We’re only three weeks into the season, but so far, the college football gods have been good to us fans. Not only have we gotten three thrilling Saturdays, but a couple quality Thursdays as well -- Appalachian State’s near-upset of Tennessee in Week 1 and Cincinnati playing Houston close last week. Now, we get Georgia Tech and No. 5 Clemson.
On the surface, this appears to be a mismatch. Clemson is just nine months removed from a national championship game appearance against Alabama, and Georgia Tech is, well, Georgia Tech. But these Yellow Jackets are 3-0 and surging entering this matchup. GT is deceptively good.
Here are three reasons the Yellow Jackets can pull the upset Thursday night.
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Georgia Tech’s defense is way better than anyone realizes
While all the focus is on the Georgia Tech offense and Paul Johnson’s deadly triple-option attack, it’s actually the defense that has carried this club so far. Georgia Tech ranks seventh nationally in scoring defense, allowing just over 10 points a game. Even better, the Yellow Jackets have looked good against decent (if not great) competition, allowing just 21 total points against Power 5 schools Boston College and Vanderbilt.
The Yellow Jackets’ strength plays exactly into Clemson’s weakness. Georgia Tech has been especially strong in the run game, allowing just 115 yards per game. That’s especially bad news for a Clemson offense that for some reason has struggled to run the ball this year. Despite Wayne Gallman’s return, Clemson ranks just 75th nationally in rushing offense, averaging just 166 yards per game.
DeShaun Watson just hasn’t been himself this year
When it comes to Clemson’s offense, it feels like one of those “chicken and the egg” deals. We just mentioned the run game is struggling, but is that because Deshaun Watson hasn’t been able to spread defenses in the passing game, thus not opening up lanes in the run game? Or is Watson struggling to spread defenses because the run game is struggling?
Whatever the case, it’s impossible to argue this: Watson simply hasn’t been himself this year. Through three games, last year’s Heisman finalist is completing a miserable 56.9 percent of his passes, down more than 10 percent from the 67.8 percent he completed last year. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is exactly the same as through three games last year (7-3), which isn’t a good sign for a player who should have progressed in the offseason.
Regardless of why Watson isn’t the same, it's bad news heading into this game. Especially when you consider ...
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Clemson has historically had trouble with Georgia Tech
While everyone thinks of Florida State as Clemson’s primary rival in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets have given the Tigers just as much trouble as FSU has in recent years.
Ironically, Dabo Swinney’s first game after taking over as Clemson’s interim head coach in 2008 came against Georgia Tech, which ended up as a loss, and things have never really gotten better from there. Overall, Dabo is just 4-5 against the Yellow Jackets, which includes a loss in the 2009 ACC Championship Game and an 0-3 record in Atlanta. Even worse, Clemson hasn’t won at Georgia Tech dating back to the 2003 season. That’s right, Dabo -- for as great as he’s been at Clemson -- still hasn’t won a road game against the Yellow Jackets.
It could be an ominous sign, and just one of a handful of reasons the Yellow Jackets could spring the upset.