A week after holding Georgia Southern to a mere 80 rushing yards, Clemson wanders into Bobby Dodd Stadium to face a Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team that is currently at a crossroads. Having lost their top running back KirVonte Benson for the rest of the season, Georgia Tech is going to need an extra spark against a Clemson front that is tied for third in the nation with 12 sacks. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets are going to need their best possible performance from quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who has admittedly been uneven through the first three weeks of the season. While leading the team in rushing yards with 293 yards and four touchdowns, he has struggled in the passing game, throwing 2 touchdowns and a whopping four interceptions, which has led to a less-than desirable QBR of 37.9. The loss of Benson has certainly put more pressure on Marshall, but it is evident that the same problems that plagued him last season remain.
However, even with the loss of Benson, Georgia Tech remains the top rushing team in the country, boasting an average of 392.7 rushing yards. Jordan Mason and Tobias Oliver have been the main rushing threats outside of Marshall. Mason is the most productive in terms of rushing yards with 274 yards, but Oliver has demonstrated a nose for the endzone, and is second on the team with three rushing touchdowns. Out of the 11 rushing touchdowns Georgia Tech has scored thus far, Marshall (4) and Oliver (3) account for well over half of them. When the Yellow Jackets are in the red zone, there’s no question that the ball is likely going to either of these two.
With Marshall’s struggles in the passing game, Georgia Tech has not established a real threat at receiver. In fact, their leading receiver has been senior Clinton Lynch, a running back the Yellow Jackets use more in their passing game. At 6’0, 192 pounds, Lynch doesn’t have the size, but has demonstrated an ability to be Tech’s big play threat in the passing game. Thus far, he has three receptions for 111 yards. While he has not reached the productivity he did during his sophomore campaign (16 receptions for 490 yards and six touchdown), he’ll be a player to watch when Georgia Tech has to throw the football. With Clemson’s questions at safety and penchant for biting on misdirection, Georgia Tech’s ability to hit big plays through the air could determine whether they can stay competitive and neutralize the Tigers’ aggressive front. This will be another key game for Clemson’s safeties. Head Coach Paul Johnson is probably relieved that Dorian O’Daniel has finally graduated, so the spotlight will be on Isaiah Simmons yet again.
Defensive back Kaleb Oliver has been the biggest playmaker for Georgia Tech’s defense, amassing 11 tackles (including two tackles for loss), an interception and a forced fumble.However, the Yellow Jacket’s defense has been vulnerable these first three weeks. Against the Pittsburgh Panthers, Georgia Tech spent most of the game playing from behind thanks to a three-touchdown deficit. With Marshall’s inability to throw downfield coupled with his inherent struggles and the limitations of the option, Georgia Tech’s 320 rushing yards meant little in the end. Against South Florida, Georgia Tech had no answer for South Florida quarterback Blake Barnett, who accounted for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in the Bulls 49-38 victory. Thus far, Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence have been efficient in Clemson’s quarterback rotation, and either could be in for some big plays on the ground and the air, respectively.
The Tigers saw Travis Etienne get back to form with 162 rushing yards against Georgia Southern, and it’s possible he could have another big day given Georgia Tech’s vulnerabilities on defense. Clemson has only won once in Atlanta in the last decade, as Bobby Dodd has not been a place of pleasant memories for Clemson fans. However, with the talent of Clemson’s front coupled Georgia Tech’s vulnerabilities on defense and Marshall’s own struggles, the Tigers have the potential to make a statement in their first ACC game.