In the aftermath of Georgia Tech’s undressing of Clemson on Saturday, it is a real chore to imagine any way the Yellow Jackets could feel better about themselves and their spiteful meeting with Georgia in two weeks’ time.
Perhaps if Calvin Johnson regained an unprecedented week of eligibility in time for the Bulldogs. Or if the rivalry was suddenly handed over to the schools’ robotics departments. Otherwise, nope, nothing else could blow more sunshine up Tech khakis than Saturday’s result.
Grant Field glowed beneath a midday sun, a noon start lending a certain clarity and sparkle to the proceedings. And upon it, the Jackets beat a ranked, yet wounded, foe for the first time in three autumns.
Paired with Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech, the day inflated Yellow Jacket chances in the ACC Coastal, chances once believed deader than Eastern’s frequent-flyer program.
Their fourth consecutive victory was by far their most complete, as Tech ventured into some weird alternate universe in which its defense visited the end zone more (twice) than its signature offense (once).
Oh, and that single offensive score came through the air. It was the first time since 2010 that the Jackets won a game without a rushing TD. Nothing makes sense anymore.
A nine-win season, nothing to sniff at, was put on ice with the 28-6 victory over the 19th-ranked Tigers. “Looking for No. 10 now,” linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said.
Ah, yes, for Tech to go double-digit, it now must do something with a certain traditional end-of-the-schedule blood feud.
And beyond the moment, Tech’s performance Saturday also elevated expectations for that meeting with Georgia. While it has been some time since Tech has won that game, the Jackets will carry this knowledge with them to Athens: Regardless of where Georgia’s at, this team is clearly better than the one that took the Bulldogs to double overtime a year ago.
The losses to Duke and North Carolina seem a lifetime away, hardly possible given the way it has washed over the past four opponents like a storm tide.
So happy was Tech with Saturday’s victory that its understated coach was moved to exclamation. Prepare yourself, Paul Johnson is about to get almost ecstatic.
“Wow. What a game,” he said.
Clemson has done its neighbors to the south many favors this year. It lost to Georgia in the season’s first game, and now to the Jackets in the season’s 11th. And troubled neither greatly along the way.
The Tigers certainly served as a long, wide runway for Tech as it tried to gain speed for Georgia.
The fun began at the close of the first quarter, just moments after the Tigers’ preferred quarterback, freshman Deshaun Watson, went down holding his knee. Just back from breaking his finger, the poor, ill-fated Watson injured himself doing nothing more than changing direction.
In came the senior Cole Stoudt, whose first throw of his day was picked off by Jamal Golden and returned 85 yards for a touchdown. Someone look at the film and see if Golden was in the Clemson huddle before that play — he appeared to have some kind of prior knowledge. As Stoudt rolled to his right and set to throw back across the field, Golden was in far better position than any Clemson receiver. His reception was routine, just as they draw it up in all the offensive meeting rooms.
For his day — cut short in the final quarter when Clemson coach Dabo Swinney could bear no more — Stoudt completed only 3 of 11 passes to his own, gaining 19 yards. He was far better throwing to his opponent, 3-for-3 for two touchdowns and 147 interception-return yards.
It is worth note that Tech came out of this one scoring five more points against Clemson than did mighty Florida State in September, while gaining slightly more yards (353-317).
But what is really fascinating about the Tech of today is Ted Roof’s defense. It’s playing take-away like the IRS. That’s four defensive touchdowns in its past two games, six for the season. It’s an epidemic. “You see other guys making plays and you want to get in on the fun,” cornerback D.J. White said.
The measurables are all pretty. And then there are the intangible benefits of the last month, a period that has spawned believers.
Lose a fumble on its first possession Saturday. “They just keep playing,” Johnson said.
Muff a routine extra point after Golden’s return. “They just keep playing,” Johnson said.
“Nothing much bothers them whoever it is. … I’m as proud of that as I am of them playing football,” he said.
“There’s no panic in this team,” White said.
There is a kind of fun and dangerous feel to these Jackets that they have sometimes lacked at this point in the past.
And why not? They have some very nice pelts on the wall. The last time they beat Miami and Clemson in the same season was 2008. That also — be it coincidence or omen — was the last time they beat Georgia.