The 1-1 Clemson Tigers took on the 1-1 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Death Valley today. GT is in year three of a rebuilding process under head coach Geoff Collins, a process that involves a tough task in the transition from a triple option offense to a more pro-style or spread offense. That kind of rebuilding involves changing the types of athletes that are recruited, so it is not a task that can be expected to yield results in short order. But by year 3, you would expect to see improvements being made, and Clemson is a team against whom you would like to see improvements. Of course, having lost 73-7 last year, Tech wouldn’t have to do much to show improvement. But they did indeed show a lot of improvement, pushing the Tigers down to the last seconds.
Clemson’s first possession saw good completions to Joseph Ngata and Justyn Ross but D.J. Uiagalelei missed a 3rd & 5 throw to E.J. Williams and had to punt. A good punt and coverage put Tech at their own 5. They moved out to the 20 but a false start set up 3rd & 9. The Tiger defense responded with a sack by Xavier Thomas. The Yellow Jacket punt was muffed but covered by Will Shipley at the Tech 41.
The Tigers moved into the red zone on the legs of Shipley who was running angry, using shiftiness and power. It was fitting that Shipley ended the drive running untouched up the middle for a score. When a back gets in that easily, you have to credit the offensive line and for all the grief they’ve gotten lately, from yours truly included, that blocking was beautiful to watch. Clemson led 7-0 with 4:40 left in the 1st quarter.
Tech looked to get back into the game, but Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis and the rest of the Tiger defense had other ideas. They had to punt and Clemson took over at the Tiger 48. Lyn-J Dixon had a good run but then got stuffed on 2nd down. D.J., accuracy issues continuing, overthrew Ngata on 3rd & 11. The punt put Tech at their 17.
Tech had a couple of good plays but were denied a first down when they were called for illegal touching. The punt rolled out of bounds at the Clemson 38. Dixon had a couple of good runs and moved the ball out near midfield. Good coverage by Tech on a swing pass to Dixon pushed the Tigers back to 3rd & 16. D.J. connected with Kobe Pace on a checkdown and Pace picked up enough to move the chains. The Yellow Jacket defensive line ran some stunts and confused the Tiger offensive line, stifling the Tiger running game. On 4th & 2 from the Tech 19, a shovel pass to Shipley came up a yard short. The Yellow Jackets took over at the 18.
Tech’s drive started pretty well as they moved out near midfield but the Tigers forced a 2nd & 15 on a tackle for loss by Myles Murphy. The Yellow Jackets ran a nicely executed screen pass to pick up the 1st down though. (Note to Coach Elliot: watch that play and remember it. The Tigers should have been doing some of that against Georgia.) The Tigers ended up forcing Tech to punt and it sailed through the end zone. Clemson’s offense looked anemic at this point. Braden Galloway dropped a pass that was right in his hands. 3rd down was an ugly scramble and poor throw that didn’t give Shipley a chance to do anything.
Tech moved into Tiger territory on a confirmed targeting call against Trenton Simpson. The Yellow Jackets appeared to move inside the 10, but a holding penalty against a WR pushed them back to 25. A nice run put Tech at the 17, setting up 3rd & 2. Then Mother Nature asserted herself and a lightning delay was called with 32 seconds left in the half. After a delay of nearly two hours, the teams came back out to continue play in front of a much smaller crowd. Tech converted and went tempo on 1st and goal. And incomplete pass and a QB scramble set up 3rd & goal with 10 seconds left. The Tigers had good coverage and Tech had to settle for a FG. After the longest 2nd quarter I can recall, Clemson led 7-3.
Tech received the 2nd half kickoff but committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that forced them to start at their 9 yard line. They picked up 35 yards down to the Clemson 46 on a nice bubble screen but then committed intentional grounding on the next play to put themselves in the hole at 3rd & 26. They only picked up a couple on a scramble and had to punt. The Tigers were called for holding on the return and started from their 18. On 3rd and 2, D.J. fumbled the snap but picked up and was able to get the 1st down. The Tigers got to 3rd and 4 but D.J.’s pass was a hair long and Ross couldn’t hang onto it. The Will Spiers punt was fair caught at the Tech 11.
Tech did a good job moving the ball, using tempo to good effect at times. A holding penalty put them in a hole, though, and they faced 3rd & 19. They didn’t convert and Shipley fair caught the punt at the 14. The Tiger offense went back to Shipley’s legs and moved out to the 31. On the next play, Ross made a nice sliding catch across the middle to pick up 16. After a 4-yard run by Shipley, D.J. had the best run I’ve seen from him, powering his way for a 1st down. He had another good run up the middle a couple of plays later. And then another. Shipley then picked up 6 to the Tech 23 with a good effort to escape the first tackler. Clemson moved into the red zone but D.J. had the ball stripped on a short run and Tech recovered.
A couple of runs set up 3rd and 3, but Tech couldn’t convert when Andrew Booth tackled the receiver a yard short of the marker. The punt was touched down at the Tiger 34. D.J. threw a nice pass to Ngata on an out route for 12 yards. Ross took a short pass and drove Tech defenders backwards to pick up 13 yards. Shipley picked up a 1st down, but it was called back for holding that looked like a bad call to me. D.J. tried to hit Ngata down the middle but they weren’t on the same page. On 3rd & 14 D.J. made a tough run to picked up the 1st down. Shipley then picked up 15 down to the Tech 14. It finally looked like the offense was starting to hit a rhythm. D.J. rolled out and hit TE Davis Allen for a 7-yard pickup. The Tech defender was called for targeting and it was upheld after review. On 1st & goal, Shipley picked up a yard or so and then on 2nd down, he gave 2nd and 3rd effort to get into the end zone. B.T. Potter added the extra point and the Tigers led 14-3 with 8:12 left.
Tech had a good drive as the Tiger defense started looking a little sloppy. Clemson forced a 4th & 7 and Tech fumbled the snap, but QB Jordan Yates picked it up and made a nice throw to a diving receiver to get the 1st down. Tech kept moving the ball and got to 1st & goal from the 7. The Tigers held, and Tech had to settle for another FG. Clemson led 14-6 with 1:19 left. They then succeeded in getting the onside kick as Ajou Ajou couldn’t quite swipe the ball out of bounds. Ruke Orhorhoro committed an obvious roughing the passer to put the Yellow Jackets at the Tiger 38. After a couple of incomplete passes, the Tigers let up on pass pressure and Tech completed a 22-yard pass. The officials missed a clear holding call on an 8-yard run by Yates. A 5-yard run set up 1st & goal at the 3. Clemson held on 1st and 2nd down. Tech pushed to the 2 on 3rd down and on 4th and goal, tried a shovel pass. James Skalski showed what years of instinct development does for you and stopped the Yellow Jacket TE dead in his tracks. With 15 seconds left Shipley tried to push the ball forward but fumbled back into the end zone and recovered it. That is a safety. Shipley deserves blame for losing the ball, but it’s also an indictment of the offensive line’s inability to move defenders. It is also a bad play call by the coaches. Why in the world do you hand the ball off 4 yards in the end zone? Why not roll D.J. out and let him run with it, instructing him to throw it away if it looks like the defense will get to him in the end zone? Clemson would hold on for the 14-8 win when Bresee intercepted an awkwardly thrown pass.
I saw some good things today. The offensive line looked better but still has a lot to work on. It was good to see Xavier Thomas back to his destructive self. But two players really stood out to me. Will Shipley is clearly the number 1 running back. Bryan Bresee is an absolute beast. What an exhausting game to watch. The Tigers held on, but it was a bit of a nail biter. Georgia Tech looks like a pretty decent team. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below. Check back with us over the next few days for the best analysis to be had and previews of the game next week as the Tigers go on the road to take on NC State. Thanks for stopping by!