Clemson won the toss and elected to defer to Georgia Tech. BT Potter’s kickoff went through the back of the endzone and the Yellow Jackets then started on their own 25. Sims’ first throw sailed awkwardly after being bumped, and Andrew Mukuba intercepted it on the opening play.
The Tigers started on their own 27 and had a few runs before DJ Uiagalalei bobbled the snap on 3rd and 1 and were forced to punt away the momentum. Aidan Swanson had a solid punt for 51 yards and gave GT the ball back on their own 14. After a 3-and-out, GT punted away to let Clemson try again.
Beaux Collins then had a nice catch and run through a broken tackle to pick up a first down early. A GT hands-to-the-face penalty moved the sticks again and put Clemson just outside the red zone, but DJ fumbled the ball on an option run and we had the second turnover just six minutes into the game.
Tech converted a 3rd and short on a QB sneak and then did it again 4 plays later on 4th and 1. The drive collapsed after that though, thanks to some solid tackling from the Tiger defense. After a short punt return by Will Taylor, Clemson got the ball back on their own 29.
Clemson and Tech traded punts after faulty drives and the first quarter ended 0-0.
DJ had a nice shovel pass on a scramble out of the pocket to Kobe Pace but came up just short of the first down marker, and once again, Clemson punted away.
Two false start penalties threw away any chance of Tech converting a first down on the Tigers’ defense, forcing yet another punt. Former walk-on Carson Donnelly blocked the punt and Brannon Spector then picked it up to put Clemson in excellent field position.
Georgia Tech was able to stuff 3 goal-line runs in a row to create a big 4th and goal decision for Dabo, who elected to run it once again. Clemson flexed some muscle and Will Shipley punched it in from the 1 to finally put Clemson on the board, 7-0.
Tech moved the ball well on their next possession, putting together their best drive of the night with some nice throws from Sims. The Clemson defense soon collected itself and stiffened; an excellent pursuit and tackle from Trenton Simpson forced the long field goal for Tech which drifted just wide.
DJ responded well on the next possession with a big third-down pass to Beaux Collins near the sideline. A swing pass to Shipley picked up another quick first down, followed by an agile run from DJ to convert again. On 3rd and goal, DJ rolled to his right and tossed a pass to Beaux once more who hauled it in for the much-needed touchdown.
Clemson had now equaled their point total from last year’s matchup against Georgia Tech with just under 4 minutes to go in the first half.
Down 14, the Yellow Jackets started moving the ball again well until Nate Wiggins dropped what might’ve been a pick-six and Bryan Bresee got his first sack of the year. On 4th down, Geoff Collins called another field goal, this one good from 45 yards.
After the 2-minute drill fizzled despite a few completions, a potential targeting hit on Kobe Pace stopped the clock for review. The officials deemed it not targeting, but Geoff Collins puzzlingly accepted the ten-second runoff instead of utilizing one of Tech’s 3 remaining timeouts. Clemson punted the ball away and went to halftime up 14-0.
Clemson sputtered out of the half with a couple of runs and then took a grounding penalty on third down, punting the ball back to Georgia Tech right away. The Yellow Jackets capitalized on the opportunity and drove all the way down the field with some clutch conversions and a nice touchdown pass from Jeff Sims to make it 14-10, Clemson ball.
After a bailout from a pass interference call on third down, Clemson started moving again and collected several first downs through some nice running from Phil Mafah to reach midfield. After a contested throw to the endzone was dropped by Ngata, Potter kicked the 29-yard field goal to make it 17-10.
Tech’s next drive stalled and Clemson took back over. After a big third-down play where DJ looked like he was going down for a sack but flipped it back to Shipley who picked up the first down, Clemson rolled down the field with up-tempo playcalling and capped the drive with a 9-yard TD run from DJ. I thought he was going to get called for taunting on the run as he sort of backpedaled into the endzone, but it was great to see him pumped up after that drive.
Tech failed to do anything with their next drive and punted away, ending the third quarter at 24-10.
DJ had a very pretty throw early in the 4th to Davis Allen for a huge third-down conversion, possibly his best throw of the game. Unfortunately, the drive faltered after a similarly beautiful pass to Beaux was dropped, and Clemson punted away.
Georgia Tech tried to go for it on 4th down but the runner slipped and Clemson was handed excellent field position to extend their lead. The Tigers drove to the red zone but DJ was sacked on 3rd down and Potter sent another field goal through the uprights to go 2-2 on the night and put Clemson up by 17.
A big-time sack from Bryan Bresee forced yet another GT punt, which was this time blocked by freshman Wade Woodaz. For the second time this game, a massive special teams punt block ended in a Will Shipley touchdown run, and suddenly the Tigers were comfortably up 34-10.
Late in the fourth Clemson fans were treated to their first glimpse of highly-anticipated freshman QB Cade Klubnik. On third down, #2 rolled to his right and fired a nice pass to Will Taylor for 20 yards. Shortly after that Cade threaded another perfect pass to Drew Swinney, followed by another rollout throw to Will Taylor for the touchdown.
GT ran out their last drive to end the game with a final score of 41-10.
Blake Miller looked overwhelmed for much of the game, including several mishaps where he missed his block or got entirely bullied out of position. I kept waiting for the coaches to give Miller some support from a tight end or even rotate him out a bit - not the best start from the freshman.
Antonio Williams had a couple of speedy catch-and-runs - very exciting to see his flash out there in the slot.
Cade Klubnik looked as good as advertised, even with the third-stringers at WR.
DJ did look a bit quicker on the field and less like a lumbering giant, but it took a while for any real rhythm to be established with the passing game. There seemed to be a clear desire to implement his running into the offense with his improved agility.
Aidan Swanson had several great punts, including a nicely pinned fourth-quarter boot inside the fifteen.
Barrett Carter was all over the field and looked like a monster out there (as was Simpson), to no surprise. The linebacker position should be just fine this year.
Those are my first impressions from the game - it was great to finally be watching Clemson football again, and even better to pick up the opening win. What are your thoughts after watching our Tigers play in Atlanta tonight?