Thursday NCAA Preview: Clemson at No. 15 Georgia Tech
by Matt Severance - 9/9/2009
If you like running games, tune in for Thursday night's ACC battle between Clemson and Georgia Tech (-5½ on Bodog), which features the two best running backs in the conference if not the country in the Tigers' C.J. Spiller and Tech's Jonathan Dwyer.
Last week, however, Spiller put up just 12 yards on four carries. He did have a 96-yard TD return on a kickoff in the win over Middle Tennessee, but he didn't play in the second half reportedly because of hamstring and foot injuries. Dwyer had 95 yards and two TDs on seven carries (including a long TD run on his first carry), but didn't play the second half of the Jackets' win over Jacksonville State. That was simply a coaches' decision to keep Dwyer fresh for this one.
On the injury front, Jackets running back Roddy Jones should play as he has been cleared from a dislocated wrist. Jones was the team's second-leading rusher with 690 yards on just 81 carries last year. Safety Morgan Burnett injured one of his thumbs in last week's game against Jacksonville State but will play. Burnett's thumb will be taped up, but it shouldn't affect his play, according to the Tech coaches. He had seven interceptions last season, tied for tops in the nation, with two of them coming against Clemson.
Meanwhile, there wasn't a single player on Clemson's injury report. Spiller practiced Monday and said on Tuesday he was able to run and accelerate with ease.
Of course, the difficult thing for Clemson is that it has just a few days to prepare for that unique Georgia Tech triple-option offense. Coach Paul Johnson's system forces all 11 defenders to adhere to their assignments perfectly but forces them to move laterally instead of attacking. You can bet the Tigers worked on that in the week leading up to Middle Tennessee as well. In 2008, Georgia Tech passed the ball only 20.4 percent of the time.
"It's a very unique offense," Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said. "You have to play on your own part, can't play another person's job. You have to be very disciplined."
In last year's game, Georgia Tech won at Clemson, 21-17, with Dwyer rushing for 109 yards on 21 carries. It was the Jackets' fourth win in the past five meetings in the series (but 10 of the last 13 games have been decided by five points or less). The Tigers rushed for just 51 yards on 24 carries as they played without Spiller (hamstring). It also was Clemson's first game under then-interim coach Dabo Sweeney.
Clemson hasn't fared well in Atlanta, not winning there since 2003. In fact, the Tigers haven't scored a TD there against Georgia Tech since that year.
While neither team is strong passing, look for the Jackets to throw the kitchen sink at Tigers freshman starter Kyle Parker, who fared well last week in his first start, going 9-for-20 for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Parker became the first freshman to start an opening game at quarterback at Clemson since in 1945.
The early public action on this game is heavily toward Georgia Tech (73 percent), which goes against the recent close game trend in this series. The line has moved as much as a point toward the Jackets since its open.
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