When Georgia Tech plays Clemson, the end zone can seem so far away, as unreachable as retirement day.
When Tech plays Clemson, as it must annually, we are reminded that better people almost always trump design, no matter how anachronistic but effective the offense may be. That shall be the case so long as Clemson turns out professional defensive linemen like Johns Hopkins turns out endocrinologists.
The two played again Saturday night, a sodden night in South Carolina better suited to a good fire and sipping whiskey. Predictably, the defending national champions controlled the night, and won it 24-10. And once again, Tech was hemmed up for the better part of this miserable evening as if doing time in a small cell with unseen walls.
Why, only three of its possessions ventured beyond midfield into Clemson territory. The Yellow Jackets suffered eight three-and-out possessions, unheard of for an offense that is known to go on longer drives than Greyhound.
To sum it up: This was the night that Coach Paul Johnson reserved some of his sparse praise for his punter. That should never happen, and yet, said Johnson, “Pressley (Yellow Jacket punter Pressley Harvin III) did a great job, a nice job, he really did.” He punted nine times. No one has punted nine times for Georgia Tech during Johnson’s decade there.
The good news: Georgia Tech rushed for more yards Saturday (198) than in the two previous games against the Tigers, combined.
The bad news: That total was still 175 yards shy of the Yellow Jackets season average, which was second in the nation entering the weekend.
Hard to believe that this was the same Clemson defense that yielded 448 yards and 27 points in a loss to Syracuse two weeks ago (the bulk through the air). It seemed in a mood to set the record straight.
There is just something about playing this elite defense that has reflected poorly upon Georgia Tech the last three years. Hmmm. Wonder what that could be?
“They lined up the same way as Wake Forest – with different players,” Johnson said. “They play (the option) the same way that everybody plays. There is no magical elixir about how you line up and play – it’s called beating blocks. And we got rattled a little bit, especially in the first half.”
In that first half, Tech B-Back KirVonte Benson had 120 rushing yards. Three other teammates combined for negative-4.
Finishing with 129 yards, Benson ripped off 65 of those on a single escape through the middle in the first half. Having fumbled the ball away on the game’s fourth play, leading to Clemson’s first touchdown, Benson on this breakaway run wrapped up the ball as if it were a baby he had rescued from a burning orphanage. That may have cost him just enough speed to be run down at the Clemson 9. Three more plays netted a single yard, and left no recourse but to kick a field goal. There would be no other opportunities like that again while the game was still in question.
Clemson took the pitch out of Tech’s playbook, shutting down anything wide. Eight different Clemson players accounted for 10 tackles for a loss.
“It’s hard,” said quarterback TaQuon Marshall. “We tried to make things happen on the perimeter, get the ball pitched – it’s hard, though. It’s frustrating for me because sometimes I try to make some plays to get the guys sparked up. They took it away.”
By the third quarter, the Clemson defensive line was enjoying itself so much that it began breaking into dance while waiting for play to begin following a commercial break. They were just one calliope short of Ringling Brothers act.
But very serious about their craft, especially when playing Georgia Tech. “They’re fast on defense. We’re not the only people they do that to. They’ve won quite a few games here,” Johnson said.
“They’re coming at warp speed, now, and they are some big guys,” he said.
The trouble this night was not so much the climate as the fact that it was raining orange giants of bad intent.
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