SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

Clemson fans have been asking for it, and now they have it.

After playing every road game dating back to 2015's seasoning-ending game with South Carolina in primetime, with two of the kickoffs this season having been played in the prestigious 8 o’clock time slot, and after playing only four night games at home in each of the last three seasons, the Tigers host Georgia Tech at 8 p.m. Saturday -- a night game.

The Tigers and the Yellow Jackets' rivalry dates back to a 23-0 win in Augusta, Georgia, in 1898 in what was the Tigers’ 11th game in the first year of their program, and has been one of the best rivalries in the ACC since the Yellow Jackets joined the conference in 1983.

In fact, 12 of the last 21 games played between the two schools have been decided by five points or less, including a six-game streak from 1996-2001 -- in which every game was decided by exactly three points.

Since Dabo Swinney became head coach at Clemson, the Tigers have enjoyed a great deal of success against the Yellow Jackets — going 4-1 against Georgia Tech at home (the only loss coming in Swinney’s first game as an interim head coach in 2008).

Who to watch when Clemson has the ball

  • Kelly Bryant (QB): Bryant will be the second-most-watched player on the field Saturday only behind the Tiger kickers — as Swinney said the competition may come down to who warms up the best.

After suffering a concussion in the Tigers’ loss at Syracuse, Bryant cleared concussion protocol this week and returned to practice Monday following the team’s bye week. But it is not his head that is the major concern, it is his legs— or more specifically his ankle.

Bryant suffered a sprained ankle against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and, while he attempted to play in the Syracuse game, he was noticeably limited in the Tigers' loss. Bryant said earlier this week that he expects to be “80 to 85-percent” by game time, but will that be enough?

  • Travis Etienne (RB): The freshman sensation, Etienne, once again showed what makes him so special in the Tigers’ loss to Syracuse, as he sprinted for a 52-yard touchdown in the game.

Etienne has 446 yards rushing on only 51 carries, including 68 yards on only five attempts in the Syracuse game before suffering a hamstring injury on the touchdown run. Etienne ranks third in the nation in yards per rush (averaging 8.75 yards per carry).

With his hamstring now healed following the bye week and with a sloppy field expected Saturday night, look for the freshman to have a big game.

  • Victor Alexander (LB, Georgia Tech): Alexander has taken over the lead on the Yellow Jackets’ defensive unit with 27 tackles while starting at linebacker and in the Georgia Tech nickel package.

Alexander has started each of the last five games, the first of his career, and responded with seven tackles against Jacksonville State, five against North Carolina, five at Miami and a team-high-tying six against Wake Forest.

Who to watch when Georgia Tech has the ball

  • Dorian O’Daniel (LB): The Tiger linebacker was recently named a Midseason All-American by, The Athletic and The Associated Press, as he has amassed a team-high 61 tackles to go along with two interception returns for touchdowns. He is tied for second nationally in interception returns for scores.

However, it is his play against Georgia Tech that made him a household name. In his career, O’Daniel has had each of his top three games as a Tiger against Georgia Tech. In 2014, O’Daniel amassed 10 tackles and sack. In 2015, he had eight tackles — including three tackles for loss. And last year, O’Daniel tallied eight tackles and two tackles for loss.

  • Clelin Ferrell (DE): Ferrell’s performance against Syracuse on Oct. 13 was one of the few bright spots for the Tigers.

Ferrell had eight total tackles, including seven first hits, and was credited with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. The sack and tackles for loss totals were only a half a sack and tackle for loss off the Clemson single-game records -- while the 5.5 tackles for loss tied for the most in the nation by an FBS player this season.

In last year’s game against Georgia Tech, Ferrell amassed four tackles on 45 plays in the Tigers' 26-7 victory over the Yellow Jackets.

  • TaQuon Marshall (QB, Georgia Tech): Everything begins and ends with the quarterback for Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack, as the quarterback must be able to make the correct read in determining whether to give the ball to the B-back, keep the ball or pitch the ball to the A-back. And that is where first-year starter TaQuon Marshall has excelled.

Despite only having six career starts, Marshall has emerged as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation — amassing 1,160 yards of total offense (704 rushing and 456 passing) and 16 touchdowns (11 rushing and five passing). Marshall ranks in the top 25 nationally in six different statistical categories.

Marshall is the ACC’s league-leader in rushing yards (averaging 117.3 yards per game), scoring (averaging 11 points per game), rushing touchdowns (11) and total touchdowns (11). The ACC has never had a quarterback win the rushing title in their 64-year history.

Preview and prediction

Did the Tigers really learn from their mistakes from the Friday-the-13th disaster at Syracuse? Were they able to refocus and flush the last game out of their system? Will they be able to rebound and find their way back to the playoff?

While all of those questions will not be answered Saturday night, the team will begin the process of answering them.

With the chances of rain at nearly 100 percent for Saturday night’s game, the Tigers will need to be effective in running the ball and protecting the ball on what is sure to be a sloppy field. If they win the turnover battle and play disciplined defense, the Tigers will not only celebrate a victory, they will celebrate Dabo Swinney tying Clemson legend Danny Ford for second place on the all-time wins list (96) on a night that will see the Tigers honor Ford pregame for his Hall of Fame induction.

Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 10

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.


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