Clemson also harassed Tech quarterback Haynes King all day and held the sophomore to 129 passing yards on 13-of-31 passing. King was picked off four times and sacked four times. The Jackets managed only 254 yards of offense and were 6-of-16 on third downs in their ninth consecutive loss to Clemson and eighth consecutive defeat at Memorial Stadium.
Tech (5-5, 4-3 ACC) returns home to host Syracuse (4-5, 0-5 ACC) at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“They just had a really good scheme,” King said. “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. Some times 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.”
Tech caught the game’s first break against the Tigers when Clemson curiously called a fake punt from its own 21 in the first quarter. Omar Daniels led the special teams’ recognition that Tigers’ punter Aidan Swanson was trying to run nine yards for a first down – Swanson got only four of those yards before he was pushed into the Tech sideline.
The Jackets took over on the 25 and, three players later, King ran in a 4-yard touchdown to make the score 7-0 with 6:36 left in the opening period.
Clemson recovered and put together a methodical, 18-play drive that covered 75 yards and chewed up nearly 10 minutes of clock. The Tigers converted two fourth downs and scored on Cade Klubnik’s 5-yard pass to receiver Beaux Collins on the right side of the end zone to tie the score with 11:45 left in the half.
A quick three-and-out by the Tech offense didn’t do the Tech defense any favors. Clemson took over at the Jackets’ 42 and took three more minutes off the clock with a touchdown drive that made the score 14-7. Klubnik threw a 3-yard pass into the end zone, where running back Tyler Brown made a one-handed grab with his right hand while falling down.
Will Shipley broke a 32-yard touchdown run with 69 seconds before halftime making the score 21-7. On the ensuing possession, Khalil Barnes jumped a curl route and picked off King at the Tech 42 with 41 seconds left on the clock.
The Jackets dodged a bullet, thanks to Rodney Shelley, who got a hand on Jonathan Weitz’s 47-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. The Tigers had to settle for a 21-7 lead at the break.
Tech was held to one passing yard in the first half, 89 yards overall and went 2-of-6 on third downs. Clemson held the ball for 20:42.
“In the first half I think (Clemson had) almost 100 yards on third and fourth downs alone,” Key said. “Offensively, not being able to get in a rhythm. With explosives, we had some missed opportunities there early on in the game. Then the running game was a little bit hit or miss early on, and then we got down a couple scores, and they lined up and played tight, man-to-man coverage and forced us into some poor throws.
The Tigers picked up where they left on the third quarter with a 3 1/2-minute touchdown drive that was capped by Klubnik finding tight end Jake Briningstool from 6 yards out. That made the score 28-7 with 7:05 left in the third quarter.
Even when Tech’s defense finally stepped up and got a takeaway, courtesy of a Jaylon King interception on the Clemson 39, Clemson came right back and got an interception of its own from Avieon Terrell inside the Tigers 10.
Clemson continued to pour it on 38 seconds into the fourth quarter with Klubnik’s 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Sapp. Not two minutes later, Clemson cornerback Shelton Lewis returned a King pass 46 yards the other direction for six more, making the score 42-7 with 12:46 on the clock.
Tech scored a pair of token touchdowns in the fourth quarter, a Dontae Smith 32-yard reception and a Dylan Leonard 5-yard catch. It was of little consolation for the visitors on this day.
“This is a very great defense. Huge hat’s off to (Clemson coach) Dabo (Swinney) for getting ‘em ready all week,” said Tech running back Jamal Haynes, who had 104 yards rushing. “It’s a very great defense, but at the end of the day, it’s all about execution. I really feel like we had ‘em. We just gotta execute better.”
Klubnik finished 23-of-34 passing for 205 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Phil Mafah had 96 yards on 17 attempts and Shipley had 77 yards on 11 carries.
Clemson rushed for 260 yards and averaged almost six yards per carry.
“We knew they were gonna run the ball. We knew they were gonna use their running backs in the pass game with screens, flexing them out, things of that nature,” King said. “I feel like the most important like (having two running backs) was not making (Mafah) carry most of the load like he had to do (in the previous game). It felt like once one had one drive, the other one came in the next drive. One was fresher than the other, and they were able to stay fresh.”