After a disappointing performance at Syracuse that put Clemson’s chances of returning to the College Football Playoff for a third straight year in jeopardy, the Tigers hosted Georgia Tech in Death Valley on a soggy night after a much-needed bye week. The big question going into the game was how healthy Tiger QB Kelly Bryant was. He was just fine.
The game started with the Yellow Jackets on offense and after grinding out a first down, Tiger LB Kendall Joseph knocked the ball loose from the Georgia Tech running back on the next play and the Tigers recovered. It only took two plays throwing to Deon Cain for the Tigers to get into the end zone and go up 7-0. On the ensuing kickoff, freshman DB A.J. Terrell hustled down the field and made a great tackle to pin the Yellow Jackets on their own 16 yard line. It didn’t get any better for Georgia Tech. The Tiger defense dominated and forced a 3-and-out, a theme that would recur all night long.
When the Tigers got the ball back Bryant had a called run on 2nd down and his ankle didn’t seem to be bothering him then or on several other runs in that series. A good drive ended when Travis Etienne had the ball knocked loose and Georgia Tech recovered. The Yellow Jackets then ripped off a 65-yard run to get inside the Tiger 10 yard line. The Tiger defense recovered and limited Georgia Tech to a field goal to make the score 7-3.
Etienne had a good return on the kickoff and Georgia Tech gave the Tigers 15 more yards with a face mask penalty. Clemson then mounted an efficient drive with a good mix of running and passing that ended with TE Milan Richard making a 20-yard catch for a score. The Tigers led 14-3. The Yellow Jackets took a short kickoff and fumbled but did recover it. The Tiger defensive line owned the Georgia Tech offensive line, with Christian Wilkins making one of the best plays I have seen in a while to fool the QB on his dive read. All night he was running around in the Yellow Jacket backfield. It was another 3-and-out for Georgia Tech.
On the next Tiger possession, a holding penalty put them in a hole and they couldn’t get out of it. They punted the ball away. The Tiger defense responded with another dominant performance and forced a 3-and-out.
The Tigers responded with a good drive. Adam Choice had a long run aided by some nice blocking. But Deon Cain jumped offside and Ray-Ray McCloud couldn’t pull in a high pass on third down, so the Tigers were forced to punt again. The Tiger defense again dominated the Yellow Jacket offensive line. Austin Bryant was playing like an All-American. On third down, Georgia Tech QB TaQuon Marshall went down awkwardly and limped off the field favoring his left leg, but did come back into the game.
After a long Yellow Jacket punt, the Tigers mounted a drive with good running and passing by Bryant. His ankle didn’t seem to be bothering him at all as he gashed the Yellow Jacket defense on several runs. Etienne punched the ball in from two yards out to make the score 21-3 with just over three minutes left in the first half. Georgia Tech went backwards on their possession and punted it to the Tiger 36 yard line with just under three minutes left. The Tigers couldn’t make the connection on some downfield passes and punted it back to the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech couldn’t do much and punted the ball away again with about a minute left. The Tigers got the ball back on their own two yard line and ran the clock out.
Clemson got the ball first in the second half. Tavien Feaster fumbled but Tyrone Crowder recovered it. McCloud had a nice catch and run and the Tiger offensive line began to push the Yellow Jacket defensive line around. Bryant just missed Cain in the end zone and the Tigers settled for an Alex Spence field goal, with Coach Dabo Swinney showing obvious joy that the kick was successful. The Tigers led 24-3. Georgia Tech’s next possession was another 3-and-out but the punt was again excellent and the Tigers took over on their own 16 yard line.
The Tigers started their drive well with a good run by Etienne but Tee Higgins couldn’t haul in a third down pass. The Tigers punted and Georgia Tech took over on their 21 yard line. The Tiger defense again dominated the Yellow Jacket offense and after a 34-yard punt, the Tiger offense took over and tried to strike deep to Cain, but he was called for pushing off on the Georgia Tech defender. The Tigers couldn’t recover from the 15-yard penalty and punted, but the Yellow Jackets responded with another 3-and-out.
Etienne started the next Tiger drive with a couple of good runs over ten yards, but the Tigers shot themselves in the foot when the snap hit Amari Rodgers as he came in motion. On 3rd and 25, Bryant couldn’t connect with Diondre Overton and the Tigers punted the ball away.
Georgia Tech started their drive with a different quarterback and they moved the ball a bit better but he went out with a leg injury after a few plays. On a critical 4th and 3 play at the Clemson 27, the Yellow Jackets got to the perimeter on a pitch but a review of the play showed that the runner was about half a yard short of the first down.
The ensuing Tiger drive didn’t amount to much and the Tigers punted. Georgia Tech took over on their own 20 yard line. On this drive, they actually completed a pass down the field. Against Clemson’s backups, the Yellow Jackets moved down the field. Marshall got loose and scored on a 22-yard run to make the score 24-10.
Clemson got the ball back with a bit over four minutes left and Hunter Johnson came in at QB. We didn’t get to see much from him, however, as the Tigers stayed on the ground and ran the clock out.
So, Kelly Bryant looked just fine and the Tigers got back on track. As always, check back with us over the next few days for the finest detailed analysis to be had on this game and previews of the big game next week in Raleigh that will determine the Atlantic Division representative in the ACC championship game. Share your thoughts on all this in the comments below.