Despite a gutsy and encouraging effort from the defense, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets fell to the Clemson Tigers, 26-7, on Thursday night in Atlanta.
The score doesn’t tell the whole story on the utter domination from Clemson.
The Tigers ran 82 plays in the game and averaged nearly 5.5 yards per play to finish with 442 total yards. 347 of the yards came in the first half, where they ran a staggering 56 plays. Clemson’s touchdowns in the half equaled Georgia Tech’s first downs — three.
“We were outmanned up there a little bit,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Offensive line and defensive line wasn’t a fair fight. Very disappointed with our performance. I’ll take credit for some of it. The first half was embarrassing, that’s ridiculous. They’ve got some good players but it didn’t seem like we could get in their way.”
Tech finished with 124 total yards, averaging 2.4 yards per play. It converted just 2-of-12 third downs.
“This wasn’t anything we haven’t seen,” Tech quarterback Justin Thomas said. “We just missed some opportunities. We just need to study film and then get back at it and get better. We’ve still got divisional play to look at and everything that we’re working for is right in front of us.”
In one of the worst starts possibly imaginable, Clemson marched 75 yards while taking 3:35 off the clock in a nine-play drive. Quarterback Deshaun Watson completed all five passes on the drive with very little resistance from the Tech secondary.
The Yellow Jackets offense ran six plays for minus 13 yards on the following two three-and-out possessions.
On Clemson’s third drive, Watson and the offense once again coasted down the field for an eight-play, 62-yard touchdown drive to give the Tigers a quick 14-0 lead.
After three more Tech possessions — totaling 14 plays for 31 yards — ended in punts, the Tigers offense moved the ball deep into Yellow Jacket territory again. On a first-and-15 from the 16-yard line, Watson had a miscommunication with his receiver and threw the ball straight into the hands of Lance Austin in the end zone. Austin stepped out of the end zone to attempt a return before being hit by Corey Griffin, who was attempting to block for the return. The ball popped out of Austin’s hand and landed in the end zone where he recovered it, resulting in a safety.
Clemson took advantage of the huge swing and took the next possession 72 yards for a touchdown. Watson found a wide open Jordan Leggett with four seconds remaining in the half to give the Tigers a 23-0 halftime lead.
Clemson’s 23 points matched the Jackets’ total yards after two quarters.
Georgia Tech held the ball for only 11 minutes in the first half, but the offense managed to sustain more drives in the second half, which effectively helped the defense contain the Tigers. The Yellow Jackets failed to score in the third quarter, but they had the ball for 11 minutes, allowing Clemson to run only seven plays for 26 yards.
Using mostly inside runs with Dedrick Mills, Tech finally found the end zone early in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard score from Mills. The drive totaled 89 yards on 11 plays and took just more than six minutes off the clock. The offense had 50 yards on the previous 32 plays in the game.
“Coming out of the half, we had a couple good runs and first downs, but we need to build on it,” Mills said. “We just need to execute better next time. The defense did their part, and we didn’t put pressure on them as an offense.”
Forcing another quick punt from Clemson, the Jackets got the ball back down two scores with more than 10 minutes left on the clock. On the first play of the drive, Johnson called on a B-Back toss pass to try to catch the Tigers off guard. Qua Searcy got some separation, but Mills’ pass floated in the air too long and was intercepted by Van Smith to all but end any chances of a miraculous comeback.
Greg Huegel made a 47-yard field goal after the interception to end the scoring for the night at 26-7.
With a chance to make a statement against a top-five team in the nation, the Yellow Jackets put together a fairly embarrassing effort offensively on Saturday night. Clemson’s front seven proved how dangerous and unstoppable they can be against the option offense. Despite being put in a bad position for the majority of the game, the defense came away with quite a few positives. The run defense was good again, and the front seven even forced some pressure on Watson fairly often in the second half.
“We kept getting behind and we couldn’t pass protect enough to throw the ball,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to run the option outside ... release the tackles, and they couldn’t touch the linebackers. They’re just dodging them. You’ve got to keep getting better. It’s not a division game, which is a good thing. We’ve got to have a little pride and throw our bodies around ... get in front of some people and play better.”
Notes and Opinions
- It’s okay to be mad at that performance. We all should be. But let’s make sure to remember just how talented Clemson is ... especially in the trenches. Johnson made it clear postgame that his guys were completely outmanned. When talking about why the perimeter game didn’t work, he basically said the Clemson linebackers were just outrunning the guys to the spots and weren’t getting blocked. Basically, no matter how good the blocking and assignments were offensively against this type of defense, it still would’ve been hard to successfully run the option. I’m not sure what the solution is to this.
- Justin Thomas has to start getting upfield ... and that applies in the running game and in the passing game. I get that the pass protection was bad, but there were multiple times that Thomas could’ve stepped up in the pocket and either had time to make a throw or at least limit the damage of the sack. Sprinting backward to attempt an escape isn’t going to work against many more opponents this season, and it’s severely hurting the team.
- The defense has played really well when Ted Roof has brought pressure this season. Much like the Vanderbilt game, the defense blitzed much more often in the second half against Clemson, and it made a difference. The run defense has been very good now throughout most of the season, and it should be a strong point for the team this year. The last step for me to see to make me believe that the defense can be a positive is when Roof brings the corners in and lets them play some press coverage. The lack of different looks in the secondary is very frustrating to me. It’s not hard for guys like Watson to throw for 300 yards when the secondary is in the same exact coverage every play. Clemson could’ve run either a screen pass or a quick out route on every single play tonight and been successful, but thankfully they still tried to stretch out a defense that was playing to not allow a big play. Again, 26 points isn’t bad, but the blueprint seems to be there for the defense to be pretty strong.
- Last, but not least, I’ll leave on none other than a negative note. Miami could be a huge problem. It isn’t as talented up front, but it’s just as fast in many areas. The Hurricanes offense is based around all of the areas that the Tech defense struggles. Hopefully they’ll be coaching them up in Atlanta next week.