I cannot express how happy I am to come here and say I was dead wrong about how last week’s game would go. All the things I thought needed to happen actually happened. Clemson’s offense produced an explosive (what I call “cheap”) touchdown courtesy of Phil Mafah. The defense did more than just force punts. They scored a TD of their own. The offense at least saved their bad turnovers for after a solid lead was built, and the special teams decisively won that phase of the game. All this happened with many mostly unproven players stepping up and producing, especially across the offensive line. It was a much needed shot in the arm for a program that was taking on water and fending off mounting negativity.
Of course, that win will ring pretty hollow if the team turns around and lets Georgia Tech walk in and beat them. This Yellow Jacket team is a lesson in resilience themselves, with their miraculous last second victory over Miami on the heels of an embarrassing loss to Bowling Green. The Jackets have played well as of late and took out North Carolina before smashing the Virginia Cavaliers last weekend. Clemson will need to play well again to secure bowl eligibility in the iconic purple uniforms worn on Military Appreciation Day.
Clemson offense vs. GT defense: I’m not sure what “Come to Jesus” meeting Dabo and the staff had with the offensive line, but hopefully what we saw last weekend will be the new normal. The OL was great against a very good Irish defense and allowed Phil Mafah to be the force he can be when allowed to get to the second level of a defense. The only real downer were the two poor snaps that ended drives, one of which that was looking promising and probably would have iced the game sooner. They looked physical and they looked organized. GT doesn’t have nearly the power up front on defense that the Irish do so a similar effort should produce tremendous results.
Cade Klubnik is hobbled but played a much more controlled game. The interception was not his fault and was a great throw that took a terrible bounce off of Beaux Collins. He handled the bad snap situations well to avoid major disaster when those happened. He doesn’t have to be superman if the run game is going its thing. GT’s defense has given up yardage and plays all year but they have been opportunistic and generated a good amount of turnovers. That was the ultimate difference in their win over Miami, and their 3 takeaways allowed them to blow UVA out last week. Clemson should be able to move the ball as long as they take care of the ball.
Will Shipley is on track to return and add help to the run game with Mafah. Thomas stepped in and did some good things in his limited snaps as the RB3. I personally believe that Shipley seeing Mafah do what he did will only push him to be better when he is back in there. Clemson’s backs are difference makers if the OL can do what they did last week. Eventually the Tigers should create explosive pass play chances from teams having to do more to combat the run. ND has excellent corners so the way to get them was running it, which is exactly what the Tigers did.
Clemson defense vs. GT offense: Clemson had to stop the run last week to have a chance and other than the initial Irish drives did that extremely well. They forced Hartman to try to win the game and convert third and long all day long and that played into the hands of the deep and talented Clemson back seven. Meanwhile the defensive front played relentless football, particularly Tyler Davis and Xavier Thomas who got some great assists from Ruke, Peter Woods, and Payton Page inside. Jeremiah Trotter went out and played like the All-American he was billed to be in the preseason. Clemson will need all of that against GT’s resurgent offense.
Haynes King can flat out play. He has made tons of huge plays both running and throwing, often because of his ability to extend plays. He is what stirs the drink for GT almost like how Woody Dantzler did for early 2000s Clemson teams. The Jackets have been outstanding running the football and have back-to-back 300+ yard performances to their credit. The Tigers will need to be stout and deal with a much more dangerous running threat at QB than Hartman was last week (though Hartman had his moments running the ball). Clemson did a very good job against Shrader from Syracuse, but GT is probably better across the front than the Orange.
Shootouts like GT had with UNC are not what this Clemson team is built to win, so the defense is probably more on the spot this week than they were last week in some ways. Though King wasn’t mentioned in the same sentence with guys like Jordan Travis and Drake Maye in the preseason, he has been every bit as important to GT as those guys have been to FSU and UNC. The Tigers can’t let him bust loose the way Riley Leonard did for Duke in Durham.
Special Teams: I cannot remember the last time I said Clemson decisively won this phase of a game. The punting was perhaps the best in my long memory as a Clemson fan. Even Cade Klubnik got into the act in what I thought was a brilliant call on fourth and medium in “no man’s land” territory. ND was not ready for that and got pinned inside their five yard line. Aidan Swanson was a weapon and really helped the team stave off any hope of an Irish comeback. Even the punt return game generated a little bit of field position. The unit also pounced on an Irish muffed punt that helped Clemson build an early lead. Clemson’s offense is very unlikely to start lighting up the scoreboard this season, so playing field position football and supporting a very strong defense is a great formula for winning the rest of these games.
Overall: I’m extremely encouraged by last week. Not just that Clemson won, but HOW they won, was impressive. Dabo even dropped what could become another iconic quote about buying Clemson stock. That only happens if that game was truly where things turned back around for the program. GT is red hot and playing its best football by a mile, so Tiger fans in attendance need to buckle up and bring it like they did last week. Clemson is still long overdue for a game with no turnovers, though not having a penalty last week was a major accomplishment.
I worry about Haynes King but the Tigers have the ability to play man coverage on the perimeter and play the safeties up to help with him. Clemson also has athletic linebackers who run as well or better than any King has seen this season. I might be foolhardy but I’m back on the belief bus and am going with the Tigers.
Georgia Tech 24