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Sunday Evening Quarterback: Georgia Tech Defeats Clemson 28-6, Defense Shines Brightest

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The Yellow Jackets came away with a big win over a ranked rival on Senior Day, although in abnormal fashion versus what we're used to seeing.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback

I think the best word that can describe Justin Thomas in this game is "gutsy". He (like the rest of the offense) really struggled to move the ball on the ground at times, but hung in there and made some good plays. He ended with 46 rushing yards, even with a 65-yard carry to open the second half. Thomas often had to eat the ball or was unable to get to the edge on option plays, although that was more a function of his blockers struggling against a talented defensive front. In passing, though, Thomas was phenomenal, completing 8 of 11 for 102 yards and a touchdown -- one of his best passing performances so far this year. (That's Thomas's fourth straight game and sixth game of the year with a 50% or better completion percentage, for the record.)

Thomas wasn't perfect by any means, but he threw the ball well and hung in there running the ball. I'm satisfied with his performance.

Grade: B

B-Back

It was a challenging day for Synjyn Days after three straight lights-out performances. He finished with 89 yards on 20 carries, and had 60 of those yards on 11 second-half carries, including 33 on their second drive after halftime when Clemson's Grady Jarrett was off the field. Zach Laskey made his triumphant return to a large standing ovation from his home crowd, but was only able to contribute on one second-half drive. His first carry was on a fullback speed option, where he took a pitch from Thomas, sprinted to the edge, and got vertical for a 9-yard gain. He was visibly excited going back to the huddle.

In the midst of a difficult day, this group still finished with 102 yards on 24 carries. They struggled, but were gutsy just like Thomas.

Grade: B

A-Backs

Interesting that on Senior Day, the position group with four big-time seniors had its two biggest performances from a junior and sophomore. Broderick Snoddy and Dennis Andrews would finish the game leading this position group from a statistical standpoint, though it should be noted that was mainly due to one big play from each guy. Snoddy had a huge 46-yard run early in the second quarter where he was able to really display his speed and pick up a big chunk of yards. Unfortunately, it would be on his next carry that Snoddy suffered what appeared to be a broken leg -- the cart was brought out immediately, and Coach Johnson said he was headed for surgery immediately. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Snoddy for a quick recovery.

Andrews, on the other hand, had a big-time 30-yard carry in the fourth quarter that would set up Harrison Butker's final field goal. The tandem would end with 85 yards on four carries, accounting for over 80% of the 106 rushing yards the unit would accrue. Aside from the relatively limited yardage, the perimeter blocking was a mixed bag in this game. It was a challenge against, again, a talented Clemson defense. There were a few occasions, though, where assignments appeared to be missed or blocks incorrectly executed.

Not a particularly bad game, but not this unit's best, either.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers

DeAndre Smelter is just a monster, and I can't imagine that there's a team out there who would enjoy trying to cover him, especially in the scope of our offense where he'll regularly see single coverage. Smelter was everywhere in this game -- he was targeted 9 times in the passing game. He came down 5 catches, including a brilliant one on a brilliant pass from Thomas on a fade route in the red zone for a touchdown. Smelter continues to live up to his unofficial nickname, "The Lifeline". Darren Waller also had a pair of catches, including a nice 15-yard catch on a 3rd and 9 in the second quarter. The group blocked well too across the board, playing the physical brand of football that we've gotten used to from them.

There were a couple of tough moments, but this unit was pretty awesome on the whole and effective in keeping Clemson's defense honest.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

It was a tough game for these guys, although it's pretty understandable. They went up against what we knew before the season would be one of the best defensive fronts in the country, if not the best. Justin Thomas was sacked 3 times, and the team lost a cumulative 48 yards on carries, including 30 by Thomas. The Tigers' defensive front was big and physical, and had a huge impact on the Yellow Jackets' offensive struggles. Even still, though, the offense would manage 251 yards on the ground, and Thomas had time to complete 8 of 11 passes. Again, the word that comes to mind is "gutsy". They struggled at times, but kept fighting and grinding out yards for their running backs.

All in all, it was a valiant effort against a highly talented unit that would give anyone problems on the national scale.

Grade: B-

Offense

It's not been a frequent case under Paul Johnson that we've said the defense was stronger than the offense, but in this game, that would seem to have been the case. It's not just that the defense created turnovers and got after the Tigers' backfield, but also that the offense had a tough time and didn't play its best game against one of the best defensive units they'll see all year. All in all, the offense was responsible for 16 points with only one touchdown, and that coming through the air. That said, I do think it's amazing having an offensive unit that can get it done in more than one fashion. In this game, Georgia Tech's offensive output was improved significantly by their ability to throw the ball against a very stingy run defense. That adjustment is the sign of a highly effective unit.

As before, not the offense's best game, but a solid one.

Grade: B-

Defensive Line

This unit wasn't outstanding, but was certainly effective. They were lead in tackles by true freshman DE Antonio Simmons, with plenty of contribution from Pat Gamble, KeShun Freeman, Adam Gotsis, and Rod Chungong. They were thin in the game without DT Shawn Green, but they did a nice job I thought, especially against the run. Clemson finished with 125 yards rushing, but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry, and with the benefit of a single 34-yard run from Gallman. (Outside of that play, Clemson had 31 carries for 91 yards -- under 3 yards per carry.)

The group didn't get a lot of pressure on Clemson's QBs, but did a nice job in the run game even when depleted. I'm satisfied, but not impressed here.

Grade: B

Linebackers

This group, on the other hand, was pretty good. Nealy and Davis combined for 9 solo tackles and 14 assists, good for 23 total tackles between the two of them. They also had 1.5 tackles for loss, and shared a sack of Clemson third-string QB Nick Schuessler. They did a great job in the run game, roaming from sideline to sideline and limiting Wayne Gallman for the most part.

This unit played a solid game and was a handful for Clemson's offense. I was pretty proud of them.

Grade: A-

Secondary

What can be said? This unit came down with 3 interceptions, ran two of them back for touchdowns, and overall kept Clemson's QBs to sub-55% completion on 22 passing attempts. Jamal Golden got things started with a veteran play where he stayed home on the back side of a play and made an athletic catch in traffic before being off to the races for an 85-yard touchdown. Chris Milton's follow-up act featured his catch of an errant throw from Cole Stoudt where he found a seam and then turned on the jets down the sideline for a touchdown of his own. Aside from the interceptions, this group did a nice job of making tackles and not letting Clemson make big plays.

They were everywhere in this game, and had an altogether really fantastic afternoon. I thought this game was the secondary's best of the year, and I thought they were a major difference-maker in how this game turned out. I was thoroughly impressed with them.

Grade: A+

Defense

As I said before, these guys outplayed the offense in what has been a rare occurrence over the past few years. They benefitted from Deshaun Watson's absence for much of the game after he started out hot, but did an incredible job of containing Clemson's offense throughout the day and making plays that helped to keep the game in hand without ever letting Clemson back into it.

All in all, an incredible game for these guys. They created three turnovers, scored two touchdowns off of them, and only allowed the Clemson offense to score 6 points. Really a banner game for Ted Roof's squad.

Grade: A

Special Teams

The return game this year has been miles different from last year's, and not for the better. Jamal Golden is still the same electric return man, but it's apparent that the blocking schemes in front of him are just not what they were under Dave Walkosky. Golden took two kickoff returns back for 40 yards, including one for only 16 where the blocking just wasn't there. It hasn't been a problem this year, per se, but that's more due to offensive success and consistency.

Harrison Butker had one of his better games of the year, making 3 field goals on 4 attempts. His miss was from 48 yards, although the kick had enough power and was just wide. He's now 10 of 16 on field goals this year -- much less convincing than Tech fans were hoping for from a top-5 kicker nationally in his recruiting class. He did have 5 touchbacks on 7 kickoffs, though, and with 44 on the season is third nationally.

Ryan Rodwell was, as usual, solid but mostly unnecessary. He had only one punt in the first quarter, going for 45 yards from his own end zone.

This unit wasn't outstanding and hasn't been all year, but they haven't been a sore spot either.

Grade: C+

Overall

The team sent off its seniors properly, with a big win at home over a ranked conference opponent. They were in control of the game for the entire game after getting on the scoreboard with Jamal Golden's pick-six. The offense was decent, and the defense was outstanding with one of its best performances in a long time. All in all, it was a dominating win over a strong opponent, and a great way to close out the ACC schedule.

Next up is the end of the regular season (yes, already) against our rivals in Athens. I'm worried about that game, but also intrigued. uga isn't invincible by any means, but is a very good team with a very good rushing attack on offense. I'm curious to see how our team handles the challenge.

Great win! Georgia Tech was 1-15 against Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson, and uga from 2010-2013. In 2014, they sit at 3-0 with a chance for a clean sweep in two weeks. That's more than any of us expected before the season, and it's been an incredible ride thus far.

Grade: A-

What are your grades for this game? Are there any of these that you particularly agree or disagree with?