The Tigers (8-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) hold their first Thursday night game at home in 11 years when they take on Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) tonight. It was a month ago when college football last centered on Death Valley and the ACC’s first top-five showdown in eight years, with Florida State in town.
Instead of a shootout, it was a Florida State beatdown with the ’Noles scoring the most points by an opponent at Clemson in the 51-14 loss that cost Clemson a shot at the ACC title.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney likes how his team has bounced back since with sizeable road wins over Maryland (40-27) and Virginia (59-10). Still, he knows his team must keep striving if they hope to have a special season.
“Not many teams that started in the top 10 stayed in the top 10,” he said. “Our team has kind of hung in there and had a really good season to this point, but we’re going to be judged on how we finish.”
Defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said the Tigers owe the fans after the Florida State debacle and are ready to make amends against Georgia Tech.
“It feels like we haven’t had a home game in forever,” he said. “I think we’re going to give a lot of positive feedback.”
Georgia Tech has never made it easy for Clemson and doesn’t figure to in this one, either. The Yellow Jackets are trying to keep alive their ACC title hopes — they are among four two-loss teams atop the Coastal Division — and lead the league at more than 311 yards rushing a game this season.
Tech coach Paul Johnson has won four of the six meetings with Clemson since coming on board with the Yellow Jackets after the 2007 season, several of those when a Tigers victory would’ve been historic. The Jackets spoiled Swinney’s head coaching debut in 2008 and beat Clemson for the ACC championship a season later.
Two years ago, it was Georgia Tech’s 31-17 victory that ended Clemson’s 8-0 start and run to a national championship. The Yellow Jackets come in off three straight victories.
“We look at it as an opportunity to go in and measure ourselves as a team and see if we’ve made the progress we feel we’ve made in the past couple of weeks,” Johnson said.
Five things to watch for in Clemson’s game with Georgia Tech
TAJH ON TARGET?: Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd has had some up and down moments this season. He threw no interceptions his first four games, then had six picks in the past five.
Boyd seemed to right things in Clemson’s last game when he passed for 377 yards and three TDs in the blowout win at Virginia and the senior is eager to end his career strongly.
“I want to be remembered as a finisher,” Boyd said.
GEORGIA TECH’S OPTION: The Yellow Jackets have run over Clemson the past six meetings, surpassing 300 yards on the ground in all but two games of that stretch.
They went for 339 yards rushing in last year’s 47-31 loss, yet held a 31-30 lead in the fourth quarter before fading.
David Sims and Robbie Godhigh, the former Harrison High School star, have combined for more than 1,000 yards and 11 TDs.
CUT BLOCKS: Williams smiled when asked about Georgia Tech.
“Man, I don’t want to deal with all those cut blocks,” he said.
The Yellow Jackets offensive linemen are proficient at the practice of tying up a defender low and getting them on the ground. Williams says the Tigers must be fast at moving their feet to make plays.
THURSDAY NIGHT MADNESS: Clemson hasn’t had a Thursday night game at home since losing to North Carolina State
38-6 in 2002. The school’s administration tried to stay away from such home games because of the disruption to academic life.
Afternoon classes will be cancelled for the game, although the parking lots for fans won’t open until 2 p.m., perhaps limiting the usual tailgating crowd at Death Valley.
SACK MASTERS: Both sides feature pass rushing ends who have made a difference this season.
Clemson’s Vic Beasley leads the ACC and is third in the country with 10 sacks. Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attoachu has six sacks and is a big reason why his team’s given up less than 19 points a game this year.