An evaluation of Georgia Tech’s 24-10 loss to No. 7 Clemson at Memorial Stadium Saturday night. Tech fell to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC.
Clemson was everywhere. The Tigers beat blocks in the interior to thwart runs up the middle. They evaded blocks on the perimeter and sometimes were too fast for the blocks to materialize. Tech sprung B-back KirVonte Benson for a 65-yard dash up the middle in the first quarter, but could not sustain anything consistently. The offense that has rushed for 400 yards four times this season – more than any other team in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure – was thwarted again by Clemson’s talented and well-trained defense. After permitting 71 rushing yards in 2015 – the low by a Paul Johnson-coached team at Tech –and 95 last year, Clemson allowed 198 rushing yards. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall missed a few reads, as well, and, after playing so well in his first six starts, seemed off his game.
Marshall didn’t throw often, and was usually hurried when he did. On a third-and-14 in the second quarter, when Marshall sprinted out to his left, wide receiver Jalen Camp had a step on his man, but Marshall couldn’t set to throw because of the pressure, resulting in a sack. With the rain, he was off target on other instances, such as a second-quarter slant pass to wide receiver Ricky Jeune on a third-down attempt and a third-quarter deep ball to Jeune. Marshall finished 3-for-13 for 32 yards.
Running behind Clemson’s powerful line, Tigers running backs and quarterback Kelly Bryant ran cleanly into the second level repeatedly. Missed tackles were also a problem. Bryant led the Tigers with 67 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Tech was only the latest team to be victimized by Clemson’s speed and misdirection. The Tigers slowed down a little bit in the second half, but finished with 221 rushing yards, well above Tech’s average of 116.8 rushing yards per game. It was, in fact, the most yards that the Jackets have allowed this season.
To Tech’s credit, the second-half defense was much better - Clemson averaged 4.2 yards per carry after averaging 5.5 in the first half - but it was too late.
In the first half, Tech’s defensive backs were typically providing decent coverage, but Bryant had time to throw and was throwing on-target. He completed 10 of his first 11, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Milan Richard on a play-action pass in the first quarter that just eluded cornerback Step Durham’s breakup attempt. Bryant seemed to go after Durham, who missed a tackle on a first-quarter completion to wide receiver Deon Cain, allowing him to reach the end zone on a 38-yard pass play for the game’s first score.
Bryant cooled considerably after his strong start, finishing the game 22 for 33 for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He was not sacked.
Punter Pressley Harvin was perhaps the only dependable element of Tech’s performance in Memorial Stadium. Harvin connected on bombs to flip the field, averaging 46.9 yards per punt. Strong coverage and the wet conditions permitted Clemson to return just one of the punts, for one yard. Jaytlin Askew hustled to keep a second-quarter punt from going into the end zone, allowing for Harvin’s 50-yard blast to be downed at the Clemson 2-yard line. However, Tech’s kickoff return team did not spring any big plays in five chances. Tech’s best field position on a Clemson kickoff was the 28-yard line, not good enough on a night when Clemson was kicking short and the Tech offense was desperate for a shorter field.