The 15th-ranked Clemson Tigers return to Death Valley this weekend, as they host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in ACC action at Memorial Stadium.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers finished up a two-game road swing, splitting the pair of games, with a loss at Florida State, followed by a hard-fought 45-31 win at Boston College. At 4-1 on the season, Clemson is a game behind the undefeated Seminoles in the ACC's Atlantic Division standings.
Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets have dug themselves into an early hole in the ACC's Coastal Division at 1-2. The team's losing has not been restricted to just ACC foes, as Tech dropped a 49-28 decision at home last weekend to Middle Tennessee to finish off an extended four-game homestand at 2-2.
Georgia Tech holds a sizable 50-25-2 series advantage against Clemson, including posting a 31-17 upset win over the then sixth-ranked Tigers last year in Atlanta. This marks the fifth meeting between these two teams in the last four years.
The Yellow Jackets got four rushing touchdowns from quarterback Tevin Washington last weekend, but that was all the scoring the team could muster in a humbling loss to the Blue Raiders. Running the football is nothing new for Johnson's team, which enters the week ranked third nationally at 329.4 ypg.
Washington has 11 rushing TDs on the season already and with his performance last week, tied the school-record for rushing scores in a game. He now ranks second in school-history and in the ACC with 29 career rushing TDs. Adding to the team's backfield depth are Zach Laskey (303 yards, one TD), Orwin Smith (245 yards, two TDs) and Vad Lee (185 yards, three TDs).
Unfortunately for Tech, the run simply sets up more runs, as the passing game is non-existent at a meager 158.2 ypg.
The offense for Georgia Tech has had its share of moments, but consistency on the defensive side of the ball is a rarer commodity these days. The Yellow Jackets are yielding just under 400 yards of offense per game, ranking 69th nationally in total defense. The Tigers have generated little in terms of a pass rush (seven sacks), but have forced nine turnovers thus far.
Junior safety Isaiah Johnson leads the team with 32 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Quayshawn Nealy is a close second with 30 stops.
The Yellow Jackets better find a way to shore things up defensively, or it will be a long afternoon/evening in Death Valley. Clemson brings one of the nation's most prolific offenses into the game, averaging just over 510 yards of offense. The Tigers move the ball with ease both on the ground (200.6 ypg) and through the air (310.2 ypg), but the straw that stirs the drink is quarterback Tahj Boyd.
The junior signal-caller has been efficient in 2012, completing just under 70 percent of his passes, for 1,351 yards, with 12 TDs and just three INTs. It helps to have plenty of talent on the outside, headlined by wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Hopkins has stepped up and become one of the ACC's biggest vertical threats, leading the team in receptions (42), receiving yards (604) and TD catches (six). Hopkins set the school's single-game record with 197 receiving yards against Boston College an continues to demand the ball week-in and week-out.
Watkins missed the first two games due to suspension and sat out the Boston College game with an abdominal virus. However the sophomore earned All- American accolades last season as a freshman and is as dangerous a receiver as there is in the ACC when at full strength.
The Clemson rushing attack is in good hands as well in the form of tailback Andre Ellington, who is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, amassing 515 yards and six TDs on the season.
It is a pick-you-poison type of thing when defending the Tigers.
"We've got a huge challenge this week in getting ready for a ranked team on the road in Clemson," said Johnson at his weekly press conference. "Without question from a personnel standpoint, offensively, they've got a lot of weapons. Both receivers, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are great players. I think Andre Ellington is as good a back, if not the best back in the league. And their quarterback is playing at a high level, so huge challenge there."
Much like the Yellow Jackets, defense seems to be optional for Clemson. The Tigers are giving up a generous 438.0 yards per game in 2012, getting gashed by both the run (175.4 ypg) and the pass (262.6 ypg) at times.
The linebacking corps headlines the defense for Clemson, with Stephone Anthony leading the team with 46 total tackles. Fellow LB Jonathan Willard is a distant second with 33 stops.
"We've got Georgia Tech this week, and it'll be a big challenge for us back in the Valley," Swinney said. "I like where we are right now. We're 4-1, and hopefully just a team that's going to improve and get better."