ATLANTA — Jonathan Dwyer wishes he was a little more agile, like Clemson’s C.J. Spiller.
“When he has the ball in his hands, you better keep your eyes open because he might be down the field if you make one blink,” Dwyer said. “Any time he touches the ball, it’s going to be a show.”
Not that Dwyer is any slouch himself.
Georgia Tech’s junior running back is the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, and he broke off a 74-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball this season.
Both Dwyer and Spiller are likely to put on quite a show when the No. 15 Yellow Jackets (1-0) play host to the Tigers (1-0) tonight in the ACC opener for both schools.
Spiller had one of the best games of his career against Georgia Tech as a freshman in 2006, becoming the only player in Clemson history to have a 50-yard touchdown run AND a 50-yard scoring catch in the same game. Most remember the pass play, which was nothing more than a short throw he turned into something special. Spiller made two guys miss along the sideline and scampered all the way to the end zone, sparking the Tigers to a 31-7 victory.
“We just had a simple curl play called,” coach Dabo Swinney recalled. “It should have been a tackle for no gain. We’ve all seen the film many times. He just does what he does. He peeked the corner, made another guy miss and ran away from everybody.”
Dwyer left plenty of defenders in the dust last season, leading the ACC in rushing with 1,395 yards. Spiller led the ACC in all-purpose yards (1,770), which included 629 yards on the ground while sharing playing time with James Davis.
This year, Spiller has the job all to himself. He should be fresh against the Yellow Jackets, carrying the ball only four times in a 37-14 victory over Middle Tennessee last Saturday.
Georgia Tech also was able to rest most of its starters in the second half of a 37-17 victory over Jacksonville State. Dwyer had
seven carries before heading to the bench, so the five-day turnaround shouldn’t be much of a problem for either team.
Dwyer said he won’t be paying much attention to his counterpart in the Clemson backfield.
“I’ve never really done that before, so I won’t start doing it now,” the Georgia Tech runner said. “But it’s a big game. Who wouldn’t want to have some big numbers?”
Even with all the attention on the backs, this game might come down to the play of the quarterbacks. Josh Nesbitt is the experienced leader of Georgia Tech’s option offense, a run-run-and-run-some-more attack that is used by only a handful of schools at the major college level. Clemson counters with redshirt freshman Kyle Parker, who’ll be playing his second college game.
Nesbitt ran for 93 yards and threw for 141 last week, just the sort of performance coach Paul Johnson looks for out of his junior.
Get the ball to the right back, run it himself when the opening is there, and throw just enough to keep defenses off balance.
“I thought Josh threw the ball the wall,” said Johnson, pointing out the numbers could have been even better if not for three dropped passes. “He’s kind of got a knack for moving around and finding guys on third down.”
Georgia Tech’s offense will be bolstered by the return of A-back Roddy Jones, who sat out the opener to give himself a little more time to recover from a dislocated wrist. He’ll play the game with a small cast on his right hand, but it shouldn’t be a problem when he’s running the ball.
Johnson does have a problem with his team’s carelessness against Jacksonville State. The Yellow Jackets were able to get away with fumbling five times (they lost three of them) against an overmatched FCS opponent, but that sort of sloppiness would almost surely come back to haunt them against a better team.
“It’s not hard to tuck the ball and squeeze it,” Johnson said, dismissing the theory that such a run-oriented team is going to have its share of fumbles. “Not matter what offense you play, someone is occasionally going to knock it out of there by putting a helmet on the ball. That was not the case with ours. They were careless.”
Swinney was pleased with Parker’s debut, even though he completed just 9 of 20 passes. The youngster tossed a couple of touchdowns and didn’t have any major mistakes.
“For the most part, I made good decisions,” Parker said. “I know there are some better throws I can make or where I’m going to go with the ball if I’m going to be successful.”