I lived in Georgia a long time ago now. That fact has been made crystal clear when I realize my last trip to GT to watch this game was that 2003 victory. I moved back to SC in 2004 and Clemson has found all kinds of crazy ways to lose in Bobby Dodd ever since. We have seen wacky and illegal plays, phantom holds, ridiculous formation penalties, injuries to key players, and very badly timed turnovers doom the Tigers many times since that ‘03 beating.
Paul Johnson is more than ready to ruin Clemson's season the way he helped ruin it in 2011 and 2014. The time for the real Clemson Tiger team of 2016 to appear is now after allowing Louisville to steal the spotlight in the conference. This losing streak in Atlanta must come to an end.
Clemson offense vs. GT defense: This should be a mismatch. Of course, it should have been one against Troy as well but we all know what happened there. Clemson was much sharper against the overwhelmed Bulldogs last week and should be taking more confidence into Atlanta. How will Deshaun Watson respond in his return to where his knee buckled on him in 2014? Will he avoid the run opportunities when they arise? You hope to see him doing his normal thing but the psyche can be a complex thing.
How will GT choose to defend the Tigers? My guess is they will try to force the Tigers to be patient in hopes that a penalty, drop, or turnover dooms the drive at some point. This game on both sides of the ball is very much about first down. If Clemson can be good on first down, the Jackets should be in big trouble defensively. GT lacks a real difference maker on the front four like they had with Adam Gotsis last year so Clemson should force GT to commit extra hats to stop the run.
The plays will be there and it is up to the Tigers to not flub them the way they did at Auburn and against Troy. Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams should be back as focal points after two weeks of depth building by the staff.
Clemson defense vs GT offense: GT fans will learn just how much or how little this year's team has improved from last year on Thursday night. Clemson's front four has continued its dominate ways from the last two seasons and seems well suited to stop the option offense.
The key, as usual, is stuffing the dive play consistently and force GT to try to win on the perimeter. The last three years, Clemson has been outstanding against the dive play after Kevin Steele's units routinely got gouged for five to eight yards by the B back. This should be a feeding frenzy for Dexter Lawrence, Carlos Watkins, and Scott Pagano inside. The trick will then be to punish Justin Thomas on every pitch and get numbers to the ball outside. I watched in disbelief when Thomas managed a fourth and 20 pass against BC when the Eagles KNEW the Jackets had to pass, so he is capable as ever at making plays, but I know we will all like to take our chances seeing GT face third or fourth and long. This is usually when Dorian O'Daniel shows out and I know he is looking forward to this game.
GT is improved enough to not expect the dominance Clemson displayed against them last year, but it is up to the defense to start fast and hopefully allow the Tiger offense to build a lead. Playing catch up is not easy against this type of system as the 2011 team discovered the hard way. Force GT to kick field goals when they do threaten and don't bust coverages!
Special Teams: This unit has shown signs of life recently! Ray-Ray is becoming a serious weapon at punt return and the kick offs have been getting better and better. GT is no stranger to special teams craziness, such as last year's stunner against FSU, so focus is required here as much as ever. Underdogs generally need some help along the way and the Tigers need to expect everything in this phase Thursday. I would expect an onside kick and/or a fake punt or field goal at some stage from GT. They will throw caution to the wind to try to win this game here.
Teasdall got a week off last week but his role could be huge in dictating field position. I'm still waiting to see him produce when the team needs it. Field position issues like what we saw vs Troy can't happen in this game.
Overall/Prediction: It is hard to not fret about this game due to the history involved. An early gaffe can easily lead to a "here we go again" feeling. However I think this team has had enough of a dose of humility this season to be dialed in and ready to make a statement Thursday night. This is a game where the media clamors for an upset, but let us not forget that Dabo has put an end to Thursday night futility as well as that archaic term which shall not be mentioned. The Oculus casts its mighty gaze southwest! Clemson 34, GT 19.