If you’re looking for a reason to believe Tech has a chance Saturday, I’ve got a couple. At the risk of being Lucy with the football…
I think Tech will give a far better effort against Clemson than it has the past two weeks, particularly defensively. I think having Jeremiah Attaochu and Louis Young will help, and not only from a talent consideration.
“They come out there with a lot of energy every day,” linebacker Brandon Watts said. “They get everybody going during the game. They’re two of our playmakers. You can never have enough playmakers on the field.”
As best I can gather, I think the Middle Tennessee State loss, rather than fragment the team, got players’ attention and served as something of a slap in the face. Also, Tech will be the more desperate team Saturday, and I think that means something. It certainly did last Saturday. This team seems to handle itself well when it gets counted out.
“We will get their ‘A’ game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ll get the best they’ve got, and our guys know that.”
Attempts at mind-reading aside, consider this. Clemson averages 3.0 points per possession. Tech averages 2.97. (Even if the Presbyterian game is removed, the number is still 2.8.) Clemson’s defense has given up 1.96 points per possession. Tech’s number is 1.94. (The number does jump to 2.47 without the Presbyterian game. That said, Clemson’s numbers might be a little skewed having played Ball State and Furman.)
Clemson has produced 28 plays of 20 yards or more but given up 32. Tech has 27 for and 22 against. Boston College put up almost as many points on Clemson (31) as it did against Maine (32). Clemson’s defense is talented but young.
That said, as Paul Johnson put it Tuesday, “You can take numbers and make them look any way you want, twist them around any way you wanted to twist them. You guys understand that, I think.” (The second comment was classic Johnson.)
Of course, it wouldn’t take me long to build a convincing statistical case that Tech will get its doors blown off Saturday. I’d probably start with 91 points and 1,119 yards of offense allowed in the past two games. I might also mention that the 31-17 win last year at Bobby Dodd Stadium was built on the backs of four Clemson turnovers, the most costly being a fourth-quarter interception in the Tech end zone on what looked like a miscommunication between quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. A touchdown would have made the score 31-24 in Tech’s favor.
All that to say, I think the number of possessions and the speed of the game will go a long way towards determining the outcome. Tech’s best chance is for something akin to last season’s game.
Clemson had 12 possessions (the last when the game was out of reach), ran 65 plays and held the ball for 21:00. The Tigers have averaged 13.4 possessions this season, maxing out at 15 last week. They’ve averaged 80 plays per game. Clemson thrives on big plays, obviously, but also volume.
“You got to try to get some turnovers, force them to continue to execute,” coach Paul Johnson said. “If you don’t give it to them all in one or two plays, make them have to grind it out. They can do that. Clearly, if you watch, they can. But that’s a far better chance of trying to stop them than the other when you give it up in one or two plays.”