The Clemson Tigers got things going in the right direction a little late last season. But they have a chance to make a real mark this year with their stop unit. And in the season opener, they have an opportunity to face a struggling offense when they take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in a game held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta at 8 PM ET on Monday (Labor Day).
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Dabo Swinney, who has won 150 games as head coach, had a difficult time transitioning from Trevor Lawrence at QB. Lawrence was, of course, the top choice in the NFL Draft, and in came DJ Uiagaleilei, a top recruit who had done some fill-in work for Lawrence. DJ threw only nine touchdown passes, and the Clemson offense was hardly explosive in the early stages, tallying just 91 points in the first six games. But the team got it together in the last six contests and then beat Iowa State in the bowl game.
But along the way they beat Georgia Tech only by a 14-8 count, held to 284 yards. This was just a year after they had beaten the Yellow Jackets 73-7.
Time is running out on Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins, who has spent three years trying to transition into a balanced offense after Paul Johnson, a proponent of the triple option, left. He's compiled a 9-25 record (3-9 last year).
Georgia Tech had been recruiting players for the option, and that doesn't work if you want a more pro-style attack. But the defense was more of a handicap last year. They were returning ten starters on that side of the ball, but nonetheless they allowed 4.5 yards per carry, 65% completions and 6.6 yards per play. Now just three starters are back.
In the college football betting odds posted on this game by the folks at BetAnySports, Clemson is the favorite
Clemson Tigers -24
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets +24
Over 51 Points -110
Under 51 Points -110
What makes Clemson double-tough in this situation is that they have a defensive unit that may turn out to be the best in the nation. And we say that even as they have lost coordinator Brent Venables, who took the head job at Oklahoma.
There are at least three legitimate All-America candidates - defensive end Myles Murphy, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and linebacker Trenton Simpson. These people will be dominant at the point of attack, and that presents headaches for a G-Tech team that lost top running back Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama.
Swinney has his top two tailbacks returning, not to mention four of five offensive linemen. And he is looking for Uiagaleilei to make a leap. Granted, the Yellow Jackets are not at such a handicap at the QB spot, as Jeff Sims, though not a game-breaker quite yet, is capable. But Clemson has a backup plan in the person of freshman Cade Klubnik, who was the #1 high school recruit at his position. We don't expect Swinney will have a lot of patience if DJ can't get off to a big start.
Our feeling here is that Georgia Tech is going to be hard-pressed to put a lot of points on the board, or perhaps even enough to cover the number. We could go in the direction of an "under," but remembering last season's unnecessary scare, they may just run it up and move Collins one step closer to the unemployment line. Lay it.
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