There were times during Thursday night’s action when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets looked to be very much in the game against 8th-ranked Clemson, but in the end, the explosive Tigers offense was simply too much for Tech as the Jackets went down by a final score of 55-31.
The 1st quarter was relatively kind to Georgia Tech, as the defense bowed up with two separate stops to hold the Tigers to field goals. Offensively, it certainly wasn’t pretty for Vad Lee and company (this will be a theme throughout), but the defensive response kept things close. However, disaster was on the way as Clemson busted things open (for the first time) in the 2nd quarter.
Clemson’s 1st drive of the quarter (which technically carried over from the 1st) looked to be stalling with a 3-and-out, but Dabo Swinney and company elected to go for it on 4th-and-1, and that ended up being the right choice. The Tigers converted the 4th-and-1 with a short gain on the ground, but the ensuing play was a Sammy Watkins touchdown (this will also be repeated) from yards out to put the Jackets in a 13-0 hole.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning, as Tech quickly punted, and that was followed by yet another Clemson touchdown. Tahj Boyd converted on a 3rd-and-18 on the drive, and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams seemingly put Georgia Tech away at 20-0. The Jackets, however, would fight back in short order.
David Sims found the end zone on the next drive, capping an 82-yard response, and despite a 76-yard bomb from Tahj Boyd to Martavis Bryant, Tech still cut the lead a bit as a result of a field goal to end the half. At 27-10, most people likely believed that Tech was out of striking distance, but Robert Godhigh had some other plans (even if he was alone in his thinking).
Godhigh had a monster 2nd half for Tech, scoring 2 touchdowns, but the play of the day was his 65-yard touchdown run that began the 2nd half scoring. At that point, the Jackets were the closest that they would be for the remainder of the night (27-17), and for a brief moment, all of the momentum in Memorial Stadium was on the visiting sideline. Almost on cue, however, Clemson scored on the next two drives (including another lightning-fast TD from Watkins), making the remainder of the night virtually inconsequential.
The aforementioned Godhigh was the brightest spot (by far) for Georgia Tech on Thursday night. The senior running back (who most forget is a former walk-on) led the team in both rushing (12 carries for 126 yards) and receiving (5 catches for 103 yards), and the fact that he cracked triple-digits in both categories is a bit mind-boggling in a blowout defeat. It would be tough to not be excited for a guy with as much invested in the program as Godhigh, and despite the loss, it was fun to see what he unleashed on Clemson.
Defensively, this was a blood bath at times. Clemson accumulated 547 total yards of offense, but it was the quick strikes (especially from Sammy Watkins) that seemed to do the Tech defense in for the most part, and it was almost fitting to see Clemson QB Tahj Boyd set the all-time ACC record for career passing touchdowns (96) in this game. In fairness, this Clemson offense is probably a top-5 unit in the country on that side of the ball, but the different in explosiveness was a reminder of how far these two teams are from each other in the “upside” department.
In all truth, the offense performed reasonably well, especially if we ignore the 1st quarter struggles. The option attack did have some issues against the ultra-quick Clemson defense (especially at the defensive end position), but when the play-called was varied, Vad Lee and company were able to operate in space, and the 440 yards of total offense can’t be ignored. It helped to see Lee be reasonably effective through the air (165 yards), but the lack of a 2nd rushing option to compliment Godhigh didn’t help matters, and there were several missed opportunities throughout the night.
Clemson was simply the (much) better team on this night, and that is why they are going to be the ACC Coastal Division Champions. Many will likely spring to unreasonable conclusions about Paul Johnson after this decimation (by the hideous final score anyway), but this was a basic night where the better team (playing at home for good measure) took care of business in a big way. The shear amount of big plays allowed by the Tech defense is both frustrating and worrisome, but Ted Roof had a virtually impossible assignment for this game, and the better athletes made plays.
Now, the focus for Tech moves firmly to the season-ending battle with the Georgia Bulldogs. Yes, the Jackets do have another game next week (against Alabama A&M), but this will quickly become a “one game season” in Bobby Dodd Stadium November 30th, and we have that to look forward to. Stay tuned.