It was late Friday night, and quarterback Jeff Sims had returned to his dorm room following Georgia Tech’s 46-27 win over Louisville. His mind was already on next Saturday (Noon, Channel 2 Action News).
“I definitely want to get started on reviewing Clemson’s film and just get ready for that game up here, because that’s a big game for us,” Sims told media on videoconference. “I think that’ll be a big statement game for us.”
What figures to be Tech’s toughest test of the season has arrived. After four games that have demonstrated that the Jackets have clearly improved in some areas and have work to do in others, Tech will be held up against college football’s standard with the visit from No. 1 Clemson to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to show what we can really do,” running back Jahmyr Gibbs said.
No. 1 Clemson’s résumé speaks for itself. Over the past five years, they’ve won the College Football Playoff twice, reached the championship game two other times and made the playoff the other season. They’ve won the ACC championship each of the past five years. Their league record over that time, including five wins over the Jackets, was 38-2. Following their 42-17 win over Miami Saturday, the Tigers have won 25 ACC games in a row (including postseason games) and also 33 consecutive regular-season games, the latter standing as the longest such streak in ACC history.
Coach Geoff Collins was witness to Clemson’s might in his Tech debut last year, as the Tigers rolled to a 52-14 win and outgained the Jackets 632-294.
Tech has a 5% chance of winning, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. (Tech also was given a 28% chance of beating Louisville and a 25% chance of beating Florida State.)
Following Tech’s win over Louisville, Collins gave the team the day off on Saturday before resuming with its standard Sunday meeting and practice.
“We understand that we have a great football team rolling into town at noon next Saturday, so we’ve got to get ready for that, as well,” Collins said.
Any chance of an upset will depend initially on a superior week of practice.
“Every single thing that we can do to get ready from a preparation standpoint, from a mental standpoint, from an execution standpoint, we’ve got to do that at a high level,” Collins said.
Tech has made significant strides since last year’s Clemson game and even from the end of last season. Behind a vastly improved offensive line, the Jackets have created 400 yards of offense in each of their four games, which Tech didn’t do once last year.
The defense has nine sacks in four games after recording 17 all of last season. The lineup has been strengthened by freshmen like Sims and Gibbs and transfers including defensive end Antonneous Clayton and right guard Ryan Johnson.
But the Jackets have yet to be tested by a team like the Tigers. While Tech is averaging 213.8 rushing yards per game, 16th in FBS, Clemson has allowed 89.8 yards on the ground per game. Three of its four opponents having been held to fewer than 90 yards. Prior to Saturday, Miami was averaging 232.3 rushing yards. Clemson held the Hurricanes to 89 rushing yards on 25 carries.
The Jackets have not matched up with a player like Tigers running back Travis Etienne, the two-time ACC player of the year who a year ago gobbled up 208 yards from scrimmage against the Jackets on 13 touches. He had 222 yards from scrimmage against Miami Saturday on 25 touches.
“I can talk superlatives on (Clemson quarterback) Trevor Lawrence all day, but Travis Etienne is the guy,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said Saturday night. “He’s as good of a player as there is in college football.”
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