Clemson is coming off its 11th consecutive double-digit win season, but this one wasn’t like the rest. The Tigers were hampered by an ineffective offense and now need quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei to take a big step forward this year. Clemson’s first test comes against a flailing Georgia Tech program that has just 9 wins since Geoff Collins was hired after the 2018 season.
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Monday night’s primetime matchup in Atlanta.
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech Odds
Clemson enters as a 23.5-point favorite at -2800 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 50.5 points, which is a significant figure after these two teams combined for just 22 points when they met last season. Both teams have a more cohesive offense this time around, with quarterbacks who have shown flashes but haven’t yet put it all together.
The talent gap is clearly reflected in the odds. Georgia Tech still looks like a program in disarray on the field – not to mention coach Geoff Collins likely would’ve been fired in 2021 if not for pandemic-related financial issues. Clemson, on the other hand, still has plenty of 4- and 5-star recruits at its disposal. Is it enough for the Tigers to morph back into a powerhouse?
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech Prediction & Pick
My pick: Georgia Tech +23.5
To their credit, Georgia Tech didn’t play so poorly against some of the middling teams of the ACC last season, losing close games to Miami and Virginia along with the 14-8 loss to Clemson.
Matchups with national contenders were a mismatch. Georgia Tech lost to Pitt by 31 and finished the season with losses to Notre Dame and Georgia that added up a combined score of 90-0. Quarterback Jeff Sims notably didn’t play against Notre Dame or Georgia, nor did he play in the loss to
Clemson. Even in losses, Georgia Tech played much more competitive football when Sims was on the field. His presence should at least give the Yellow Jackets a chance to stay competitive against the Tigers.
After a handful of transfers and the decision to stick with Collins, there’s still little reason to believe in Georgia Tech this season. Clemson has a major talent advantage in this one, enough to make an upset mostly unrealistic. Has Clemson’s offense proven enough to justify a 23.5-point spread, though? Not yet.
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech Key Matchups
Sims might be the key to Georgia Tech hanging around in this game. He didn’t have the best 2021 season, but the Yellow Jackets missed him badly when he sat out the two shutouts that closed out their season.
The bad: Sims threw 7 interceptions over his last 5 starts last season. The good: He got the offense moving, throwing for 359 yards against Pitt and 297 yards on just 12 completions in a win over Duke. Sims gives Georgia Tech some big-play potential that’ll be needed against Clemson’s tough defense.
The Yellow Jackets lost a big piece of their offense when running back Jahmyr Gibbs transferred to Alabama. Gibbs made a big impact as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, a skill they’ll lose with new top running back Dontae Smith. Sims brings some mobility to the table – he averaged 5.3 yards/carry in his six starts last season.
The dominant question heading into this game is whether Clemson is closer to the middling team it was last season or the powerhouse it was in years’ past. I’ll stop well short of saying 2022 Clemson is 2019 LSU, but you can see a scenario in which Uiagalelei, like Joe Burrow, is just too talented to put together back-to-back forgettable seasons. At the same time, a 23.5-point spread is generous until we see proof of progress.
Uiagalelei didn’t just disappoint in 2021 – he was difficult to watch at times. The former 5-star recruit threw just 9 touchdowns in 13 starts and was badly inefficient, completing 55.6% of passes for only 2,286 yards. For comparison, Uiagalelei’s ACC counterpart Kenny Pickett threw for over 2,000 more yards. While he played a bit better late in the season, it was never the D.J. Uiagalelei we were supposed to get.
Uiagalelei should take a step forward as a passer, Shipley and Kobe Pace should anchor the backfield well, but this offense has a long way to go before we start characterizing Clemson as an elite team again. Georgia Tech has nine fourth or fifth-year starters on its defense, so a trouncing might not be in order – even with a sizable talent gap.