2013 Georgia Tech @ Clemson -- Game Preview

Joshua S. Kelly-US PRESSWIRE

This week Clemson hosts Georgia Tech for the first Thursday night game in Tigertown in quite some time. Clemson has not been historically successful playing Thursday games but has shown some success as of late. This will be just Clemson's third home Thursday night game since Thursday Night televised games became all the rage. Clemson lost both of those (GT in '98 and NCST in '02) and will be looking to revers that trend tonight. Let's see what the Tigers are running up against as Clemson tries to close out ACC play with but one conference loss on the year.

General Team Comparison

Clemson Georgia Tech
2013 Record: 8-1, 6-1 ACC 6-3 , 5-2 in ACC
Rankings: 8 AP, 6 USA Today, 8 BCS NR AP, NR USA Today, NR BCS
Location: Clemson, SC Atlanta, GA
Colors: Clemson Orange and Regalia Old Gold and White
Enrollment: 20,768 19,393
Athletic Director: Dan Radakovich Mike Bobinski
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney, Alabama ‘93 Paul Johnson, Western Carolina ‘79
Record at Current School: 48-22 (.686) 46-29 (6th year)
Career Record: 48-22 (.686) 153-68 (17th year)
Offensive Coordinator: Chad Morris Paul Johnson
Base Offense: Spread Option / Flexbone
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Venables Ted Roof
Base Defense: 4-3 4-3
Athletic Website: www.clemsontigers.com www.ramblinwreck.com

General Game Information

Game Time 7:30 PM EST
Stadium Memorial Stadium (81,500)
Host City Clemson, SC
Television ESPN
Play by Play Announcer Reece Davis
Color Commentator David Pollock / Jesse Palmer
Sideline Samantha Ponder
Clemson Radio Clemson Tiger Sports Network (WCCP FM)
CU Play-By-Play Pete Yanity
CU Color Commentary Will Merritt
CU Sideline Reporting Patrick Sapp

Head Coach

Georgia Tech is, of course, led by Paul Johnson. Johnson also serves as the Yellow Jackets' offensive coordinator, which we'll discuss below. Johnson gained national recognition as head coach of two schools, Georgia Southern and Navy, before taking over the Georgia Tech program back in 2008. Under Johnson's guidance GA Southern won two D1-AA championships ('99 & '00) and was the championship runner up once ('98). Johnson was also the offensive coordinator for two other D1-AA championships at Southern in '85 and '86 under the great Erk Russell.

Johson's bread and butter is his ability to have his team line up and run a relatively limited offense very well. He emphasizes the importance of precision implementation and perfection of a couple basic ideas. He makes slight adjustments based on what the opposition gives him to eat the opposition alive with a very potent option attack. He'll kill you with the dive. When you commit to the dive, his QB will pull the ball and make you pay there as well. Shift you line to better take away the dive, then outside veer, and he hits you with the midline. There are several counters, sweeps, and such they will run, but basically the offense is so simple that Paul Johnson barks out plays either from memory or from a small notecard based on the front Clemson shows them. This season Georgia Tech added a credible passing attack to their repertoire, meaning Johnson has more ammunition on his notecard than he had in years past.

Offense

We've given you the quick and dirty on CPJ above with a brief overview of his system.  We have also discussed at great length his flexbone attack including the basic blocking schemes and the handful of plays that Johnson will run down your throat if given the chance.  I won't bore you here by rehashing this information but will direct you to a stream that was put together to highlight these items.

Overall, this offense features seven players with over 100 yards rushing on the season.  Thus, the "skills players" you should be aware of on the Tech offense are obviously located in the backfield.  As with all option/veer-based offensive attacks, this thing all starts with quarterback Vad Lee.  Lee has carried the football 138 times for 394 yards and six scores.  While not a passing juggernaut, Lee has shown at times this season that he can throw the football.  On the season he's attempted 114 passes for just over 1000 yards (with a TD/INT ratio of 8/6).  While not overly impressive to say the least, we all know what can happen if Tech gets the ground game going then slips in a little play action pass...it is bad news for the opponent and Lee will connect in that situation.

The GT rushing attack features a plethora of backs.  The team is led on the ground by Columbia native and David Simms.  The senior is the workhorse 114 carries for 610 yards and 9 TDs on the season.  I'll note that with just 22 yards, he'll break the 2000 yard rushing mark for his career.  Robert Godhigh has emerged this season as a statistical machine.  With only 42 carries on the season, Godhigh rushed for 473 yards (11.3 ypc) on the season.  His season is highlighted by a pair of 100 yard games on the year.  The senior is also a big receiving threat with 12 catches for 235 yards.  Zach Laskey rounds out the 400+ yard rushing club with 69/429 and 6 TDs.  You may recall that Laskey totaled nearly 700 yards on the ground last season.

One key item to remember when watching Georgia Tech's offensive attack is this is a four down offense.  Paul Johnson has repeatedly shown that he is not afraid to attempt a 4th down conversion anywhere on the football field.  Clemson has several times been a victim of Georgia Tech repeatedly converting 3rd and 4th downs.  The result was that Georgia Tech completely dominated time of possession-keeping the Tech ground game rolling and the Clemson offense on the sidelines.  Clemson has to limit Tech and keep them in longer 3rd down situations.

Defense

Ted Roof returned to Georgia Tech this season.  Roof replaces Chessmaster Al Groh in this position. You'll recall Groh went from playing Chess with the ACC to checkers to Go Fish then eventually Candyland before finally getting the ax after his defense gave up 47 at last year's game in Clemson.  Needless to say, this is Roof's first season as defensive coordinator under Paul Johnson.

Clemson fans should be familiar with Roof, though.  Ted Roof is well known from his days on George O'Leary's Georgia Tech staff, as defensive coordinator then head coach of the Duke Blue Devils in the mid-2000's, then as Auburn's DC several years ago.  Roof is highly regarded in the coaching community as a defensive mind and coaching assistant.  He was a Broyles Award nominee (best assistant) during his stint with Tech in the late-90's. After being fired at Duke, Roof was immediately hired at Louisville to coach linebackers, then moving to Minnesota as their defensive coordinator. He rose back to the national spotlight after accepting the defensive coordinator job at Auburn in 2009.  While at Auburn, the Tigers won a MNC.  Playing opposite Gus Malzahn, his statistics were not particularly impressive and he and Auburn parted ways following the '11 campaign.  He then spent a minute at UCF before jumping ship to direct last season's Penn State defense.

Roof's reputation is of an aggressive defensive guy who is willing to get after the opponent and take chances.  Most who have seen Roof coach over the years also know his desire to show multiple looks in addition to his risk-on attitude.  This includes a preference for M2M coverage over zone looks.  We'll likely see a base four man front featuring a 1-tech and 3-tech with the possibility of a three man front if the situation allows and the Jackets can slide players in and out as needed.  Like most teams we face, I fully expect GT to rotate out a linebacker in favor of the nickel-shifting their base 4-3 to the popular 4-2-5 in an effort to slow down the spread.

This defense is improved over last season and Clemson fans should not simply think that because they were that bad last year this will be a cakewalk.  Ted Roof deserves credit as that group was absolutely atrocious one season age.

Overall

There are a few obvious keys to this football game.  First and foremost, the Tigers have to take care of the football.  As with any game, turnovers can turn a game.  Against Georgia Tech, they can be debilitating.  Any extra possessions given to the Jackets could easily be a time draining clinic on running the option.  This leads to an obvious second key-get Georgia Tech off the field.  If the Jackets can methodically move the sticks by repeatedly converting 3rd and 4th downs, it could be a long night for our Tigers.  Clemson wants a high snap count and Tech is obviously all about shortening the football game.  One side will have to yield and this will likely be determined by the GT flexbone attack vs. Brent Venables' defense.

The Clemson offense would love to keep the momentum gained the past couple weeks going.  The Tigers appear to be back on track following a couple big offensive games.  They face a defense that gives up fewer than 19 points per game and is improved.  The questions we all have include questions we have every week:  What can we expect out of the offensive line?  Will Tajh get in a groove/dominant or will he be shaken/timid?  This could be a monster game throwing the ball if adjustments can be made to keep defenders off of Tajh and proper hot reads made by receivers.  As we discussed earlier, Roof is aggressive and will try and pressure the Clemson attack.  Clemson must counter by identifying and taking advantage of the M2M situations we'll see throughout the football game.

Georgia Tech has been a streaky team this year with only one really bad loss (Miami pulled away late, VPI won by a touchdown, but BYU covered up Tech out west).  That being said, Tech's most impressive win has to be against Duke.  If Clemson can come out and not beat itself, the Tigers should be able to win comfortably on Thursday night television.

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