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What We Learned Week 4: Clemson and Tennessee Breakthrough vs Rivals, Stanford Keeps Beating UCLA

Clemson delivered a dominant defensive performance in Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tennessee mounted a comeback for the ages and Stanford proved elite with a beautiful two-minute drill to beat UCLA.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson kicked off our week of football on Thursday with a trip to Bobby Dodd Stadium to face Georgia Tech. Clemson held a significant talent advantage on both sides of the ball, but the Yellow Jackets have had their number over the years. No team has beaten Clemson more in their history than Georgia Tech, and the Tigers had lost five consecutive games in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Clemson’s offense got off to a fast start while the defense dominated the game, holding the Jackets to just one garbage time TD. The defensive line was particularly impressive, forcing the Jackets’ option-attack to the edge and letting linebackers clean-up.

Clemson has done a great job shutting down opponents inside run games throughout the season, but to do it against Tech’s run-heavy offense was particularly impressive. Clemson’s dominance in the interior with Carlos Watkins, Dexter Lawrence, and Scott Pagano is extremely encouraging going forward. On top of that, Christian Wilkins continued his stellar play at DE, which will be absolutely huge if Clemson is to stop Lamar Jackson next weekend without a healthy Austin Bryant back in the lineup. Clelin Ferrell ascended to the starting role at WDE after the departure of Shaq Lawson to the NFL and hasn’t missed a beat. The excellence of Clemson’s defensive line may be the most encouraging part of the first one-third of the season.

Clemson’s win wasn’t perfect. There was a missed FG and a kick out of bounds on special teams, and the offense still couldn’t get enough push from the offensive line to run up the middle. The inability to go right at the defense in short-yardage situations prevented Clemson from going for a few 4th down conversions which they seemed to be contemplating. This kept GT in the game longer than necessary and is the most ominous issue for the team through their 4-0 start.

The 19-point victory should feel like reason to celebrate, but to many, including myself, it doesn’t. It’s difficult to avoid focusing on the unfinished business from January in Glendale. Each win feels like a mere stepping stone to the grander win we seek. Victories don’t receive the elation they did, but rather relief. It’s a great place to be as a program, but a bad place as a fan and I’ve fallen victim to it too.

After two road games against unranked opponents and home games against Sun Belt and FCS opponents, Clemson finally gets a chance to host a major opponent with #3 Louisville coming. Louisville has one of the early Heisman front-runners in QB Lamar Jackson who has fueled a ridiculous offense. With their offensive display against Marshall this weekend, they’ve topped “half-a-hundred” points in all four games this year (70, 62, 63, 59 respectively).

This is just what the doctor ordered! Finally, a major opponent, at home, at night, with the nation watching! Louisville may be favored by Vegas which takes the pressure off the Tigers and let’s them get back to playing with a chip on their shoulder, something they thrived on last season. The whole situation also sets up for some of last year’s magic to return in what will certainly be a special environment on Saturday night. I don’t know if the Tigers will win (more on that in this week’s blue chip analysis), but we will get a treat to watch and a win will surely elicit pure joy.

While Clemson snapped their five game skid at Bobby Dodd, a more notable losing streak also ended when Tennessee stormed by from 21 down to beat Florida 38-28. The Vols had lost 11-straight before Saturday’s comeback victory. Tennessee’s receivers looked something like this in the first half:

Fortunately for them, they got their act together in the second half and with the help of an impressive crowd seized the momentum and never let go. It’s easily the best win for the Vols in the Butch Jones era. Tennessee has tough tests upcoming against Texas A&M and Alabama, but are now the favorite to represent the East - especially after Georgia was throttled by Chad Kelly and Ole Miss.

Out west Oregon lost to Colorado, which doesn’t have national implications, but it’s interesting in that the Ducks held the longest win streak in games following a loss. FSU now holds the honor.

In maybe the best game of the weekend, UCLA finally got tough with Stanford and was set to snap an eight game losing streak to the Cardinal, but settled for too many field goals in a defensive affair. They gave the ball back to Stanford with two minutes to play and allowed them to drive 70-yards for the win. In the waning seconds with no timeouts, David Shaw made the gutsy third-and-3 call to run the ball up the middle with McCaffrey. He earned the first down on the play. They promptly spiked the ball, and then with it on a fade on the very next play.

Stanford will play Washington this coming Friday in the biggest Pac-12 game of the year. The winner will likely represent the North and be favored to win the conference title. We knew the Cardinal boasted a salty defense and maybe the most electric player in the nation, but I was also impressed with Ryan Burns at QB. The game winning drive was a thing of beauty, and while I had no rooting interest, I can now slept soundly knowing I saw some great football on another glorious football Saturday.