By Don Stone - Georgia Tech Express
Its one of
the oldest rivalries in the south as Georgia
Tech faces off against the #3 ranked Clemson Tigers for the 82nd time. Both
teams are unbeaten in three tries. The Jackets have given the Tigers a tough
time in recent years, especially at home where they have won five straight.
Last year was a whole different story as Georgia Tech won only three
games, among them an embarrassing 43-24 loss at Death Valley. Nothing to be
ashamed of, though, as Clemson went on to a 14-1 ACC Championship season
making it all the way to the National Championship Game where they suffered
their only loss, by just five points to Alabama.
The 2016 team seems to be finding their footing after sluggish wins at
Auburn 19-13 and Troy 30-24. Last Saturday, they destroyed South Carolina
State 59-0. The Tigers' 31 first quarter points were the most in school
history. At halftime with the score at 45-0, the teams agreed to shorten the
second half to a pair of 12 minute quarters.
The Yellow Jackets are 3-0 for the fourth time in the last six seasons
coming off an impressive 38-7 dominance of Vanderbilt. The offense outgained
the Commodores 511-275. Tech averaged 8.1 yards per play. True freshman
running back Dedrick Mills scored three touchdowns. Defensively, the
Jackets have limited opponents to 14 points or less in all three games, the
first time in 15 years.
For the Jackets, it was easily their most
complete game in awhile. You can't count last year's wins against Alcorn
State and Tulane. Even the FSU win was on a fluke last minute play. Probably
the 2014 New Year's Eve Orange Bowl win (49-34) over Mississippi State the
last time the Jackets had looked this good. They'll have their hands full
Head coach Dabo Swinney, wanting to reverse his fortunes against
the option offense, said that he had been practicing against it since
Spring. From the way the game started, it looked like the work was paying
The Tigers got the ball to start the game at their 25. A pair of short
carries brought up a third and three, which was converted on a catch by
Mike Williams at the 41. A reverse sweep by Ray-Ray McCloud got
them 17 more into Tech territory at the 41. Deshaun Watson quickly
completed another for 14 to Jordan Leggett to the 27. Six more on the
ground by Wayne Galman followed by a toss to McCloud who found his
way for a first and goal at the four. A play later, Williams came down with
a score in the corner of the end zone for a too easy 7-0 lead. Fro the sound
of the crowd and the large percentage of orange, the white out called for
only demonstrated how many visiting fans were here. Either way, it was a
packed house of 53,932.
Georgia Tech would to respond, also from their 25 but a quick sack by
Christian Wilkins made it second and 14. Justin Thomas was
swarmed over by the defense and had to throw it away to wind up with a net
loss of six yards on the drive. The Tigers' J.D. Davis had to be
helped off the team. At this point, it looked like a long night ahead for
the home team.
A fumble on the punt was recovered by Clemson at the GT47. Just what they
needed, a short field. Watson kept it for 8, and again to the 28. Everything
was working as Williams pulled one in for five. Then it was another first on
a short catch by Leggett at the 15. Adam Choice got five more on the
ground. A pair of incomplete attempts in the end zone were all they stopped
the offense. Add to that Greg Huegel missing an easy 27 yard field
goal attempt and the drive came up empty.
But the offense couldn't take advantage of the situation with
another sack for drive with a net minus seven yards.
A holding call on Clemson on the punt at least put the ball at
their 38. Watson hit Cornell Powell for a first down midfield. A big
third and nine. No problem. McCloud converted with a catch at the 29. Again,
no problem as Watson hit a wide open Trevion Thompson at the one. A
play later Galman dove in for a two touchdown lead, 14-0. The ESPN brass
already had to be worrying at how much of their audience was tuning over to
NFL Thursday Night Football.
The Jackets caught a break when the punt went out of bounds, placing the
ball at the 35. A pass interference call on Van Smith finally gave
them positive yardage at the Clemson 44 to a chorus of disapproving Tiger
fans as the first quarter came to a merciful end. A pair of nothing run
plays brought up a third and seven. A pass to Marcus Marshall got
nothing forcing a perfect Ryan Rodwell punt that was downed at the
two. Perhaps medicine for an ailing Tech tea.
Two carries made and an incomplete pass and the Tigers had to punt from
beneath the goal post. The ball rolled to the GT48. Still great starting
position for an offense that needed as much help as it could get.
Tech got their first first down without the aid of a penalty on a pair of
carries by Mills to the CT40. Another play for a loss made it third and 17
at the 47. Too much to overcome and the prime field position was wasted.
McCloud fair caught it at the 10.
McCloud caught one for a nine yard gain. Watson kept it for a first down
at the 18. McCloud caught a short pass then bullied his way through several
tackles for nine. Choice picked up a big chunk on a 16 yard rush to the 48.
Watson, who was injured two years ago the last team his team played at Bobby
Dodd, was having no trouble this time, diving for another first at the GT42.
He hit Williams for six. Then, a Patrick Gamble sack made it third
and nine. Swinney called his first time out with 5:02 left in the half. The
call for a deep pass failed and Tech got the ball back. The Clemson fans,
who should be happy with their fortunes, continued to ball the refs lack of
an interference call.
Tech began at their ten and got away with what looked like a lateral that
hit the ground. It was called incomplete. No movement by the offense though
as the Jackets had eaten up only a minute and a half on the clock. RG
Shamire Divine has banged up on the play. The busy Rodwell had to kick
it away to McCloud standing at midfield. Clemson had the ball at the GT45.
The equally busy McCloud caught one for 24 to the 21. Nine more to
Williams for a third down at the 12. Watson dove ahead for another first at
the 11. A false start was all the could slow down the offense. Watson
appeared to be color blind as he threw a strike to Lance Austin in
the end zone. But Austin tried to take it out, fumbled it back into the end
zone where he recovered it for a safety. Even when they did something right,
they did something wrong. Two is better than seven. But, still down 16-0. I
don't think anyone was thinking that the two points might come back to bite
Clemson got the kick at the 29 with just under two minutes to mount still
Another first down at the GT51 on a nice catch by Powell with 0:45 left.
Williams broke tackles on a catch and made it to the 14. Gallman caught one
and knocked over a few defenders on the way to a first and goal at the
three. Its like the interception never happened except that they have two
bonus points. A pair of failed plays and Swinney had to take his final tie
out with nine seconds remaining. Time for one play. Tech needed a big stop.
They didn't get it. Touchdown on a clean catch by Leggett. 23-0 at the half.
Maybe the Jackets could be inspired by recent college games where Florida
State and Alabama overcame enormous half time deficits to ultimately win
their games against Ole Miss. Oh yeah, that was the Seminoles and Crimson
Tide and these are the Tigers, not the Bulldogs, a team that looks
determined to make it back to the National Championship Game and appears
good enough to accomplish that. Maybe not. Tech was looking more like last
week's Vandy team.
The sad halftime stats. Clemson 347 yards of offense to Tech's 22. Enough
said except that Tech also had 0 yards total on punt and kick returns.
Actually, I have been covering the Yellow Jackets for 26 years and can not
remember any game anywhere where they were so completely dominated. Swinney
was cornered heading into the locker room by ESPN sideline reporter Laura
Rutledge and, without hearing his comments, my guess is that he said
something like "gotta keep the foot on the gas. Still a half of football to
For some reason, fireworks were going off during halftime. Fittingly,
they looked more like the kind I see in my driveway on July 4th. I wonder
how the Patriots and Texans are doing...I anyone outside of South Carolina
still watching this game?
“The first half, outside of just a couple of miscues, was just a
dominant performance," said Swinney, stating the obvious. "I think they had
22 yards at the half on 21 plays. Offensively we ran 56 plays and had
300-some yards, and it was just a thing of beauty."
I asked columnist Terence Moore in the press box, who is known for
a few nasty comments, if he was in an eviscerating mood. He joked that was
too big a word for him, but seemed ready to write a few choice words of his
Tech started at their fifteen after an off sides call. Needing only five,
Mills carried it for a first down at the 21. Thomas kept it for seven. Mills
got another first at the 31. Tech finally got the big play it needed when
Mills broke free for about 50. But, when the do something good, they do
something bad. A holding call brought it back to the 22. A toss to
Quinton Lynch saw him gang tackled after an 11 yard gain. Third and 8 at
the 33. Again, the wrong direction with Thomas sacked for a seven yard loss.
The offense was showing a bit of success, but nothing to show for it.
Clemson got the ball at their 35 for their first drive of the half.
But the Jacket defense forced an uncharacteristic three and out getting
the ball back after a nice Brad Stewart return at the 25.
Another loss brought up a third and 12 at the 24. An off sides and it was
third and 7. A rushed Thomas had to throw it away and Clemson got the ball
at their 35. Buzz was working his stinger off trying to get some
enthusiasm out of the fans who preferred the option of sitting on their
hands. But, to their credit, it appeared that very few fans adorned in white
had left early. Clemson fans, with a two hour drive back to Carolina or even
shorter to their hotel, were all remaining as well.
Gallman again slipped a few tackles for an 11 yard first down carry to
the 46. I'm actually surprised that the Tiger starters are still in there.
Artavis Scott caught the ball for a first down, then ran backwards
and was tackled just short. Swinney called his first time out and decided to
punt. Again Tech was backed up near the end zone at the 11. If Clemson was
doing anything wrong, it was jumping off sides. They did it again to make it
first and five at the 16. A toss to Isiah Willis got a first at the
28. Ricky Jeune caught a six yarder. Swinney took his second time
out. Marshall had a nice run into CT territory to the 46. But that was all
they could get as the game ambled its way into the final quarter.
The defense was doing their part, shutting out the Tigers in the
third quarter. And, in the process, the offense had actually out yarded
Another off sides call and Tech had a first down. Thomas went deep and
drew another penalty, pass interference. Another first at the 25, their best
field position of the night. The Tiger fans were putting on their boo
bonnets again when Mills broke loose for a first and goal at the two. Mills
took across to end the drought and cut the deficit to 16, 23-7.
Obviously, the Tigers had come into the second half, understandably a bit
complacent, the great equalizer. Swinney could be seen chewing a few out on
the sidelines. At least Buzz was getting some response for his efforts.
A touchback gave Clemson the ball at their 25. Galman scampered for a
quick first at the 37. Another for seven to the 44. The offense appeared
more interested in burning clock than yardage. On a third and one, Watson
used his last time out not liking what he saw lined up on the other side of
the ball. Watson avoided a sack but couldn't get what he needed. Lawrence
Austin had to be helped off the field with a limp. The punt was fair
caught at the 17.
All the momentum Tech had gained was lost on a trick play that wasn't too
tricky. A toss to Mills who tossed it to the wrong team and Clemson had the
ball at the GT27. Again, the newly lethargic Tiger offense got nothing.
Huegel got them three on a 47 yarder to move the score to 26-7.
The Jackets started at their 25 with Thomas hitting a wide open Stewart
for 24 yards to midfield. But, Thomas was sacked for an amazing 16 yard
loss. A punt and the Tigers had it back at their 20 with 7:48 to go. Why
Watson was still in there is anybody's guess. Under duress, the QB scrambled
for 8 and a first down at the 33 then hit McCloud for 11 more to the 46.
Nothing more and Tech took over again backed up at their 15 with just over
four minutes remaining....hoping for a few more points to at least get half
what the visitors had. But, four plays and nine yards and Clemson took over
at the 24 with just under three minutes left. At this point, the crowd was
mostly those in orange and the band, who like the one on the Titanic,
continued to play.
Clemson ate up the rest of the clock for a 26-7 final. To the Yellow
Jackets' credit, they came out the second half undeterred and played hard.
“We just kind of challenged the halftime, not to quit, not to give up,
something you never want to do," said Sr. C Freddie Burden. "We kind
of took it personal, played a little bit better but not as good as we
Unlike last week, Tech wasn't giving them 12 minute quarters. The Tigers
went through the motions and went home with well deserved smiles on their
A huge showdown with the only other powerhouse in the ACC,
Louisville, was waiting for them a week from Saturday. The winner going to
lofty places. For Tech, an old familiar face will be in the house on that
same day as Mark Richt and his new team in Miami steps in line.
“You’ve got to keep getting better. Like I told our team, it’s not a
division game, which is a good thing," said Coach Johnson. "We’re going to
see the same kind of athletes next week when Miami (Fla.) comes in here. So
we’ve got to be able to play better. We’ve got to have a little pride and
throw our bodies around, get in front of some people and play better.”