CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is grateful to get back to normal.
Since the season began, the sixth-ranked Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) have had a choppy schedule filled with quick turnarounds and long breaks. When they face Georgia Tech (2-3, 0-2), it’ll mark just the second time in five games the Tigers will have had a typical practice schedule.
After defeating Appalachian State on Sept. 12, Clemson traveled and won at Louisville just five days later. Then the Tigers did not play again for 16 days until last Saturday night’s 24-22 win over No. 15 Notre Dame.
“So it’s been really strange,” Swinney said.
The Tigers now settle in for eight consecutive Saturdays that will make or break their chances at an ACC title and spot in the College Football Playoffs.
“The thing I’m the happiest about is we’re 4-0, but we haven’t even come to close to playing our best football,” Swinney said. “We need to finish better.”
That could be difficult against the Yellow Jackets, a team that’s rolled up 28 points and 409 yards a game on Clemson in the past five meetings.
Sure, Georgia Tech comes in with a three-game losing streak. But Swinney understands the Tigers will have their hands full at Death Valley.
“We have a ton of respect for their program and who they are,” the coach said. “Their record has nothing to do with this game.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said his players have not lost confidence, despite coming in trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak since 1996.
“There is very little margin for error,” Johnson said. “You have to get some breaks. And right now, we are not getting any, they’re going the other way.”
Things to watch when No. 6 Clemson plays Georgia Tech:
WET WEATHER: Clemson fans should brace for another wet outing. Clemson outlasted Notre Dame last week despite a driving rainstorm that was part of a devastating system that brought terrible flooding to parts of the state. The forecast Saturday afternoon calls for an 80 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms during game time.
CLEMSONING? This is typically the sort of week when Clemson has stumbled in the past — the game right after a big win. It happened in 2006 after beating Calvin Johnson’s Georgia Tech squad in a nationally televised showdown; Clemson followed with a loss to Virginia Tech. It also happened in 2011 when Georgia Tech ruined Clemson’s 8-0 start and No. 8 ranking with a 31-17 win.
WHERE’S THOMAS? Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas was considered the strongest threat this season to challenge Clemson QB Deshaun Watson for ACC player of the year. Thomas, though, is averaging just 3.2 yards per rush, down from the 5.7 yards per carry of last season, and has hit on just 45 percent of his throws this season.
BEATING THE ATLANTIC: Georgia Tech of the ACC’s Coastal Division has gone 15-4 against Atlantic Division opponents since 2008, by far the best showing of any its divisional rivals. Virginia Tech is next in that span with a 10-9 mark. The Yellow Jackets have won five of eight meetings over Clemson in that stretch. That includes the 2009 ACC title game win later vacated because of NCAA violations.
HOORAY FOR HEISMAN: Clemson and Georgia Tech were two of the nine schools where namesake coach John Heisman led the football program. Heisman coached the Tigers from 1900 through 1903, going 19-3-2, before taking over the Yellow Jackets from 1904 through 1919 with a record of 102-29-7. Heisman’s name is on college football’s biggest individual honor, the Heisman Trophy.