It was a great day in Clemson, South Carolina, on Saturday as the Tigers took down the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Military Appreciation Day—a day always filled with powerful emotion. The Tigers seized the opportunity and displayed one of the best performances this season in their most dominant win against an ACC opponent since last November. Let’s dive into the game and take a look at how each position group performed on the day. These ratings are my own and are subjective, so don’t take them to be an exact science. Let’s get into it, and leave your thoughts in the comment section!
Quarterback - 8
Cade Klubnik got the job done on Saturday. He went 23–34 for 205 yards with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception and was able to gain 31 yards on the ground. The young quarterback made some good reads in the passing game, finding Beaux Collins on a big 4th down on one occasion. He did a great job of putting the ball in position for his teammates to make plays—not trying too much. His best throw of the day was a seed to find Briningstool in the endzone. He would probably like to have the one throw back on the interception.
Running Backs - 9
It was great to see Will Shipley back in action. Both running backs had over 100 all-purpose each. Mafah led all backs with 96 yards on 17 carries (5.6 yds/carry), followed by Shipley with 77 yards on 11 carries (7 yds/carry). Both backs were able to break off big runs, the best being Shipley’s 32-yard touchdown run where he showcased his dynamic ability. The use of the running backs in the quick pass game was probably the best we have seen this year. Dominique Thomas and Keith Adams Jr. both cameoed and made some tough runs—showing the fans why they deserve some minutes.
Wide Receivers - 8
The receiver standouts on Saturday were Beaux Collins and Tyler Brown. Tyler from Greenville led the way with 7 catches for 41 yards and a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab. It was by far the most highlight-worthy catch we have seen from a receiver this season. Beaux Collins caught 5 passes for 65 yards and had an impressive touchdown grab in his own right. Collins also made some big catches on important downs to extend drives early in the game when the score was close. He seemed to be Klubnik’s target for crucial moments. It has been good to see Collins grow this season and become one of the most consistent options for the quarterback.
Tight Ends - 8
The Tiger offense has continued to rely on Jake Briningstool in all facets of the offense. The junior tight end caught a touchdown in the 2nd quarter to put the Tigers up 3 scores. He also showed toughness and fought for extra yardage on a 4th-down play that extended an eventual touchdown drive. He got a big roar from the crowd for the extra effort shown. Sage Ennis went out with injury, but it gave way for Josh Sapp to fill in. The redshirt freshmen reeled in his own touchdown and showed some athleticism that looks promising for the future.
Offensive Line - 7
The offensive line had a shaky start in the first quarter after going with essentially the same lineup that was so successful against Notre Dame. After only gaining 15 yards on the ground in the first quarter, the lineup was switched to add in Collin Sadler and Mitchell Mayes at the guard positions. After the change, the Tigers began to have their way in the ground game and broke off multiple big runs. On Shipley’s touchdown, the line opened up a hole so big the C-130 from the pre-game flyover could have gone through. I saw a couple of pancakes from Blake Miller and Mitchell Mayes on the right side as well. The GT counter also had some success, which was different from the zone blocking schemes against Notre Dame. Some great in-game tactical switches in this group provided the difference for the line on Saturday.
Offense - 8.0
The Tiger offense was slow to start on Saturday, going 3-and-out for the first two drives of the game. Following those two series, they reeled off 3 successive touchdown drives for 209 yards gained. On the first scoring drive of the day, the Tigers matriculated the ball down the field, successfully going for it on 4th down twice, and ran 9 minutes and 51 seconds off of the clock. This drive was officially the longest scoring drive in Clemson history.
The Tigers showed some balance on Saturday—throwing for 205 yards and running for 260 yards. The Georgia Tech defense was next to last in the nation coming into the game in rushing yards allowed, so it was necessary for the ground game to have success. I was encouraged by the passing game as well, and it was nice to see some plays being made by Klubnik and the receivers on crucial downs. The blocking on the perimeter was the best I have seen in a while to help the screen game. You could see the confidence of this unit growing as the game progressed. We will see if this newfound confidence can be built upon for the upcoming games.
Defensive Line - 9
The defensive line played with bad intentions on Saturday as they made life difficult for Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King. Justin Mascoll had a sack on the second Georgia Tech drive that set the tone for the defense for the afternoon. Redshirt junior DeMonte Capehart followed up his great performance against Notre Dame with his first sack of the season against the Jackets; he also ranked T-3 on the day in tackles with 4. Capehart has been a force the past two weeks, which has greatly contributed to the dominance of this unit.
Linebackers - 8
The linebacking corps looked a little different with Barrett Carter out with a gametime-decision ankle injury. Redshirt freshmen Kobe McCloud filled his shoes along with Wade Woodaz playing the WILL position some as well. Jeremiah Trotter continued to lead the defense and fly around making plays. He once again led the team in tackles with 6 and added a sack and 2 TFL. True freshman linebacker Dee Crayton got some playing time and showed his promise with 4 total tackles and a TFL.
Cornerbacks - 10
The secondary played their best game of the season. They were able to completely shut down Haynes King and the Georgia Tech passing game. Freshman Avieon Terrell had his coming-out party with an incredible one-handed interception on the boundary while battling a Tech receiver. He seemed to be making plays across the secondary the entire game on Saturday. Freshman Shelton Lewis also shined with a 46-yard pick six to put the exclamation point on the defensive performance.
Safeties - 10
Khalil Barnes continued to be a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. He came up with a crucial interception early in the game that gave Clemson a chance to score before halftime. He also added two TFLs. Freshman Kylon Griffin added his second interception in as many games on a diving grab. He mentioned in his postgame presser that he read King’s eyes because he locked onto his targets. The young talent in this secondary is really impressive and encouraging.
Defense - 9.3
The defense was totally dominant on Saturday against an offense that was purring coming into the game against the Tigers. In Georgia Tech’s last three games, they were averaging 533 yards of offense, and in their last two games, they had rushed for over 300 yards. The Tigers were able to hold this in-form unit to 254 yards of total offense and only 117 rushing yards. Prior to the 4th quarter when Clemson started to sub in some second stringers, the Georgia Tech offense had only mustered 100 yards and scored 7 points.
The key to success for the defense was to get after Haynes King and force him into making mistakes. Georgia Tech had only given up 8 sacks on the season coming into the game, which averages to less than a sack a game. Clemson was able to sack King 4 times on Saturday and also force 4 interceptions. Even more impressive, all 4 interceptions came from different freshmen players in the secondary. The defense has elevated their level of play the last two weeks. The forced turnovers and ability to get off the field has increased and, in turn, increased the Tigers’ ability to win football games.
Special Teams - 5
The most memorable part of the special teams’ performance was a failed fake punt attempt on a shocking play from Clemson’s own 21-yard line. Aiden Swanson was swallowed on an attempt to run the ball for a 1st down where he needed 9 yards. This blunder set Georgia Tech up for a touchdown and the first points of the game for either side. My grandma even texted me and said that play was a terrible idea. Let’s hope we don’t see that one again anytime soon.
Coaching - 9
The game plan on Saturday worked like a charm for both sides of the ball. Wes Goodwin was yet again able to hit the right buttons to confuse the opposing quarterback. The defensive line was able to dominate the lines of scrimmage and keep King from getting comfortable in the pocket. The personnel calls on the defensive side of the ball have been a touch of magic as well. When four freshmen are getting interceptions in one game, some good coaching must be taking place.
On the offensive side of the ball, Garrett Riley has shown that he can adapt and modify the game plan to fit the current performance. Since the offensive line play has improved, the ability to run the ball and dictate the game has opened up the offense for Riley. Klubnik was able to find some space to throw the ball and throw for 4 touchdowns for the first time since Charleston Southern.
Overall Team Performance - 8.2
The Tigers put together their most complete performance of the year—especially against a Power 5 opponent. As I said previously, Georgia Tech was a team not to be taken lightly and had more or less beaten all of their top-tier opponents this season. The Tigers put together a classic Clemson performance. A performance that included scoring 42 unanswered points, dominating a potent offensive unit while providing some playing time for backups—much to Dabo’s enjoyment.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the victory against Georgia Tech was the performances of many of the freshmen and young players. On the offensive side of the ball, Cade Klubnik is young and growing in confidence. Players like Josh Sapp, Collin Sadler, and Harris Sewell have all made important contributions. Tyler Brown is arguably our most explosive playmaker. On defense, the list goes on with how many freshmen have had standout performances this season. We have almost forgotten about TJ Parker and Peter Woods and how easily they have gelled into starting roles. It appears that Dabo’s comment about “buying Clemson stock” may not be far off when it comes to the future of this program.
Bonus Rating: Blackmon Huckabee - 10
The best performance of the day may not have come from a player on the field, but from the pregame festivities. Clemson receiver Blackmon Huckabee performed an impressive rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” prior to the kickoff on Saturday. It was a special moment for him and the crowd. Who knew we had that kind of vocal talent on the roster? Now we just need to beat South Carolina and get him to sing “Takin’ Care of Business” on the bus ride home.
Pretty cool: Clemson just had walk-on WR Blackmon Huckabee Jr. (who went viral on TikTok for his signing earlier this year) do the pregame national anthem in uniform, something he’d expressed interest in. Huge applause from crowd. A snippet: pic.twitter.com/qPCXDEiH1A— Chapel Fowler (@chapelfowler) November 11, 2023