After beating up on Georgia Southern last week, Clemson headed down I-85 to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Not so long ago, the trips to Atlanta brought some apprehension to Tiger fans as their team struggled to deal with the Yellow Jacket triple option offense. Lately though, Brent Venables and the Tiger defense have had Tech’s number and throttled their offense. Going into the game, it was thought that the fearsome Tiger defensive line would dominate and keep Tech behind the chains. One cause for concern, however, was the unavailability of Will linebacker Kendall Joseph who suffered a groin injury in practice this week. With all the attention the defensive line players get, many forget how good a linebacker Joseph is. Would the Yellow Jackets be able to make something of Joseph’s absence?
Clemson won the toss and elected to defer. Tech started at their 25 and executed the option perfectly for a 20-yard gain. A few more option plays had the Yellow Jackets deep in Tiger territory. A.J Terrell had a great hit on a Tech running back to cause a fumble but the Tigers couldn’t get on it. Tech tried to pass on 3rd and long but Christian Wilkins stripped the ball from the QB. But again, the Tigers couldn’t recover it. Tech was going to try a 48-yard FG but they had a false start penalty and had to punt. Clemson started at the 25 after a touchback. The Tiger offense got a first down and after that, nothing. Will Spiers punted it 46 yards to give Tech the ball at their 29.
The Yellow Jackets opened with an option right and the pitch was mishandled, but it went out of bounds. Tech found themselves at 3rd and 20, and promptly self destructed. Tre Lamar unloaded on the pitch back who fumbled. Wilkins tried to pick it up but couldn’t quite hang on to it and it rolled into the end zone where Clelin Ferrell got on it for the score. Clemson was up 7-0.
Tech took a fair catch on the ensuing kickoff and then the Tiger defense feasted. On 3rd and 11, Tech tried a deep throw but couldn’t connect because of good coverage. Kelly Bryant continued at QB on the Tigers’ possession. The Tigers started on their 30 and picked up a yard on a designed Bryant run. Bryant missed TE Garrett Williams and on 3rd down, the pass to Rodgers was short of the first down. The Tigers punted it away.
Tech started at their 29 and ran a counter option but only picked up 3 yards. On 2nd down, they executed an option beautifully and got 24 yards for the first down. The next two plays saw the Tiger defense bottle up the Jackets, but a horse collar tackle gave Tech a 1st down. The Tiger defense kept things in control after that and Tech tried a FG and missed. Trevor Lawrence came in at QB on the Tiger drive. Tavien Feaster came in and had a couple of good hard runs, but appeared to injure his right knee. Travis Etienne came back in and ran like a madman. The Tigers were quickly deep into Tech territory. It looked like Lawrence saw something in the Tech defensive alignment and got the Tigers into a play where he hit Hunter Renfrow rolling to his left with a beautiful laser beam throw for a 17-yard touchdown.
Tech took over at the 25 and promptly fumbled the snap. Tech then had a blown route and threw it deep. Mark Fields is going to have a tough time during tape review next week because he dropped the ball as it hit him in the hands with no one within 20 yards of him. After the punt, Lawrence brought the offense back in at the Tiger 45. Two plays later and Lawrence hit Justyn Ross for a 53-yard TD. The Tigers led 21-0.
The Jackets got the ball at the 25 on another B.T. Potter kickoff that sailed out of the end zone. Trayvon Mullen got a sack on a corner blitz on 3rd down and Tech had to punt again. Rodgers had a good punt return of 19 yards but a holding penalty gave the Tigers the ball at their 25. On 2nd down, Lawrence’s middle screen pass hit center Gage Cervenka and the Jackets got the interception. A few plays later, Tech punched it in and the score was 21-7.
The Tigers got a nice kickoff return from Cornell Powell to start the Tiger drive at their 36. Feaster was back in at RB, which was a good sign. Lawrence continued at QB and had a couple of good throws and runs to move the Tigers into Tech territory. Renfrow had a beautiful leaping sideline catch that moved the Tigers into the red zone with about 30 seconds left in the half. A Rodgers catch gave the Tigers 1st and goal on the 3 yard line with 11 seconds left. Etienne took it in on a shovel pass with great effort after the catch. Clemson led 28-7 as the half ended. I couldn’t help but think that the Trevor Lawrence era might be getting underway.
Clemson received the second half kickoff and started from the 25 with Lawrence at QB. A couple of passes to Powell and a couple of Etienne runs had the Tigers inside the Yellow Jacket 30, but a personal foul against Sean Pollard pushed the Tigers back to the 41. Feaster had a couple of good runs to give Clemson a 1st down at the Tech 27. On the next play he got some nice blocks from his linemen and took it in to put the Tigers up 35-7.
The Yellow Jackets took the touchback and started at the 25. The Tigers had a great chance as Tech fumbled the snap on 3rd down but they were able to pick it up and move the chains. On the next 3rd down, the Jackets needed 10 yards but didn’t get it. Xavier Thomas had a disruptive series to keep Tech off balance. A fair catch on the punt gave the Tigers the ball at their own 17. Bryant was back in at QB. The Tigers moved down the field effectively with T.J. Chase making a couple of good catches. Etienne barreled in from 12 yards out and it was 42-7 Clemson.
Tech’s drive started at the 25 and they converted a 4th and 2. Their first completion of the day came as Chad Smith was called for a targeting penalty, and it was upheld. Additional penalties and good running moved Tech down inside the Tiger 5. They punched it in from from 2 yards out and the score was 42-14 Clemson. Powell had another good kickoff return to give the Tigers the ball on their 30 with Bryant at QB. The Tigers were moving but on 3rd and 8 Diondre Overton dropped a nicely thrown pass by Bryant. The Tigers had to punt it away as the 3rd quarter ended.
Tech started their drive with another fumble that the Tigers, yet again, couldn’t get on despite touching it. Another fumble forced the Yellow Jackets to punt. Chase Brice came in at QB for Clemson and Lyn-J Dixon was the RB. Dixon gave the Tigers a first down with a run and a catch. A tipped pass to Ross on 3rd down was intercepted and returned to the Tiger 33. The Tigers almost had a sack but the Yellow Jacket QB managed to escape and get the ball to his receiver. Good hustle by Chris Register kept him out of the end zone. On 3rd down, the Jackets got it into the end zone on a roll-right, throw-left against the 3rd string Tiger defense. Clemson led 42-21. Whereas other teams like to run up the score to look good to the pollsters, Clemson’s coaching staff prefers to let the backups get valuable playing time. It will pay off down the road.
Hoping for a lucky break, Tech pooched the kick over the Tiger hands team with ten players up front, but Clemson recovered it. Lawrence and Etienne came back into the game. Etienne busted a 29-yard run. Feaster had a nice run and then Lawrence hit Tee Higgins from 30 yards out for a TD to make it 49-21 Tigers. Tech had a good drive, with a nice 39-yard run into Clemson territory by the QB. The defense held after that and the Tigers ran the clock out to leave Atlanta with the 49-21 win.
Check back with us over the next few days for the best in-depth coverage of today’s game and previews of next week’s game against Syracuse in Death Valley. The Tiger offense seemed to click better today with Trevor Lawrence at QB. Does he deserve the start next week? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below.