For a fourth consecutive season, No. 3 Clemson made clear its superiority to Georgia Tech, and again did so with the Yellow Jackets’ assistance.
The Tigers beat blocks on the line of scrimmage, threw pinpoint passes and chased down Tech ballcarriers. The Jackets hung in for a quarter, but lost control of the game with fumbles, penalties and an inability to hit big plays on offense and to slow the Tigers’ offense. The final score was an unsurprising 49-21 in favor of the three-time defending ACC champions.
“We got our tails kicked,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We got outplayed, outcoached, and we got beat by a really good team.”
Tech (1-3, 0-2 ACC), debuting alternate navy-blue jerseys in honor of the 1990 national championship team, did not pay much honor to those hallowed Jackets with their play. The Jackets fumbled four times in their first 14 plays from scrimmage, finishing the game with eight, one shy of Tech’s school record in the modern era. After inducing punts on Clemson’s first two offensive possessions, Tech’s defense gave up touchdown drives of 74, 55 and 64 yards in the next four, helping send the Jackets into halftime down 28-7.
As was the case in Tech’s losses to South Florida and Pittsburgh in the previous two games, the Jackets thwarted their own objectives with mistakes. In the first half, they were twice inside of Clemson’s 30-yard line and came away with no points. Fumbles, poor pass protection and a false start knocked Tech out of field-goal range on one drive, and a miss by kicker Brenton King from 43 yards ended the other.
Tech’s second possession of the game ended with another fumble – a toss to A-back Qua Searcy that he was unable to secure – that was advanced into the end zone for a Clemson touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the 3:42 mark of the first quarter.
Tech needed a big play out of the passing game to pick up some easy yards, and quarterback TaQuon Marshall and the offense was not able to comply. Marshall was 1-for-6 for 29 yards and nearly threw an interception after he and the receiver Malachi Carter misread each other, a problem in previous weeks. He was replaced in the second half by Tobias Oliver.
On defense, Tech fell subject to the quarterbacking of Trevor Lawrence. The freshman from Cartersville came into the game on Clemson’s third possession of the game with a 7-0 lead and then led back-to-back touchdown drives, adding another just before the end of the half.
The Jackets did intercept Clemson twice, but recorded only one tackle for loss. Clemson ran 66 plays and reached third down just nine times.
It was reminiscent of mistakes that doomed Tech in the past three losses to Clemson (4-0, 1-0), when turnovers on opening drives and big plays surrendered by the defense enabled the Tigers to score big early and put pressure on Tech.
Clemson was able to exploit Tech’s defensive mistakes and shortcomings for big plays – such as a 53-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to wide receiver Justyn Ross – while Tech could not. Until late in the fourth quarter, when Oliver popped a 39-yard run, Tech’s longest run play of the game was 24 yards.
Adding to the dismal afternoon for Tech supporters was the heavy turnout by Clemson fans. Of the announced attendance of 50,595, perhaps a third were decked out in Tigers orange and purple.