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Defining stretch ahead for consistent Tigers

Clemson’s Grady Jarrett, right, a Rockdale High School graduate, makes a tackle against Virginia. (Photo courtesy of clemsontigers.com)

Clemson’s Grady Jarrett, right, a Rockdale High School graduate, makes a tackle against Virginia. (Photo courtesy of clemsontigers.com)

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd already is known as a record-breaker, but he hopes to be remembered as a “finisher.”

“That’s how I’d like for people to remember me,” Boyd said.

Boyd will get his chance over Clemson’s final three regular-season games, beginning with tonight’s key Atlantic Coast Conference game against Georgia Tech.

“This is a defining moment for this team, and this season,” Boyd said. “We’ve had a good season, but we want to make it great.”

It hasn’t been bad at all. Other than a misstep against No. 2 Florida State, the Tigers have lived up to their billing, compiling an 8-1 record and setting themselves up for a potential BCS bowl berth at season’s end.

Clemson is eighth in the BCS and is hoping to become the first team in school history to post back-to-back 11-win seasons.

“This is when it really matters — this is November,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is when people really separate. Everybody jockeys for position in September and October, and we’ve competed consistently. Not many teams have stayed in the top 10, and our team has hung in there.”

Indeed, this year’s Clemson team also is hoping to be the first in school history to start and finish the season ranked in the top 10.

“But we’re going to be judged on how we finish,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to put our best foot forward.”

The Tigers should be set up to accomplish just that, but it all starts against a Georgia Tech team that traditionally has created major problems for the Tigers. Tech has beaten the Tigers in seven of their past 10 meetings and confounded the Clemson defense time and again with its triple-option offense.

The game will pit Clemson’s up-tempo offense against Tech’s deliberate, ball-control attack, so it could get interesting.

“The biggest thing for us is to try to win at the line of scrimmage,” Swinney said. “We have to be disciplined, and we’ve got to be really good on first and third down. Their philosophy is that they’re in four-down territory the whole game, so they present a big challenge in that regard. We have to try to create as many third-and-long situations as we can and get off the field. The bottom line is it’s a game that both teams want to win in a bad way.”

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

— QB Tajh Boyd owns 50 school records and could add to that total against Georgia Tech. Boyd needs just eight completions to wrest the top spot from Charlie Whitehurst in the Clemson record book and needs just three touchdown passes to break the all-time ACC record of 95 held by former N.C. State standout Philip Rivers. Boyd also is just 41 rushing yards shy of becoming the first quarterback in ACC history to amass 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a career.

— LB Spencer Shuey enjoyed a coming-out party against Georgia Tech last season and has been a mainstay on Clemson’s defense since. Shuey notched his first career tackle for loss against the Yellow Jackets, giving the Tigers a nine-point cushion with 10 minutes left in last year’s game. He has started 16 consecutive games since, averaging 9.5 tackles per game and becoming one of the most consistent linebackers in the ACC. Now he hopes for another big game against Georgia Tech — and he knows what to expect. “You pretty much know they’re going to run the ball,” Shuey said. “So you have to man-up.”

— DT Grady Jarrett is the most disruptive force on Clemson’s front line, and therefore looms as a key figure against Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple-option attack. Jarrett is a Georgia native who will be inspired to play well against his home state team for the second year in a row; he had a career-high 10 stops in last season’s win over the Yellow Jackets. “He’s a load,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said of Jarrett, who leads the Tigers’ defensive linemen with 51 stops and 13 quarterback pressures.

— No Clemson player is performing better than senior OT Brandon Thomas. Thomas, who has started 32 of 36 games over the last three seasons, had a 90-percent film grade and five knockdown blocks in 93 snaps against Maryland on Oct. 26. Thomas followed that up with a 96-percent grade with seven knockdown blocks in 51 plays at Virginia on Nov. 2. It was the highest film grade of his career from offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell.

SERIES HISTORY: Georgia Tech leads the series, 50-26-2, but the teams have split their last 28 meetings.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It was a huge turning point for me. It’s unbelievable for me to look back and see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve matured and how much more playing time I’ve been able to get.” — Clemson senior LB Spencer Shuey, who has started 16 straight games since a seven-tackle performance off the bench against Georgia Tech last season.