CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)No. 6 Clemson is looking for some consistency on offense. Facing Georgia Tech the past few years has typically helped the Tigers find it.
Clemson (1-1) has won the past six games in the series, the past three in dominant fashion including a 73-7 drubbing last year in Atlanta.
”I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that question,” Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said during a news conference about the 2020 blowout. ”That was not a fun moment, but I think you learn from those things.”
The Tigers hope to learn about their offense while the Yellow Jackets (1-1) expect an improved defense to start Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Clemson is breaking in new starters at quarterback and tailback to replace NFL first-rounders – and past three ACC players of the year – in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne.
D.J. Uiagalelei has had a bumpy start to the season, struggling in a 10-3 loss to Georgia before a more solid showing with a touchdown pass and two rushing TDs in a 49-3 victory over South Carolina State of the FCS last week.
Clemson runners had only 2 yards rushing combined in the loss to Georgia. Freshman Will Shipley steadied things a week ago with 80 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Kobe Pace added 68 yards.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney saw much ”fundamental improvement” in the running game against undermanned South Carolina State.
”The backs did an awesome job,” Swinney said. ”We didn’t give the backs much opportunity in the first game.”
Georgia Tech fell at home to Northern Illinois 22-21 in their opener before defeating Kennesaw State 45-17 a week ago.
Tigers offensive coordinator Tony Elliott like the overall progress he saw from Uiagalelei and the attack from the first to the second week. Clemson scored touchdowns on its first four drives in the opening quarter to putaway its FCS opponent.
”You look at those first four drives, we were able to establish some rhythm,” Elliott said.
Clemson hopes it can do the same thing to the Yellow Jackets, much like it has the past few seasons.
Some things to watch when Georgia Tech plays at Clemson.
Lyn-J Dixon was Etienne’s primary backup the previous three seasons and figured to slip into the starting backfield. But Dixon is third string and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said the senior runner is figuring out how to mesh with first-year running backs coach C.J. Spiller. ”So it’s really more accountability and communication between the two,” Elliott said.
Kyric McGowan, a transfer from Northwestern, already has three touchdown catches, including two against Kennesaw State.
”My mindset going into any game is I want to be that reliable receiver for whatever quarterback is back there,” McGowan said. ”Just being able to make the play when my name is called.”
McGowan’s emergence was not expected. He had two career scoring catches in 42 games before his move to Georgia Tech and now leads the Yellow Jackets with nine catches.
Clemson has won its past six ACC openers, including three against the Yellow Jackets. The Tigers won in Atlanta to start league play in 2016 and 2018 and at home in 2019. Georgia Tech has lost two of its last three ACC openers, although it beat Florida State 16-13 to start conference play in 2020.
Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said ”one of the big challenges” of the offseason was avoiding penalties. Georgia Tech ranked 119th nationally with 74.9 penalty yards per game. It’s only two games, but Collins is encouraged by his team’s clean play. The Yellow Jackets rank second in the nation with only 18 penalty yards per game.
Clemson freshman Will Taylor sports the nickname ”Maverick” after the Tom Cruise character in the movie Top Gun. Offensive coordinator Elliott hung it on the quarterback-punt returner because of how he carries himself with ”feistiness.” Taylor, who had a 51-yard punt return last week, has embraced his new name.
Top Gun’s Maverick ”seems like a confident guy,” Taylor said. ”I like that.”
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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