5 things learned from the Yellow Jackets’ rough day at Clemson

Clemson defensive tackle DeMonte Capehart (19) sacks Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King (10) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Credit: AP

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Clemson defensive tackle DeMonte Capehart (19) sacks Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King (10) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech was humbled Saturday in a 42-21 loss at Clemson, a defeat that was not as close as the final score would indicate.

The Tigers dictated the outcome starting early in the second quarter before opening up a 35-point lead in the fourth period. Tech (5-5, 4-3 ACC) had no answers for the Clemson defense which recorded four sacks, four interceptions and 11 tackles for loss.

Here are five other things learned from the Jackets’ humbling loss in Death Valley:

1. Regicide

Before Tech quarterback Haynes King met with reporters Saturday in the bowels of Memorial Stadium, Tech coach Brent Key grabbed his QB and pulled him in for a neck-to-neck conversation with words of support and love.

King needed some love after what may go down as the worst game of his collegiate career.

The sophomore was hammered and harassed all day long inside Memorial Stadium. He was sacked four times and hurried three times more. He threw four interceptions and had six other passes broken up. He tried his darnedest to get something going with his legs, but couldn’t find any daylight past Clemson’s fierce front seven.

“They just had a really good scheme,” King said, a small gash visible and still fresh on his right forearm. “They played hard. Physical, fast. We just couldn’t convert, couldn’t make that play which seemed to be happening the last two weeks. It happens. Sometimes you just gotta find a way.

“Games like this you just gotta find a way. You gotta be gritty. You know things are gonna go bad, things are gonna go good. Just gotta find a way to keep it consistent.”

King had one passing yard through one half Saturday. He finished with a season-low 129 yards through the air on just 13 completions. One of his career-high four interceptions went 46 yards the other way for a touchdown.

2. No silver lining

Any thoughts of Tech’s loss having a silver lining for the Jackets, maybe serving as a barometer for just how far Key’s program needs to go to reach a championship level of football, were put to rest by Key immediately following the result.

“Losses eat you up. You win and you start to get accustomed to winning and you start to understand how to win. Same thing goes with losing. There’s no silver linings,” the first-year coach said. “Are there things we’ve got to take from this game and get better at? Things we got to see where we are now versus other competition? Yeah, we do, in a lot of phases, a lot of ways. There’s no silver linings in games that you lose.”

Tech has now lost nine in a row to Clemson and eight in a row at Memorial Stadium. The Jackets briefly looked like they would finally snap those skids when King scored on a 4-yard run with 6:36 left in the first quarter to put Tech up 7-0.

But the Tigers (6-4, 3-4 ACC), the preseason favorite to win the ACC and the defending ACC champions, put Tech back in its place by scoring 42 straight points over 28:59 of game clock.

The Jackets had won five of their first nine games, were on a modest two-game winning streak and had two victories over ranked opponents on their resume. It was clear Saturday, however, the Tigers were on a different plane than their opponents.

“That’s gonna sit in everybody’s stomach for a little bit. Made everybody sick,” King said. “Let’s go this week, prepare just like every other week. Let’s get it.”

3. Title hopes over, bowl hopes hang in the balance

The Jackets’ ACC title game hopes were hanging by a thread anyway. Now that thread has been snipped thanks to their loss at Clemson.

Tech has officially been eliminated in the ACC’s championship game race, a game that will feature undefeated Florida State. Louisville is in the driver’s seat to meet the Seminoles in that game but has yet to clinch its spot.

As for Tech, it now needs to beat either Syracuse (5-5, 1-5 ACC) at 8 p.m. Saturday or No. 2 Georgia (10-0) to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2018.

“Honestly, we just got to get better. The game’s over now. It’s on to Syracuse,” Tech defensive lineman Eddie Kelly said. “That’s where my head is at right now. Focusing on Syracuse, being present with my boys and going to win versus Syracuse at home.”

4. Third down woes continue

Clemson converted seven third downs Saturday, the eighth team out of 10 Tech opponents this season to have at least five third down conversions against the Jackets’ defense.

In five losses this season, Tech opponents have combined to go 28-for-67 (41.8 percent) - that number includes Louisville going 1 of 11 in a 39-34 victory Sept. 1.

Even more demoralizing for the Tech defense was Clemson converting four fourth down attempts during Saturday’s win. Tech had not allowed that many fourth down conversions since Georgia also had four Nov. 29, 2014.

“Playing well on first and second down, setting up third and long and just giving up those long third downs is pretty much a drive killer. That kills momentum for a defense,” Tech defensive back Jaylon King said. “Makes it a little bit harder for our (defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer) to make certain calls at that point because the offense has momentum. Typically, after you convert a long third down like that, offense has momentum trying to run tempo. Tempo’s a hard thing to combat whenever you’re on defense.”

Tech has allowed opponents to convert 62 third downs this season. The 2022 team only allowed 65 in 12 games.

5. Runs not stopped, games not won

It’s generally true at most any level of football that if a defense is able to, at the very least, contain on offense’s running game, it stands a good chance of winning. Tech did not stop Clemson’s ground game Saturday, thus its chances of victory melted away along with the clock at Memorial Stadium.

The Tigers became the sixth team to rush for at least 200 yards against the Jackets this season. Tech is 2-4 in those games.

In five losses this year, Tech has allowed 253.8 rushing yards per game and for the season it is allowing 224 rushing yards per game. If that latter average holds, Tech would have the program’s worst rushing defense since the 1994 team allowed 230.4 rushing yards per contest.


  • Tech’s 7-0 lead in the first quarter Saturday was the Jackets’ first lead on Clemson since the 2014 matchup when Tech won 28-6 and led the final 45:22 of that contest. It was also Tech’s first lead inside Memorial Stadium since the 2012 meeting.
  • Tech came into Saturday’s matchup with Clemson having won five straight ACC road games which had tied a program record.
  • Haynes King now has 24 touchdown passes this season, second only to Joe Hamilton’s program record of 29 in 1999.
  • The 24 touchdown passes for King are also the ninth-most in a Tech career.
  • King’s 2,459 passing yards are the fourth-most in a single Tech season.
  • King’s 192 completions are the fifth-most in a single Tech season.
  • King’s 14 interceptions this season are the most by a Tech quarterback since Reggie Ball threw 14 in 2006.
  • Jaylon King’s interception Saturday was the sixth of his career.
  • Tight end Dylan Leonard caught a four-yard touchdown pass Saturday in the fourth quarter, his first career touchdown reception after 38 previous career catches.
  • The highest-graded Tech players Saturday, according to Pro Football Focus, were wide receiver Christian Leary on offense and safety Jaylon King on defense.
  • Tech is now 50-36-2 against the Tigers and 6-17 at Clemson.

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