The Clemson Tigers invade Atlanta tonight for another ACC showdown. It goes without saying the conference desperately needs one. Last, week, the conference endured one of its worst weeks in recent memory, with two teams falling to FCS schools and five others going down in week one.
Monday night, the conference regained a sniff of dignity with another thrilling episode of the Miami-Florida State series. Now, just three days later, the maligned league hopes for a great game between these cross-division rivals.
Here are three keys to tonight’s game for each team
CJ Spiller’s health
Spiller suffered a minor injury to his leg in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State, but Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney says Spiller could have returned to the game, but decided to rest him for the game tonight.
Spiller must be at 100% if Clemson is going to have a chance to win this game. Georgia Tech’s defense is stout against the run, and Tigers quarterback Kyle Parker is not ready to carry this team on his shoulders. Spiller adds the dynamic in both the passing game and on the ground that could help the Tigers stay in this game.
Defense- stay at home!
Most defensive coordinators across the country will tell you it is nearly impossible to prepare for Paul Johnson’s triple-option offensive attack in a week. That’s the task for the Tigers defensive strategies Kevin Steele. Steele is an experienced veteran who has been both head coach and defensive coordinator at Alabama. The guy knows what he’s doing, for sure. He has all the athletes he needs at his disposal to try and stop the Yellow Jackets, but the Tigers defense better be prepared and execute their game plan, or Tech will run to pay dirt all night long.
The young Parker will be making just his second start at the collegiate level, but his upside is tremendous. He is very talented, and is capable of distributing the ball anywhere it needs to be. However, Tech’s defense is a little different than the Blue Raiders’ defense Parker faced last week. At this point, Parker needs to be able to manage the game, and keep turnovers to a minimum. He needs to be able to keep Clemson’s offense on the field, giving his defense time to rest against the grueling offense of the Yellow Jackets.
When you have arguably the best running back in the country, playing in the top rushing offensive system in the country, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out your best plan. Jonathan Dwyer will need to carry the ball early and often, and wear down the Tigers defense. There are several other running backs who will get the chance to make plays tonight, but Dwyer will have to lead the pack with another typical performance.
Tech’s defensive coordinator Dave Wommack is well aware of the young quarterback Parker’s inexperience. Don’t bet against Wommack sending the house early in the game, blitzing Parker furiously to get him out of a rhythm quickly. If Parker ever feels comfortable during the game and is able to complete passes, Clemson has a great opportunity to sneak out of the “dirty south” with a win.
Nesbitt taking control
Yellow Jackets quarterback Joshua Nesbitt needs to make plays with his arm, as well as his legs. Everybody knows Nesbitt can run with the football, and he can destroy teams with his ability to run the option. The game is going to come down to Nesbitt’s ability to throw the ball down the field, and stretch the field vertically. If Georgia Tech can break some big plays down the field in the passing game, it’s hard to think Clemson will be able to keep up.
If this game were in Death Valley, I’d be much more inclined to give the Tigers a chance, but I can not help but think that with the uncertainty of Spiller’s health and Parker’s inexperience, the Yellow Jackets are going to survive this game.
Dwyer will produce, like he always does, and Parker will throw a couple interceptions in a 34-17 win for the Jackets.