Clemson’s dominant first half sets the tone in blowout of Georgia Tech

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) prepares to get off a pass at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, October 17, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Late in the first half of Georgia Tech’s game Saturday against No. 1 Clemson, Trevor Lawrence threw an interception for the first time in 364 days.

It was the only real mistake made all day by Lawrence, a Cartersville High grad. In the first half alone, Lawrence completed 22 of his 27 passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns. He came out of the game after the first drive of the second half to complete a dominant outing.

“There’s just one bad decision right there,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “... I don’t know exactly what the stats were, but for anybody who can get in there, get the work done and be done by halftime, you know, obviously had a good day.”

The Yellow Jackets recovered two fumbles in addition to Lawrence’s interception, but the three turnovers barely were a speed bump for the Tigers. By the end of the first half, they led 52-7 — the most points Tech has ever given up in a half — on their way to a 73-7 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

In the first half, Clemson gained 473 yards, 10.3 per play, and held Tech to 104 yards. Clemson recorded 18 first downs, to four for Tech, and the Tigers didn’t punt in the first half.

When running back Travis Etienne fumbled on Clemson’s first drive of the game, Tech had a chance to take an early lead. Then the Tigers' defense forced a three-and-out, and on the next possession, the Tigers took a 7-0 lead.

The Yellow Jackets came back to tie things with a 59-yard touchdown strike from freshman quarterback Jeff Sims to wide receiver Jalen Camp, but Tech’s momentum was short-lived. One play later, Lawrence found receiver Amari Rodgers wide open for an 83-yard touchdown. The Tigers didn’t look back from there.

Clemson scored 35 points in the second quarter alone as Tech’s defense struggled to contain the two-headed snake that is Lawrence and Etienne. Etienne had a relatively quiet game, with only 44 total yards and one touchdown in the first half, in addition to losing a fumble, but stopping Etienne opens things up for Lawrence in the passing game.

“They did a good job stopping the interior run,” Elliott said. “Because of that, they were vulnerable to the pass. Early on, we were trying to stay balanced but they were giving us opportunities in the passing game.”

Lawrence took full advantage of those opportunities. He set a personal record with five passing touchdowns in the first half and a career-high 404 total passing yards.

“We had a couple of busted plays, but he’s a good quarterback and he was just finding the open guys,” said cornerback Zamari Walton, who intercepted Lawrence. “He was getting some tight balls in. I think he just made a couple of good throws that could have been stopped, but they were really good throws.”

When these two teams played in September a year ago, Clemson won 52-14. On Saturday, the Tigers scored 52 points in the first half alone and finished with 73.

“We just want to go out and put up as many points (as possible),” Elliott said. “For us, every game, the objective is to score every time we touch the football.”

For all intents and purposes, Clemson did just that Saturday.

In Other News