Georgia Tech defensive end Anree Saint-Amour has a fairly accurate memory of how the Yellow Jackets were led to defeat in each of their past three games against Clemson.
“I feel like the last couple years, I feel like we kind of got out to a slow start in the beginning, defense gave up quick touchdowns, 1, 2, 3, something like that, and then we’ll kind of hold them,” Saint-Amour said Tuesday in advance of Tech’s matchup with the No. 3 Tigers on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium (3:30 p.m., WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News).
Saint-Amour pretty much has it right. In each of the past years, Clemson has driven for a touchdown on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead, and then gone ahead at least 14-3 in the first quarter. In the past two years, Tech stabilized and then held Clemson to a field goal in the second half, but in both games the damage had already been done.
In 2015, Clemson gave up a total of nine yards in Tech’s first three possessions and took a 26-3 lead in the first 16:04 on the way to a 43-24 win. In 2016, the Tigers were up 23-0 at halftime and won 26-7. Last year, Tech fumbled on its first possession, giving the Tigers a short field to get into the end zone to set them on their way to a 24-10 win.
“That’s something that we’re going to have to do, is come out with a lot of energy,” linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “If defense is up first, then shut ’em down and let our offense do the work.”
A year ago, Clemson outscored its opposition 129-51 in the first quarter and 243-70 in the first half. Through three games, the Tigers have won the first quarter 17-3 and the first half 62-3.
The first quarter has not been the Jackets’ shining moment thus far. Tech fell behind Pitt on Saturday 14-0 in the first quarter and was down 21-0 by halftime. The Jackets also gave up back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns in the first quarter of the loss to South Florida, though they ended the quarter ahead 17-14.
Last season, Tech held a 58-47 advantage in the first quarter.
The application is pretty obvious. Saint-Amour said that he felt that Tech played much harder in the second half of last year’s loss to Clemson.
“So I feel like we’ve just got to come out with that same energy this year from the top, try to minimize mistakes as much as possible, just play with everything we’ve got,” he said.