After throttling a decent Miami team last week, Clemson rolled down I-85 to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets today, a team still transitioning from a triple option offense to something rooted in the current millennium. But “still transitioning” is the key, and no one expected them to present any real challenge to the Tigers. Those expectations were fulfilled.
Tech started with the ball at the 25 after B.T. Potter put the kickoff out of the end zone. The Tiger defense forced a 3 & out, and the punt rolled out of bounds at the Clemson 33. On 1st down, Trevor Lawrence went deep for Frank Ladson, but it was just off his fingertips. Travis Etienne picked up 6, and Lawrence hit Cornell Powell on a back shoulder throw to the Yellow Jacket 37. Lawrence scrambled for 5, then hit Amari Rodgers on a tunnel screen for 2. On 3rd & 3 Etienne picked up 8 yards but fumbled, and Tech recovered it at their 22.
Myles Murphy knocked the ball loose from the QB on 1st down, but Tech jumped on it. A short run set up 3rd & 16, and a screen pass was read beautifully by Mike Jones. Rodgers returned the punt for 13 yards to the Yellow Jacket 42. Lawrence rolled right but missed the throw to Brannon Spector. He then hit E.J. Williams for 16 yards to the Tech 25. After a short Etienne run, Lawrence hit Rodgers over the middle down to the 5. A beautiful back shoulder throw to Powell in the end zone put the Tigers up 7-0 at the 7:55 mark of the 1st quarter.
After 2 plays with minimal gains, Tech hit a screen pass for an easy 1st down. Then disaster struck for the Tigers as the secondary was caught sleeping on a 59 yard touchdown pass. The score was tied at 7-7 with 6:32 left in the 1st quarter. Lawrence said “I’ll see your 59 yarder and raise you an 83 yarder,” as he hit Rodgers for the score. Clemson was back on top 14-7 after only 18 seconds.
Tech responded by fumbling the snap and K.J. Henry recovered it at the Tech 11. A shovel pass to Davis Allen picked up a couple of yards. Tech executed a nice blitz that the Tiger OL didn’t pick up and sacked Lawrence. On 3rd & long, Lawrence scrambled to the 13. Potter came in an kicked the 30 yard FG. The Tigers led 17-7 with 4:14 left in the quarter.
Clemson’s defense shut down Tech and they punted. Clemson took over at their 19. Lyn-J Dixon picked up 4 on 1st down. Lawrence couldn’t connect with Ladson on 2nd down but hit Powell on 3rd down to move the chains. Lawrence then made an awful decision, throwing off balance, and he was picked off.
A good first down run and a short shovel pass got the Jackets close to moving the chains, but they still had a 4th & short. They went for it, but Tiger defense stuffed the run and gave the offense the ball at their 37. Etienne bounced it outside to pick up 4 as the 1st quarter ended. He picked up another 3 and then Lawrence connected with Rodgers to get the 1st down at the Tech 49. Etienne picked up 2 and then Lawrence hit Williams for another 1st down. Lawrence executed a beautiful pitch fake that nearly took the LB out of his shoes and then hit Allen streaking down the middle untouched for the TD. Clemson had a 24-7 lead with 12:43 left in the half. Tech was doing a decent job of bottling up Etienne, to which Lawrence was saying, “Thank you very much,” and hitting his receivers for big gains.
The Yellow Jackets returned the kickoff to the 18. On 2nd down, another Tech receiver got loose behind the Tiger secondary but this time the pass was too long. Tech QB Jeff Sims scrambled on 3rd down but was tackled by Baylon Spector who was called for targeting as he appeared to make helmet-to-helmet contact. Review ruled that there was no targeting, however. It was just a good tackle. Etienne picked up a tough 2 yards and then pushed a pile up the middle for another 5. He picked up 22 yards on a swing pass to the Tiger 49. Dixon ran the same route and got 9 yards, then picked up the 1st down to the Tech 37. Lawrence hit Rodgers over the middle and he took it down to the 1, almost getting into the end zone leaping over defenders. The beef package came in, with Nyles Pinckney at fullback and Bryan Bresee at tailback. I wonder what goes through a linebacker’s mind when facing a 600 pound backfield? Lawrence handed it off to Pinckney and he punched it in. Clemson led 31-7 at 7:05 in the half.
The Tiger defense swarmed and Tech’s offense could do nothing. Rodgers fielded the punt at the Tiger 31. Powell picked up 14 on 1st down. Joseph Ngata took a tunnel screen and fought for yardage, but appeared to fumble. Review showed that he was down, however, and the Tiger drive continued. Etienne ran for 6 yards to move the chains, then picked up 7 more on a pass from Lawrence. Spector took a pitch down to the Tech 7. On the next play, Lawrence rolled left and hit a wide-open Ladson in the end zone. The Tigers led 38-7 with 3:14 to go in the half.
The Yellow Jackets started with a good run, and then Sims threw a pick to Nolan Turner who took it to the Tech 7. Two Etienne runs later, the score was 45-7 and the clock stood at 2:10 in the half. Tech actually held onto the ball for a few plays on some nice running by TB Jahmyr Gibbs, but the Tigers eventually stopped them on 4th & 6. Dixon made something out of nothing and picked up 21 yards to the Tech 47. Lawrence scrambled and hit Allen at the 16. He then found Rodgers again for the TD. With 16 seconds left in the half, Clemson led 52-7 and had nearly 500 yards of offense while the Yellow Jackets had just over 100. Needless to say, the Tigers were clicking on both sides of the ball.
Dixon took the 2nd half kickoff at the goal line but was only able to get out to the 8. Lawrence hit Ladson for 5 yards, and Dixon was stuffed for no gain on 2nd down. Ladson picked up the 1st down on a slant. Lawrence just missed Rodgers on a long throw, then couldn’t connect with Ladson on 2nd down. On 3rd down he tried to hit Williams down the sideline, but the pass sailed long. Tech fielded the 55-yard punt and started at their 22. Tech started a nice drive, with the Tiger defense illustrating the futility of arm tackling. Then the Tiger defenders must have started imagining how Coach Venables was going to be during film session next week, and they began swarming the Yellow Jacket runners to end the drive.
Taisun Phommachanh came in at QB for the Tigers, but the series was a 3 & out. Tech promptly fumbled, and Justin Mascoll recovered it at the Yellow Jacket 6. Two plays later, Chez Mellusi took it up the middle for the score. At 8:21 in the 3rd quarter, Clemson led 59-7. Tech went 3 & out on their next possession.
With Phommachanh still at QB, the Tigers, using reserves galore, responded with a 3 & out of their own. Tech had a couple of nice runs, but eventually had to punt. Phommachanh and Darien Rencher led the Tigers down the field, but then Phommachanh was injured and Hunter Helms took over at QB. Helms had nice touch on a 4th down throw to Kobe Pace to keep the drive alive, and a couple of plays later he showed nice touch again on a throw to Ajou Ajou that looked like a TD, but it was ruled incomplete. Pace was doing some nice running on the drive and got into the end zone on a shovel pass from Helms. With 11:38 to go, Clemson was up 66-7. A little later, Ajou took a short pass and showed some nice running ability as he made his way 35 yards for another Tiger TD. Clemson led 73-7 and there was still 7:41 to play. The game was so one-sided that Spiers even came into the game at QB. Mercifully, he didn’t lead the offense to another score.
No one expected Georgia Tech to be much of a challenge for Clemson today, and they obliged. The Tigers looked like the best team in the country, with an unstoppable offense and a relentless defense. Late in the game, I was beginning to think that this game was the most dominant game by the Tigers in their history, even more dominant than the 82-24 win over Wake Forest in the 1981 season, when they won their first national championship. Do you agree? Let’s discuss it in the comments section below. Next weekend Clemson returns to Death Valley to take on Syracuse. Check back with us over the next few days for full coverage of today’s game and previews of next week’s game, and thanks for stopping by!