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Jackets impressed by Clemson's offense
Tigers still have weapons without Spiller in backfield
Virginia running back Keith Payne (22) is stopped short of the goal line by the Georgia Tech defense in the fourth quarter on Oct. 9 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. - photo by By John Bazemore

ATLANTA — While Clemson’s offense and Georgia Tech’s defense finally seem to be hitting their strides, both could see their troubles return.

Their matchup is a showdown between the nation’s 55th-ranked total defense against the No. 80 total offense.

Clemson’s problems are in the passing game. Coach Dabo Swinney puts as much blame on dropped balls as he does on quarterback Kyle Parker’s low passing average (162 yards per game to rank eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Tigers (3-3, 1-2 ACC) had five drops two weeks ago in a loss at North Carolina and six in a victory last week against Maryland. Running backs and tight ends were responsible for all the miscues last week.

“I definitely think it’s going to turn around, and it’s going to get better, but we’re not where we need to be as a passing team,” Swinney said Wednesday. “We haven’t really thrown the ball a lot, but (defenses) start loading up on you and overcommitting. We have good players. We just have to get it to the right guys.”

Georgia Tech’s defense has suffered from a lack of turnovers. The Yellow Jackets (5-2, 3-1) managed six takeaways in last week’s win over FCS opponent Middle Tennessee, but they had only seven through the first six games.

Coach Paul Johnson attributes some of the earlier problems to players who are still adjusting to their roles in the 3-4 scheme installed by first-year defensive coordinator Al Groh.

It’s been difficult for the Jackets to bring consistent pressure up front, which obviously has resulted in a low number of interceptions. Before playing Middle Tennessee, Georgia Tech ranked 85th nationally and was tied for 10th in the ACC in takeaways.

But the Jackets have won three straight in allowing an average of 18.3 points, and against Middle Tennessee, safety Jerrard Tarrant and cornerback Dominique Reese combined for two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble.

“We got some turnovers in the last game, and that is an area that we talked about,” Johnson said.

Clemson is running the ball efficiently despite the departure of running back C.J. Spiller, who finished his career as the NCAA’s No. 2 career leader in all-purpose yards.

Spiller’s replacement, Andre Ellington, is averaging 79.3 yards rushing and 5.8 yards per carry — numbers similar to his predecessor’s. Jamie Harper, the second-string running back, averages 41 yards rushing.

Parker believes the success of Clemson’s rushing attack will be critical to ending a four-game slide against Georgia Tech. Against Johnson’s triple-option offensive attack, which thrives on controlling the clock, Parker estimates the Tigers miss out on three to four possessions per game.

“The biggest thing is you have to make the most of every drive you have, whether that be driving down giving them a long field to make it extremely difficult for them or scoring whenever you have the ball,” Parker said. “Little things like that are a little different when you go against them.”

Injuries could leave each team without a significant starter. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s leading wide receiver, is listed as probable after missing the Maryland game. Georgia Tech defensive end Jason Peters is listed as questionable after leaving the Middle Tennessee game.

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