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Thursday, December 3, 2009
What to watch in the ACC title game

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

There’s only one game, but it features two teams that haven’t won the conference title in at least a decade. Clemson and Georgia Tech are the only two teams to finish with a 4-0 home conference record in the ACC this year. They have the top two scoring offenses in the ACC, and two of the top three rushing offenses in the ACC.

There is still plenty worth watching …

1. Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. ACC fans have seen this before. Remember when Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams fumbled in the fourth quarter in the loss to UNC? Thomas had an equally costly drop last weekend against Georgia. How he responds and rebounds will be key. If he learned anything from Williams, Thomas should be OK, but the Jackets will need their top target focused.

2. Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt’s pass plays. Paul Johnson has proven he’s not afraid to throw it deep, but Nesbitt completed just 1 of 7 passes for 17 yards on attempts of throws greater than 10 yards last weekend against rival Georgia. For the season, Nesbitt has completed 33.3 percent of his passes (21-of-63) greater than 10 yards for four touchdowns and four interceptions. Two of those completions, though, came late in the regular-season game against Clemson, and for the Tigers, it was costly. Clemson was not efficient on third-and-long in the last meeting.

3. Fourth downs. Johnson has developed a reputation for going for it on fourth down -- just ask Wake Forest. The Jackets have been successful on 13 fourth-down conversions this year, 56.52 percent of the time. Clemson is fifth in the country, though, on stopping fourth downs, holding opponents to just 4-of-15 (26.67 percent).

4. Pure talent. This will be the highlight of the game, as it features three of the ACC’s top five rushers in Jonathan Dwyer, C.J. Spiller and Nesbitt. Defensively, Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett has 14 career interceptions, and Clemson’s DeAndre McDaniel has eight this year. Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan has 17 tackles for loss, and Clemson’s Ricky Sapp has 13. Both Sapp and Morgan rank in the top five in the ACC.

5. Time of possession. Georgia Tech leads the country in time of possession with 34:03 per game. Nobody holds onto the ball longer. And yet the first time these two teams met, Clemson’s defense forced eight three-and-outs in 13 possessions. The Tigers have been one of the few teams able to get Paul Johnson’s offense off the field. Clemson had seven straight three-and-outs in the last meeting. Whether the Tigers can have a repeat performance will go a long way in determining the winner.