(1) Clemson -26.5 over Georgia Tech (bought half) -120:
Hard to believe it’s already been just over a month where the top ranked Tigers (4-0 3-0) took care of business in their ACC opener 37-13 over Wake Forest. Three games later since then the champs from 2 seasons ago look even more fine tuned remaining undefeated while outscoring their opponents 132-40 over that stretch. Last week in a nationally televised game from Death Valley, the Tigers mauled previously ranked Miami (3-1 2-1) 42-17 behind a dazzling performance from Heisman hopeful Trevor Lawrence (29/41 292 3 TD). It seems like light years away from last season’s rocky start, but Lawrence is focused on returning to the national stage. The All-American junior wasted little time barely 5:00 into the game giving the Tigers the lead for good with a 24 yard TD pass to Braden Galloway (4-74 2 TD). He also hooked up with Galloway just before halftime on an 11 yard scoring toss to give Clemson a 21-3 first half lead. Lawrence closed out the scoring in dominating fashion finding Davis Allen from 22 yards, his only scoring catch of the game. Travis Ettienne (17-149 8.8 2 TD) found the end zone on scoring runs of 2 and 72 yards as the Tigers racked up 550 total yards including 258 on the ground. The star senior also caught 8 passes for 73 yards and has emerged as one of the major dual threats in the country. Clemson’s defense forced 4 turnovers and wreaked havoc on D’Eriq King (12/28 121 2 INT) who proved to be stagnant when it came to Miami moving the ball. In fact, King (14-84 6.0 1 TD) provided the Hurricanes their only offensive TD with a 7 yard run midway through the 4th quarter, otherwise the other points Miami could muster was a Jose Borregales 42 yard field goal and a 48 yard blocked punt to paydirt by DJ Ivey. Miami managed just 9 first downs to Clemson’s 34, and were outgained 550-210. King was also sacked 6 times, 3 by Baylon Spector. Clemson heads down south to Georgia Tech (2-2 2-1) to face the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets come off an impressive 46-27 win against Louisville last week as Jeff Sims (11/21 249 2 TD) was able to expose a vulnerable Cardinals defense against the pass, a rare incentive for GT these days. Jahmyr Gibbs (13-61 4.7 1 TD) opened the scoring running for a 7 yard TD 6 minutes into the first quarter. GT then used a 32-6 second half after falling behind 21-7 late in the first half. Jamaious Griffin (5-15 3.0 1 TD) ran for a 3 yard score midway through the 3rd quarter while Sims (7-64 9.1 1 TD) scampered 22 yards to paydirt to earn back the lead. Sims then lit it up in a decisive 20 point 4th quarter hooking up with Malachi Carter (3-89 1 TD) from 19 yards out to give the JAckets a 32-27 lead eventually followed up by a Sims scoring pass to Gibbs of 19 yards (2-60 1 TD) clinching the win and haltimg a 2 game losing streak. GT’s defense forced 4 lost fumbles despite allowing 471 total yards to the Cardinals high powered offense. Malik Cunningahm (19/33 229 2 TD) hung in tough after throwing two first half TD passes. He also ran for 2 scores (14-50 3.6 2 TD) and Javian Hawkins (26-155 6.0) helped convert several first downs to keep Louisville drives alive, but it wasn’t enough due to key turnovers in important spots forced by Georgia Tech.
Lawrence (84/116 1140 10 TD) has used prosperity, maturity, durability, and experience to right the ship after a nightmarish 2019 start where he produced 8 TD and 5 INT through his first 5 games. Despite losing his return to the national championship, Lawrence dominated in the second half of the season that has unquestionably carried over to his team’s advantage. After what looked to be a quiet start for Etienne (56-392 7.0 4 TD), he quickly silenced his critics with a breakout performance which should only become more enhanced as the season progresses. What makes this balanced offense averaging nearly 44 points per contest even more dangerous is the receiving core led by Amari Rodgers (12/206 3 TD), Frank Ladson Jr (9-179 2 TD), and Etienne (9-172 1 TD), all deep threats capable of producing yards after catches eluding opposing secondaries. Head coach Dabo Sweeney was fortunate to keep the majority of his returning squad as well as inheriting a disciplinary scheme on both sides of the ball. Clemson is extremely quick paced and refuses to take their foot off the gas until they build insurmountable leads. They average nearly 480 yards overall and are 16th in the country in offensive efficiency. This formula does not bode well for GT’s defense, yielding 32 points per contest and exposed significantly against Louisville despite the win. While playing with swagger through 4 games, they must also control a tendency to give up big plays and have their offense produce more to keep opponents off the field. In Georgia Tech’s losses to Central Florida and Syracuse, the Yellow Jackets defense was exploited by big plays and its shortcomings in pressuring the quarterback. The end result was 86 points and 1,017 yards allowed in two games. Quez Jackson leads the club with 33 tackles, and 5 players already have a couple of sacks. However, Wesley Walker is off to a slow start slow to the punch on the outside and will need to keep a more stern eye and anticipate Lawrence’s versatility with the same going true for David Curry especially if the Tigers look to ground and pound with Etienne succeeding on numerous touches in the backfield and out in the flat.
Sims (65/119 944 5 TD 8 INT) showed ample improvement this past week against Louisville, however it was against one of the most prone defenses capable of giving up big plays in the secondary. Given GT has been known for the triple option attack and speed off the pitch, Sims (44-251 5.7 3 TD) is certain to call his own number often and again. The Jackets need to control tempo and not make mistakes in order to keep a potent Clemson offense to a minimum. Gibbs (46-232 5.0 2 TD) will also get the bulk of the work early, and don’t think that Geoff Collins won’t take chances in some trickeration when it comes to the passing game. Carter (14-213 2 TD), Jalen Camp (14-142 1 TD) and the all purpose Gibbs (8-146 3 TD) are proven weapons, but they face a huge challenge against Clemson’s defense which is among the best in the country as evident by their 19 sacks and 6 team INT’s thus far. Spector and Miles Murphy have each recorded 3.5 sacks already and are a one-two punch in total tackles. The Tigers allow only 13 ppg thus far and are 10th against the run yielding a mere 90 yards per contest overall with an equally intimidating secondary. Brent Venables has this team prepared week after week no matter who the opponent may be and his fundamentals established a foundation that has allowed their backs, safeties and corners not only see the field early, but excel and grow quickly.
Georgia Tech’s run-first offense is averaging 213.8 yards on the ground, but let’s see them put up similar numbers against a well balanced defense on the ground and through the air like Clemson’s. Also, though Clemson’s methodical approach against Miami worked, the Tigers can connect on a big play as well as any team in the country. Additionally, if Sims looks complacent and tentative, there won’t be much opportunity to duplicate the success of Lawrence, Etienne, and the balanced receiving core which is capable of doing damage consistently and often.
I’ll have a second pick for Saturday up shortly.