1. Notable on James Graham’s two long completions on Tech’s second touchdown drive of the game: On his 34-yard completion to slot receiver Josh Blancato, Graham’s pocket was kept clean by an effective blitz pickup by running back Nathan Cottrell. On his 28-yard touchdown pass to slot receiver Ahmarean Brown (Graham’s first career touchdown throw and Brown’s first career reception and touchdown), he delivered the pass despite pressure bearing down on him from his blindside.
2. While the Yellow Jackets had their share of mistakes, they had but two penalties, for 10 yards. Clemson was flagged six times for 43 yards. For Tech, it matched the fewest penalties that it received in any game last season and was the fewest penalty yards since being penalized for six yards in a loss at Miami in October 2017.
3. In losing by 38, it was Tech’s largest margin of defeat since losing 51-7 to Virginia Tech in 2005. The Tigers beat three ACC opponents by a wider margin last season. (Wake Forest by 60, Florida State by 49, Louisville by 61.)
4. Players getting out of their gaps against the run and out of their lane when rushing the passer led to some of Clemson’s big plays. A misplay on the line appeared to contribute to running back Travis Etienne having a wide-open path on the right side of Tech’s line on his 90-yard touchdown run.
Still, Tech was fairly effective in the first half, considering the opponent. Three Jackets gave up 28 points, but two were on drives in which the Tigers only needed to go a total of 30 yards thanks to turnovers. The Jackets created three turnovers. Of the Tigers’ 39 plays, 12 went for no gain or for lost yardage, not counting the three turnovers.
Defensive end Jaquan Henderson, linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling and nickel back Kaleb Oliver made plays of note, along with cornerback Tre Swilling, who played at a high level.
“I thought we tackled really well,” coach Geoff Collins said. “They swarmed to the ball.”
5. Punter Pressley Harvin was in top form with eight punts averaging 43.1 yards. He was unlucky on his second, a pooched 36-yarder aimed for the sideline that hit the goal-line pylon on the fly. Of his other seven punts, only one was returned, and that for eight yards. Cottrell and Tariq Carpenter were among the members of the punt team getting downfield to force fair catches.
6. Tech’s pass rush was not much of a threat to Lawrence or his backup Chase Brice. Lawrence typically had ample time to throw and blitzes were negated.
Lawrence and Brice threw a combined 30 passes and were not sacked, and no Tech defenders were credited with a quarterback hurry. Clemson was in the top 10 last year in fewest sacks per pass play.
7. Tech failed to get into the end zone after the Jackets had first-and-goal from the Clemson 2-yard line in the second quarter, twice going deep into the playbook. On one, Tech lined up its two guards and two tackles away from the ball, while center Kenny Cooper was flanked by two tight ends.
Quarterback Tobias Oliver took the shotgun snap but was stopped short of the goal line. In the other, Oliver stepped away from his spot in the shotgun, appearing to try shift tight end Tyler Davis out of his H-back spot while receivers Jalen Camp and Ahmarean Brown looked back to the bench, in an apparent attempt to lull the Tigers. Enough of them did not that they were able to stop running back Jordan Mason when he took the direct snap. It didn’t help that the Jackets were outnumbered in the box.
“Our guys were ready,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We worked some different versions of the ‘swinging gate.’ And the direct snap, we hadn’t worked. They just stayed ready, I guess.”
Collins was asked about the gadget plays.
“I don’t know if you would call them gadget plays,” he said. “We’ve got an innovative offense. We’re still trying to figure out the things that we do well. I don’t call them gadgets. It’s a part of our offense. They have a really good defense that played at a high level and they bowed up and got stops, so we’ve just got to learn from that and do better going forward.”
8. Mason ran hard in collecting his 72 yards on 13 carries, including a 7-yard scoring run in the third quarter for Tech’s first score. He was often the punisher, as on an 11-yard carry in the second quarter when he broke two tackles on a run around right end and then drove his shoulder into safety Denzel Johnson, knocking him back on his way to a first down.
“I came in here relaxed, comfortable – I was ready to go,” Mason said. “Did nothing to speed my game up, I just stayed the same and had my head down and I got ready to play.”
Oliver also had a number of explosive run plays, none more so than when he ran 39 yards on an option keeper, his path through the right side of the line cleared by guard Jared Southers and tackle Zach Quinney. He finished with 56 yards on 20 carries, his net affected by an 11-yard loss in which he tried to extend a play that turned perhaps a 5-yard loss into an 11-yard loss.
“He was having some explosive plays,” Collins said. “We had one missed snap, had tackles or loss, but I thought he was out there competing.”
9. Collins played a total of 64 players. Of the 66 players listed “Above the Line” for the game, 61 played. Three more who weren’t listed on the chart – defensive backs Josh Carlson and Keegan Hemingway and wide receiver Stephen Dolphus – also played. Cornerback Myles Sims, whose appeal for an immediate-eligibility waiver was granted on Wednesday, did not play.
10. After the game, Collins stood at the edge of the field as players walked to the locker room, shaking hands and hugging players as they walked past.
“These guys have invested so much into the program, they do it the right way, they’re great students, they work really hard, they buy into everything we throw at them – that’s the least I can do, is be there after a game that they’ve poured their heart and soul into, and for me, to just embrace and tell them I love them,” Collins said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.