GoJackets.com Preview: GT vs. Clemson

The Clemson Tigers came into the 2009 season with a new hope under head coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson looks to be loaded with talent across the board as usual, but will the new coaching staff bring more consistency to the program and make its first statement on Thursday?

The young head coach told GoJackets.com's Rod Mackenzie during preseason at the ACC kickoff, "My number one goal is to win the opener." Well, as for goal number one, mission accomplished for Coach Swinney as Clemson beat Middle Tennessee State University 37-14 on Saturday. The second goal for Swinney is to win the division and with conference play starting Thursday, the Tigers can begin their work for that. Coach Swinney also told Mackenzie that his staff would not be smart if they looked ahead to the Tech game for week two. He said they would just have to deal with having three days to prepare for the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech's second goal for the season is to go undefeated at home, so both teams will be ready to make a statement Thursday night in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets started their season off on a positive note Saturday, beating Jacksonville State 37-17. Head coach Paul Johnson wasn't too pleased with his team's effort, however. He said the intensity wasn't there the whole game after starting the game off with a Jonathan Dwyer 74-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Coach Johnson also said that his team wasn't "mean enough" and lacked a "killer instinct." The Yellow Jackets are looking to come out with more intensity against Clemson and take their first step towards their number one goal of winning the ACC.


Clemson Offense – Clemson's go-to-guy is their school-promoted Heisman candidate, C.J. Spiller. C.J. scored last Saturday on the opening kickoff when he took the ball 96 yards for the score. Spiller only ran the ball four times for 12 yards before he came out of the game with a tweaked hamstring. Currently, all signs point to Spiller being fine enough to play Thursday and have more of an impact on offense. Starting quarterback Kyle Parker, a redshirt freshman and star baseball player, got his feet wet Saturday in his first career start. He went 9 for 20 (there quite a few drops) with 159 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 25 yards on seven carries. Third downs should be critical on Thursday for the Tigers. They struggled on offense last year on converting third downs and if they can succeed in this area on Thursday, they'll be certain to score often.

Impact Player – RB #8 Jamie Harper: The sophomore is a capable backup and showed that on Saturday carrying 15 times for 75 yards. Whether or not Spiller's hamstring is truly healthy and ready to go, Harper will see playing time and can be a big part of getting Clemson's ground game going.

Georgia Tech Offense – One thing has to be cut down on or completely gotten rid of on Thursday for the Yellow Jacket Offense to get clicking. That would be the fumbles. Against Jacksonville State on Saturday, Georgia Tech fumbled five times and lost three of them. That happens against the Tigers, and Tech would be lucky to come out with a victory. There were some positives on Saturday though. Josh Nesbitt looks to be smoother dropping back in the pocket while he showed touch and accuracy on his passes. After a few drops, he finished the game 6 for 11 with 141 yards and a touchdown. Demaryius "Bay-Bay" Thomas received the benefit, catching four passes for 101 yards. Leading the way with Nesbitt and Thomas in the offense is star b-back and Heisman candidate Jonathan Dwyer. These three guys are a threat to cause a scoring play at any moment, not to mention the likes of a-backs Anthony Allen and Roddy Jones on the field at the same time.

Impact Player(s) – The Yellow Jacket offensive line: Blocking the talent Clemson has in their linebackers and defensive line is going to be a huge test. If the Jackets cut them to the ground consistently, the Tigers will be hurting physically and on the scoreboard.

Clemson Defense – The defensive line is nasty and will be ready to wreak havoc in the trenches. Nine different linemen rotated in the game on Saturday and all made stops. Brandon Maye, a sophomore in the middle, leads the linebackers. Maye has a nose for the ball and it showed against MTSU when he was in on 14 stops, seven solo tackles, and had one tackle for loss, forced a fumble, and made an interception. The secondary is an experienced group led by junior strong safety DeAndre McDaniel. McDaniel had 14 stops on Saturday; eight solo tackles, and intercepted a pass. The Tigers clearly have the talent on defense to force the other team to make mistakes and that will be pivotal for them on Thursday.

Impact Player – DE #93 Da'Quan Bowers: The sophomore end is a beast at 6'4" 280 lb. He is very strong, very fast, and if he can bust through Tech's line consistently as he has ability to do, many Yellow Jacket plays could be broken up. Bowers started six games as a freshman last year and had a major impact on games in the last half of the season. Against GT last year, he made five tackles on 34 snaps.

Georgia Tech Defense – The defensive line didn't look all that bad on Saturday, but will certainly still be looking to make a statement. Junior DE Derrick Morgan is the leader of the unit and will be seeing double-teams from the Tigers' offensive line. Morgan looked strong against JSU making five stops, two and a half for loss, had two sacks, and broke up a couple passes. Junior middle linebacker Brad Jefferson leads a unit that looks to be much stronger this season. Jefferson and senior Sedric Griffin are both healthy and look to be playmakers for the defense. Another linebacker to watch is backup freshman Julian Burnett, who got in on nine tackles and a sack in the first game. The secondary is the strength of the defense, led by rover Morgan Burnett. Burnett broke his thumb last Saturday but will still be ready to play Thursday. If the Yellow Jackets can stop the Tigers' running game, they will have opportunities to cause some turnovers and give the ball to the offense to control.

Impact Player – FS #22 Cooper Taylor: Taylor was second on the team in tackles last season as a true freshman. With a freshman quarterback playing for the Tigers, I'm looking for the sophomore safety to make some big plays on third downs as he roams the defensive backfield.

Clemson's defense and special teams play will have a lot of say in who wins this ball game. Clemson caused three turnovers last Saturday and Jacoby Ford scored on a 61-yard punt return to go along with C.J. Spiller's 96-yard kick return for a score. What's most important for Georgia Tech will be stopping the run. Clemson hasn't had any success on the ground the last two seasons against Georgia Tech, which led to two consecutive Yellow Jacket victories.

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