup to watch in Saturday night's ACC Championship.
Ricky Sapp and company have to play assignment football Saturday night and not over pursue Tech's lethal backfield featuring RB Anthony Allen, RB Jonathan Dwyer and QB Josh Nesbitt. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)
Throwing to him will be first team All-ACC quarterback Josh Nesbitt, who owns a pass efficiency rating of 157.78. The rating would rank him eighth nationally among all quarterbacks, but he does not have enough pass attempts to qualify. Nesbitt's completed 24 passes for at least 20 yards this season.
Last in the ACC in total passing yards this season, Georgia Tech is the only team to average double digits in yards/completion (11.5).
Despite having a pass rush that is tops in the conference with 34 sacks, Clemson will have a tough time generating a pass rush since the Tigers will be accounting for the dive, quarterback and pitch options.
September's 30-27 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta was the only game this season that Clemson didn't record a sack. First in the ACC in sacks allowed, Georgia Tech yielded just nine all season. An indication of how good that number is: Boston College finished in a distant second with 19.
The Tigers are second in the league in pass defense by giving up 169 yards/game. Ball hawking safeties DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall have combined to make 14 interceptions for Clemson. North Carolina is the only other team in conference to have more as a team (19).
That Thursday night, Nesbitt struggled throwing, completing just three of 14 attempts for 83 yards and threw two interceptions.
Nesbitt has shown marked improvement as a passer in the 10 games since then. The most difficult part in defending against Georgia Tech's passing game is the unknown--when it's coming. That's what's allowed for the Yellow Jacket passing game to be such a big play threat.
CLEMSON RUSHING VS. GEORGIA TECH FRONT SEVEN
Saturday's game is the biggest of ACC Player of the Year C.J. Spiller's Clemson career.
C.J. Spiller will be one of two first-day draft picks on display Saturday night in Tampa at running back. Tech's Jonathan Dwyer will also be one to watch for the Yellow Jackets. (Roy Philpott)
In the first meeting this season, Spiller combined with Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper to rush 27 times for 120 yards. Considering the 24-0 deficit in the second quarter and an inexperienced Kyle Parker at quarterback, the rushing numbers are impressive. From the looks of Georgia Tech's loss to Georgia last week when the Yellow Jackets gave up more than 300 yards on the ground to the Bulldogs, it appears that Clemson could have its way on the ground. Then again, the Tigers rushed for just 48 yards a week ago.
Clemson averaged 157 yards/game and tied for six in rushing attempts. Georgia Tech's run defense has the third highest yards/carry average in the league (4.5) and gives up 136 yards/game.
Starting defensive tackle Ben Anderson will be out due to injury. Filling in for him is the 341-pound T.J. Barnes.
Time of possession plays a great deal into why this will is the second most important matchup in determining Saturday's winner. Georgia Tech averages nearly 34 minutes/game with the ball in the Yellow Jackets' possession. If Clemson is able to improve upon its nearly 29 minute average with long, sustaining drives, it'll be in part because of a quality rushing day. Though explosive abilities of Spiller, Ellington and even Harper could negate the notion, the longer Georgia Tech's offense is on the sideline the better for Clemson.
Whether it gets done chewing clock or hitting on big plays, the Tigers have the advantage.
GEORGIA TECH RUSHING VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Though little discipline was shown versus the run last week against South Carolina, the 223-yard day by the Gamecocks could be a teaching point that was greatly needed heading into Saturday's game.
Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer has enjoyed a strong second half of the season on the way to being named first-team All-ACC. (Getty Images)
Georgia Tech has the best rushing attack in the conference by almost 100 yards/game and it's almost too far fetched to think it can be shut down for an entire game. It's awfully difficult to cover dive, quarterback and pitch on each play, especially when it's coming at you almost 50 a game times.
B-back Jonathan Dwyer and Nesbitt rank among the top five in the ACC in rushing. Together, the duo has accounted for 2,100 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns. Only Virginia Tech has more yards as a team. The 31 touchdowns on the ground is better than every team in the conference.
Anthony Allen compliments Dwyer and Nesbitt from the A-back position, averaging a first down with each carry. He scored the only Georgia Tech rushing touchdown on an 82-yard run in the September game. That rushing score was one of six that Clemson's defense has yielded all season. The Yellow Jackets' 301 yards gained on the ground is the highest total given up this season by the Tigers.
CLEMSON PASSING VS. GEORGIA TECH SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Kyle Parker looked like a veteran as he led Clemson to 27-straight points against Georgia Tech in just his second career start. He threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns, not blinking in the face of adversity.
Though Parker was intercepted twice and completed less than 50 percent of his passes, Clemson was struggling to find its identity throwing the ball. It's nearly three months later, and the Tigers' passing attack should have a big day against a Georgia Tech secondary that's without starting free safety Cooper Taylor.
The Yellow Jackets' pass defense gives up 217 yards/game, which ranks in the lower half of the ACC. The team has nine interceptions with Morgan Burnett leading the way with four.
Jacoby Ford shook free for a 77-yard touchdown catch in earlier this season versus the Yellow Jackets. He should be able to run free through the secondary with Michael Palmer running around as Parker's second favorite target.
Derrick Morgan makes the biggest impact on the Georgia Tech defense with his ability as a pass rusher. He's picked up 12.5 sacks this season, including three against Clemson. Lined up against Cory Lambert when he made the three sacks, Tiger right tackle Landon Walker held TCU's Jerry Hughes to no sacks earlier this season.
CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. GEORGIA TECH SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams played the deciding factor in Clemson's loss to Georgia Tech.
Jerrard Tarrant scored on an 85-yard punt return, fielding a quick kick from Richard Jackson after Clemson lined up to kick a field goal out of a timeout. Demaryius Thomas caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Blair for Yellow Jackets' following score.
Clemson has the nation's best kick returner in Spiller. His four touchdowns returns on kickoffs are more than the nine others in the conference who rank behind him in kick return average. Georgia Tech kick returner Orwin Smith is fourth in the ACC with a 25.3 yards/return average.
Jackson and Blair both rank towards the bottom of the ACC in field goal percentage. Jackson is tied for first in the conference with 20 field goals.
One has to think the Tigers will be guarded against all the gimmicks, having been burned already.
Like all teams faced with kicking the ball to Spiller, Georgia Tech must decide between risking a big return or giving up field position with a squib kick.
PREDICTION: Clemson 34 Georgia Tech 28