Tigers Survive, Gain Momentum
By Brandon Rink
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Clemson picked up a key win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, generating some much-needed momentum in the process.
The line between win and loss in college football is often razor thin, a play here or there changing the course of the game. Saturday, in Death Valley, South Carolina (as Dabo Swinney calls it), it was no different.
Fast-forward through a point-filled first half, where Clemson and Georgia Tech combined for 613 offensive yards and 48 points, and the Tigers were on top 27-21.
The Yellow Jackets, with the exception of a failed fourth-down conversion and missed field goal, imposed their will offensively (four scoring drives of 75 or more yards), and after a long Tevin Washington run and score a play later, the second half looked to be much of the same.
Next drive, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw a screen pass which was intercepted, setting up Georgia Tech at the Tigers’ 26.
It was at this moment that the line was drawn. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ defense folds again, and the spread option train of Paul Johnson is rolling with a two-possession lead and all of the momentum.
But Clemson forced a fourth-and-one at the 12, and Washington did the rest – never fielding the snap and turning it over. Momentum…gone.
The two exchanged leads with field goals after that, but the gamebreaker came on the second Boyd-to-DeAndre Hopkins touchdown connection (35 yards) and a mishandled ensuing Georgia Tech kickoff return at two-yard line, which led to a safety two plays later.
The 47-31 victory for No. 15 Clemson wasn’t a thing of beauty, but against a Jackets team that has given his team fits over the years, Swinney will take it.
“This was a huge win,” Swinney said. “It was a momentum win. It was a complete game and we won every quarter, especially the fourth quarter.”
Venables is just happy the game is over.
“I’m just so glad that game is done,” Venables said. “We played every play today. It’s a tough offense to defend. It creates a lot of stress.
“We did a great job of in-game adjustments and our guys were very calm. They didn’t freak out and we made some minor adjustments and they handled them really well.”
Those adjustments were evident in the second half.
Clemson allowed 367 yards for 21 points in first session, and only 114 yards with 10 points in the second. After giving up four scoring drives of 75-plus yards in the first half, they did not surrender one of 70 yards or more in the second half.
“We did really well the whole game up front,” Swinney said breaking down his defense’s performance. “But we struggled with the perimeter. We made the changes that were necessary and forced Georgia Tech to put drives together. In the first half, they made a lot of big plays and we took that away from them in the second half.”
Misfortune and multiple missed opportunities are what Tech’s Johnson lamented postgame.
“We get a kickoff return on the one-yard-line,” he started. “We missed two field goals. We missed several tackles again, especially when we could have gotten them off the field. We didn’t convert on a couple fourth downs where we needed to get points that would have big…When you do that, you’re not going to win too many games.”
Clemson now enters its bye week, which Swinney says is ideal on several fronts, before a date with the Hokies on Oct. 20.
“The schedule gods were looking down upon us this year,” Swinney said. “Last year, we had something like nine games before an open date – that’s a grind.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to prepare for Virginia Tech, and then we’ve got Wake Forest on a Thursday night on a really short week.”
Boyd adds another record-setting day to two-season run
Tajh Boyd didn’t have his best game, and yet he still passed for 397 yards and two touchdowns, with two picks (one off a deflection).
Just another day in Chad Morris’ offense.
Boyd surpassed Charlie Whitehurst for Clemson’s career record for touchdown passes, doing so in only two full seasons as a starter, on a 58-yarder to Hopkins in the second quarter. A second throwing score to Hopkins pushed him to 51 career TDs.
His 397 yards are the second-most in a single game in school history (Whitehurst, 420 in 2002), and he also added the second-most total yards (460), behind a Woody Dantzler record (517).
Boyd said he was too “amped” early in the game, and it showed, with 10 incompletions in the first half compared to five in the second.
Recovering from those misses is where his coach has noticed the most improvement from Boyd.
“He made some huge plays,” Swinney said. “There some layups out there he missed. He made a lot of 3-pointers – kinda like my basketball game – he missed some layups out there today.
“He’s just the ultimate competitor. He just goes back out there. That’s where he’s grown the most as a football player.”
More Clemson/Georgia Tech Notes
* The Tigers and Jackets combined for 1,084 yards of total offense, which is second-most in school history for both teams. Clemson moved up to eighth nationally in third down conversions, earning a fresh set of downs on 13 of 19 chances. They had 14 more first downs than Georgia Tech on the game, and added their longest drive (14 plays, 90 yards) of the season.
* What more can you say about "Nuk" Hopkins? All he does is get open and catch the ball for the Clemson offense – a fourth 100-yard receiving game (173) this season with two touchdowns, making a strong case for ACC Player of the Year. He leads the ACC in both yards per game (130.3) and receptions per game (8.2). Six of his seven catches Saturday went for first downs.
* Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro just keeps making field goals, albeit with an easy day of three 20-yard kicks, but he’s now 11-for-11 on the season and stretched the school-record to 19 consecutive made.
* The Tigers’ defense stepped up in the second half, but it was ugly throughout Saturday afternoon. But the worst, at least in the ACC season, is behind them when it comes to opposing offenses. FSU and Georgia Tech rank No. 2 and 3 in total offense in the ACC, with upcoming conference opponents at No. 10 (Virginia Tech), No. 11 (Wake Forest), No. 9 (Duke), No. 12 (Maryland) and No. 7 (NC State). That’s not to say Venables and co. can relax now, but if they do improve, it will likely show better on the scoreboard against the competition ahead.
* Paul Johnson, at several points, out-coached himself Saturday. He went for it on fourth down twice, and came up empty twice – one, incredulously, on the opening drive from his own 37 (the other one was more on Washington not getting the snap). Later, moving the ball at will with the run, on third-and-four in Clemson territory, he called a pass that went errant, leading to a field goal try that came up short at the end of the first half. On fourth-and-one in Tech territory for Clemson earlier in that same half, he called a timeout with the Tigers’ punt team on the field, and Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense came out again, converted, and drove for a score. Many of the Yellow Jackets’ issues fall on defense, but Johnson’s cavalier playcalling style often hurts Georgia Tech. Would I still take him as my offensive coordinator? Sure, but he needs somebody on the staff that can tell him when he’s gone off the deep end.