WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR CLEMSON vs. GEORGIA TECH
- 2023-11-10 17:39:56
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers finally got over the hump this season with a 31-23 win over Notre Dame even though they still had a couple terrible turnovers—a dropped pass by Collins for an interception in the red zone and a fumble by Mafah in the final minutes that could have allowed the Irish to tie the game. That just reiterates the fact that they should be 9-0 and could beat anyone in the country if they just limit the turnovers to one or none, or at least avoid the critical ones that cost them points. This will always be a season of what could have been, but the best the Tigers can do is use that big win as a spring board to a win streak that will carry over into what could be a special 2024 season.
This will be a bitter-sweet meeting between the longtime I-85 border rivals. The first meeting was in 1898, the 11th game in Clemson history, and the Tigers won that first meeting 23-0 in Augusta. The Tigers won the first 4 meetings with Tech, including 1902 and 1903 under John Heisman. However, after beating Tech 73-0 in Atlanta in 1903, Tech stole the head coach from Clemson for $2,250 per year. The Tigers were 2-1-1 against Heisman and the Jackets in the first 4 meetings, but Heisman won the next 9 meetings in a row. The two programs were interdivision rivals in the ACC until the conference eliminated divisions last year, and under the new ACC scheduling format with Stanford, Cal and SMU, the Tigers and Jackets will not play next season for the first time in 42 years. We have Tech to thank for the $2 bill tradition. For those who don’t know, Clemson played Tech in Atlanta every year for decades, which was obviously a big advantage for the Jackets and why the Tigers trail the all-time series. In 1973, Clemson fans took $2 bills stamped with Tiger Paws to Atlanta in order to show Tech how much money Clemson brought to the Atlanta economy every year and convince them to alternate the series home-and-home. The ploy worked, and the two schools met in Clemson for the first time in 1974. To celebrate the occasion, Clemson held a “First Friday Parade” downtown the day before the game. The Tigers won that game 21-17, and Clemson now holds a First Friday Parade on the Friday before the home opener every year. Clemson fans made a tradition of using $2 bills stamped with Tiger Paws at every bowl game, which shows the bowl committees and host cities how much money Clemson fans bring to their local economies. Many fans do the same for all road games.
The rivalry has produced some unforgettable games over the years, including the first ACC Championship appearance by the Tigers in Dabo’s first full season as head coach. It was an instant classic, with neither team punting in the entire game. CJ Spiller, who should have won the Heisman in 2009, had a game for the ages, but Tech had the ball last and was able to win the shootout. Spiller remains the only player to be named MVP of the ACC Championship from a losing team. Interestingly, Tech is the only team from the former Coastal Division that Clemson did not beat in an ACC Championship. Tech was also the first team Dabo faced as the interim head coach in 2008. I was in the student section that day, having just finished my MBA the previous spring. The Tigers led in the 4th quarter and should have won, but Paul Johnson and the Jackets came away with the win.
It’s a little sad to me that the teams will no longer play every season, but the ACC made the right decision to protect the Clemson-FSU rivalry going forward. The Tigers have won 8 straight over Tech, but this is the best team the Jackets have had in years. They are 5-4 like Clemson, but Tech is 4-2 in the ACC, and the Tigers are 2-4. There is no ACC title on the line this time, but both teams are playing for pride. The Tigers have many players from Georgia and the Atlanta area, and they want to salvage the season by winning out. The Jackets want to break the 8-game losing streak to the Tigers before the rivalry is put on hold, and they want to put together their best season in years. It will be another high-noon showdown in Death Valley on ABC for Military Appreciation Day on Veterans’ Day, with the Tigers in their traditional purple uniforms! On to the matchup…
Clemson trails the all-time series with Tech 35-51-2, but the Tigers have won 8 straight and lead 24-17 since Tech joined the ACC in 1983…Clemson is 161-73-3 when facing a head coach for the first time…Clemson is 105-8 against AP unranked teams since 2012…Clemson is 91-12 in regular season games since 2015, and 10 of the 12 losses were by 10 points or less…Clemson has rushed for a TD in 51 consecutive home games, the longest active streak. The Tigers have at least one rush TD in 75 of 78 games since 2018, also the best in the nation…Clemson has posted 3 pick-sixes this season. One more will tie the program record set in 1990…Freshman Tyler Brown needs 7 catches to become the 6th Clemson freshman with 40 catches since 2010 (Antonio Williams, Justyn Ross, Artavis Scott, Sammy Watkins, Nuk Hopkins)…Freshman TJ Parker is tied for the national lead in tackles-for-loss by a freshman (8.5). The Clemson true freshman record is 12 by Myles Murphy. Michael Dean Perry had 15 as a redshirt freshman. Parker is tied for 3rd among freshmen in sacks (4.0)…Will Shipley needs one more rush TD to become the 8th Clemson RB with 30 career touchdowns. His position coach, CJ Spiller had 32 career rush TD’s. If Shipley rushes for 100 yards, he will be the 11th Clemson RB with at least ten career 100-yard rushing games…Trotter and Wiggins each have 2 career pick-sixes. One more by either would tie the Clemson record set by Arrington Nunn…Saturday will be the 30th Clemson Military Appreciation Day, a tradition that began in 1994 against Georgia Tech. The Tigers are 25-4 on Military Appreciation Day, including 15 in a row. The last loss was against Virginia Tech in 2007… Clemson is one behind Alabama for the most Power Five wins since 2013. Ohio State has 4 fewer, and Georgia has 11 fewer…Dabo won 161 of his first 200 games coached, ranking him tied for 5th all-time with Bob Stoops and Robert Neyland, one win shy of Penn State legend Joe Paterno and Nebraska legend Tom Osborne. Urban Meyer had the most at 170…Dabo’s win percentage is .794, just behind Nick Saban’s .804…
GEORGIA TECH SYNOPSIS
First-Year Head Coach Brent Key has done a tremendous job with Tech since taking over as the interim head coach 4 games into last season when Geoff Collins was fired. Key was an offensive lineman for Tech from 1997-2000, but he was born in Birmingham and was the OL coach at Alabama from 2016-2018, so he has a little in common with Dabo. He is also the first ACC interim head coach to retain the job since Dabo did it at Clemson, so they have that in common too. He went 4-4 last season with a stunning win at No.13 UNC and another over No.24 Pitt. The Jackets are 5-4 this season and 4-2 in the ACC with a miraculous 23-20 road win at No.17 Miami. As many of you know, all the Canes had to do was take a knee to run out the clock and end the game. Instead, they handed the ball off and fumbled. With just 25 seconds left and no timeouts, the Jackets went 74 yards for the game-winning touchdown! Tech lost the following week to Boston College 38-23, but then won a 46-42 shootout over No.17 UNC and clobbered UVA 45-17 on the road.
Key brought in two new coordinators this season, and Dabo has even stronger ties to Defensive Coordinator Kevin Sherrer. He is also an Alabama native, and he played tight end for the Tide beginning in 1993, the year after Dabo’s final year as a player and national championship. Dabo was a GA at Bama while Sherrer was a player from 1993-95, and he was the WR Coach when Sherrer was a GA from 1998-2000. Sherrer returned to Alabama as Nick Saban’s Director of Player Development from 2010-12, and he was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2018 before coaching in the NFL for a couple years. Early in his career, Sherrer was a high school coach in Alabama, and Dabo had a relationship with him in recruiting.
In addition to new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, the Jackets have a new quarterback in 6’3, 204-pound redshirt sophomore transfer Haynes King from Texas A&M. He started one game for the Aggies in 2021 and 6 games last season. King is having a very good season, completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 2,330 yards and 22 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He is a savvy runner, who will find receivers down field in the scramble drill. He averages about 8-10 runs per game and averages 7.2 yards per carry with 5 rush TD’s. He is close to leading the team in both rush yards and touchdowns.
One of King’s favorite targets is 5’11, 173-pound freshman WR Eric Singleton, Jr. (#13). He has 33 catches for 552 yards and 6 touchdowns to lead the team. He had 5 catches for 80 yards and a TD last week at UVA and 8 catches for 117 yards against UNC. 5’9, 155-pound sophomore slot receiver Malik Rutherford (#8) leads the team with 37 catches for 432 yards and 3 scores. He had 6 catches for 83 yards and 2 TD’s against UNC. 6’3, 192-pound junior WR Abdul Janneh (#18) only has 6 catches, but he’s a big-play receiver, averaging 20.3 yards per catch with 2 scores. King spreads the ball around well, with 9 different players catching touchdowns, including 6’5, 233-pound junior TE Brett Seither (#80). Of his 6 catches this season, 4 have gone for scores.
In the running game, 5’9, 180-pound sophomore Jamal Haynes (#11) leads the Jackets with 5.8 yards per carry for 664 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has scored one TD in each of the last 4 games and averaged 7 yards per carry for 119 yards at UVA last week. Haynes only has one fumble this season, coming in the loss to Boston College. 5’11, 198-pound senior Dontae Smith (#4) has not fumbled this season and averages 6.3 yards per carry with 3 TD’s. 5’10, 197-pound junior Trey Cooley (#0) averages 4.3 yards per carry and also has 3 scores. He had 2 TD runs in their 39-34 loss to Louisville in the opener followed by a TD run with 2 catches for 61 yards and a TD the next week against SC State, but he hasn’t scored since. He has 3 fumbles this season. Haynes has 17 catches, and Cooley has 11, so beware of them on screens and hot reads out of the backfield.
Defensively, the Jackets are led by DE Kyle Kennard (#9). The 6’5, 238-pound Atlanta native has 6 sacks and an interception with 2 forced fumbles and recoveries. He’s had a sack in each of the last 2 games. 6’1, 193-pound senior free safety Jaylon King (#14) leads the team with 3 interceptions and has 2 fumble recoveries. He had a pick and a fumble recovery last week and a pick in the Miami win. At nickel back, junior Atlanta native KJ Wallace (#16) has 2 forced fumbles and a recovery. Tech has 7 different players with interceptions and 7 players with forced fumbles. Notre Dame was No.2 nationally in forced fumbles, and a fumble by Mafah at the end of the game gave the Irish a chance to tie. Tech is No.12 in forced fumbles, so ball security will be a huge concern again, as it has been all season.
Tech has a solid kicker in freshman Aidan Birr. He is 10-11 on field goals but hasn’t attempted one from 50 yards or longer.
Tech is ranked No.28 in scoring offense (33.2 points per game), No.14 in rush offense (204.11 yards/game), No.43 in pass offense (261.2 yards/game) and No.14 in total offense (465.3 yards/game). The Jackets are No.104 in scoring defense (30.1 points/game), No.132 (second to last) in rush defense (220 yards/game), No.78 in pass defense (235.2 yards/game) and No.129 in total defense (455.2 yards/game). Their offense is No.20 on 3rd down (47.46%), and defense is No.113 (44.72% conversions). Their red zone offense is No.80 in scoring percentage (82.35) but No.46 in TD percentage (64.71). Their red zone defense is No.122 in scoring percentage (91.67) and No.110 in TD percentage (69.44). As mentioned, they are No.14 in forced fumbles, and they are No.24 in interceptions (10). Tech has lost 14 turnovers but still has a positive turnover margin of plus 0.44 per game.
The Tigers are banged up but hoping to get a few players back after missing the Notre Dame game. Most notably, Will Shipley has been in concussion protocol, and Dabo is hopeful that he will be ready to go on Saturday. Mafah did a fantastic job carrying the load against Notre Dame with 176 rushing yards and 2 TD’s, and fans want him to get the lion’s share of the carries going forward, pointing to his yards per carry versus Shipley’s. Fans tend to have short memories, and the Tigers have won several games on Shipley’s back. He is the national leader in career all-purpose yards per game for a reason. Perhaps Mafah has a better average per carry in part because he comes in with fresh legs after Shipley has worn down the defense. Mafah averaged 5 yards per carry last week, which isn’t much higher than Shipley’s average this season. Dabo hasn’t forgotten what a special player Shipley is, and though I expect Mafah to get more opportunities than he did prior to Shipley’s injury because he has the hot hand, he won’t get many more touches than Shipley. Fortunately, the two backs are roommates and great friends, so there is no tension or jealousy between them when it comes to playing time. Domonique Thomas also had a couple of big plays against Notre Dame last week.
As for the other injured starters, defensive end Justin Mascoll and free safety RJ Mickens could be back on Saturday. Getting Mascoll back would be a big shot in the arm. Safety Jalyn Phillips and corner Sheridan Jones will still be out along with WR Antonio Williams and OG Marcus Tate, who were also out last week.
Tech is playing its best in a long time right now, but the Jackets aren’t as good as Notre Dame. The Irish were ranked No.2 in red one defense, and the Tigers still scored 31 points last week. Tech is ranked No.122 in red zone defense and No.129 in total defense. It is a concern that they are so good at forcing fumbles, which is the Tigers’ biggest weakness and why they are 5-4 instead of 9-0, but Notre Dame was No.2 in that category, and the Tigers only lost one late in the game last week. The Tigers actually won the turnover margin last week, and if they can do that again or break even, they will win easily. I have to believe last week was a turning point, and the Tigers will play even better on Saturday. Make it 9 in a row over the Yellow Jackets, and the Tigers are bowl eligible for a 25th straight year!
CLEMSON 38 Georgia Tech 20
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