Several unanswered questions lingered in the minds of eighty thousand wet and cold Clemson fans as the Tigers took the field against Georgia Tech.
Was Kelly Bryant really healthy and ready to go? How would the team respond to a tough Syracuse outing (particularly the defense)? Would the special teams play improve?
After the Friday night loss in Syracuse in front of the whole nation, the Tigers had to wait after their bye week to show the nation that the loss was an anomaly and not the norm.
The two weeks were a long wait, but the Tigers answered all of the questions and silenced the doubters. The team responded in a commanding way as Coach Swinney described: “The fun’s in the winning. I’m really proud of our team. Everything is about how you respond. Good teams respond, and great teams respond like we did. I can’t tell you how proud of I am of our team and our staff. We were better tonight than we probably have been at any point this season.”
Clemson found their footing in the first quarter and never let off the gas pedal as they cruised to Dabo Swinney’s 96th win, tying Danny Ford for the second most wins in program history.
The Tigers thoroughly dominated Georgia Tech in the first half by winning the statistical battle in rushing yards, passing yards, third downs, and time of possession.
Georgia Tech’s KirVonte Benson ran on the first four plays on the opening drive that ended when Kendall Joseph forced a fumble that Van Smith recovered.
Clemson’s first two plays were hitch routes to Deon Cain, with Cain beating his man after the catch for a 38-yard score to strike first. Deon Cain hit two milestones tonight: his 31st straight game with a catch and his 100th career catch.
After Clemson fumbled the ball, KirVonte Benson had the longest play of the game with a 65 yard run through the heart of the Clemson defense. Despite the big play doing most of the heavy lifting, Georgia Tech couldn’t force a touchdown and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal.
Georgia Tech’s last five drives of the first half went for 20 combined yards, and Clemson put together two scoring drives to go up 21-3 at the half.
The first scoring drive was eight plays on a 55-yard field that ended with Milan Richard’s first career score, a 20-yard pass with his famous uncle Herschel Walker in attendance.
The second scoring drive was a ten play, 71-yard drive that ended with the one two punch of Kelly Bryant’s 17-yard rush to get to the two-yard line on third and four. Travis Etienne gained the last two yards for the score to go up 21-3 with 3:26 in the first half.
Clemson’s opening drive of the second half started at the 13-yard line, and Clemson drove 68 yards to the opposing 19-yard line on seven plays before having to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Alex Spence.
The rest of the third quarter was a defensive battle filled with penalties and mishaps.
Deon Cain committed offensive pass interference on a first and ten deep bomb to bury the Tigers in a hole of 1st and 25 that they couldn’t overcome.
A promising drive that started out with two Etienne runs for 23 yards stalled when a bad snap forced Kelly Bryant to recover the ball for a twelve-yard loss (denoted as “Team” rush).
Tech’s quarterback TaQuon Marshall was benched for backup Matthew Jordan near the end of the third quarter, but Marshall returned in the beginning of the fourth quarter. The eight play, 44-yard drive provided hope to Georgia Tech but a 4th and 3 conversion on the 27 was reviewed and ruled short, ending their hopes of a comeback.
Georgia Tech finally put together a touchdown drive that was capped off by a 22 yard rushing score by TaQuon Marshall. The drive consisted of 12 plays for 79 yards and took 4:27 off the clock – Tech converted their fourth down conversion and two of their three third down conversions.
Fortunately for Clemson, it was too little too late as the Tigers inserted Hunter Johnson in at quarterback to finish out the game.
Clemson proceeded to rush ten straight times to finish the game with the only eventful occasion being another bad snap that caused a 17-yard loss.
Although the offense only scored three points in the second half, they scored to win the game with the help of the stifling Venables defense. As if they needed any help, Georgia Tech made the defense’s job easier according to Paul Johnson: “We were probably less than 20% on option reads. We missed a lot of reads. When we did get them right, it was like popcorn. Some of the stuff was just ridiculous. I can’t explain why we do some of the stuff we do here, but we do.”
While no one unit wins a game outright in football, the hiring of Brent Venables six years ago changed this program. Tigers everywhere appreciate him and the defense as a whole a little more on Georgia Tech week, when what used to be a ‘nightmare game’ turned into just another game – “the most important game of the year.”
Next week’s kickoff will be at Carter-Finley Stadium against NC State at 330 PM. Tiger Time will be covering the game live from the press box and the field and in the words of Coach Swinney “It’s the most important game of the year” – as well as the de facto division championship.