CLEMSON, S.C. – It was not a win, but Georgia Tech produced a result against No. 6 Clemson that few could have expected.

In a game delayed almost two hours by a lightning storm, the Yellow Jackets went toe-to-toe with the powerhouse Tigers for the full four quarters, falling 14-8 on Saturday night (and afternoon) at Memorial Stadium.

Clemson 14 , Georgia Tech 8

“So proud of that locker room,” coach Geoff Collins said. “Obviously, the goal was to come here and win. But they battled from the final snap to the very final whistle.”

Led by a standout defensive effort, Tech (1-2, 0-1 ACC) gave Clemson (2-1, 1-0) a scare unlike any it had received in teams’ past six meetings, all Jackets losses that had finished with an average score of 44.5-13.8 in Clemson’s favor. It was only until the final play of the game, a desperation lateral by quarterback Jordan Yates, that the Tigers could exhale, their home win streak extending to 30 games in a row by a slim margin.

With the Jackets down 14-3 with 8:12 to play after a 66-yard touchdown drive by Clemson, it appeared the book was closing. Tech had punted on its first three drives of the second half, none gaining more than 33 yards against a defense that had not allowed a touchdown in its first two games. But Yates, tabbed the starter for the second game in a row, drove the Jackets 70 yards for a field goal to cut the lead to 14-6 with 1:19 remaining, and then kicker Jude Kelley executed a perfect onside kick that Malachi Carter snagged out of the air to keep Tech’s hopes alive.

The Jackets had the ball on their 47 with 79 seconds to reach the end zone and then score on a two-point conversion to force overtime. Yates led the offense to a first-and-goal on the Clemson 3 with 34 seconds left, but were unable to punch the ball in, the final attempt a shovel pass from Yates to tight end Dylan Deveney on fourth-and-goal from the 2 in which he was stopped shy of the goal line by linebacker James Skalski.

Improbably, Tech still wasn’t done, as safety Juanyeh Thomas forced a fumble out of running back Will Shipley that Shipley recovered in the end zone for a safety with seven seconds remaining.

“The last play of the game, we said, ‘We’re going to get a safety out there,’ and that’s what we did,” said linebacker Charlie Thomas, who played a starring role for the defense with 12 tackles.

Leading 14-8 with seven seconds left, the Tigers kicked away from their 20-yard line, and running back Jahmyr Gibbs fair caught, giving the Jackets the ball at their 25. Yates’ first-down throw to wide receiver Adonicas Sanders was incomplete. With three seconds left, Yates was flushed to his left and took off and tried to lateral, but in vain. Clemson recovered, and the play was ruled an illegal forward pass, ending the game.

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While the result undoubtedly will raise questions on the Clemson side about the capacity of its offense with freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagelelei, Collins’ team offered a far more promising data point than those it had turned in in its first two games, the 22-21 loss to Northern Illinois and the 45-17 win over Kennesaw State.

“Definitely not happy, not coming out with the win,” wide receiver Kyric McGowan said. “But, really proud of the way the defense showed up to play and really proud of the way we fought on offense to the end of the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with a ‘W.’”

A game-plan wrinkle by Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker – who said he bore “scar tissue” from last year’s rout – appeared to flummox Uiagelelei. Throughout Collins’ tenure, Tech has operated out of a 4-2-5 alignment for its base defense – four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.

Caption
Georgia Tech defensive lineman Jared Ivey (15) waits out a lightning delay that halted play in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech defensive lineman Jared Ivey (15) waits out a lightning delay that halted play in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Caption
Georgia Tech defensive lineman Jared Ivey (15) waits out a lightning delay that halted play in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Jackets played out of a 3-3-5 look and used it to bring pressure from different angles and players. Clemson could move the ball only intermittently, and produced few big plays. Thomas was especially effective chasing down the ball and making open-field tackles.

“I guess you could say that,” Thomas said, asked if Clemson had trouble with the new look. “We just talked like, do what we’re supposed to do on the play and then when the ball is declared, we just get to the ball as fast as we can.”

The Jackets came through with big plays to thwart Clemson, including a stop on a shovel pass on fourth-and-2 from the Tech 19-yard line in the second quarter. Early in the fourth quarter with the score 7-3 in Clemson’s favor and the Tigers in the red zone again, linebacker Quez Jackson forced a fumble of Uiagelelei, which was recovered by cornerback Myles Sims.

“We just wanted to really just show everybody what we can do because last year we really didn’t show that, so we wanted to come out here and put on a better show,” Jackson said. “We wanted to compete. We expected to win.”

Yates avoided mistakes, completed 20 of 33 passes for 203 yards, scrambled to avoid sacks and kept his poise. Critically, the Jackets did not turn the ball over. Penalties did in a number of Tech drives, but offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude had his own wrinkle that helped keep Jackets drives going. Tech players lined up in formations that the offense had not shown in the first two games, shifting out before the snap.

When the Jackets arrived at the home of the six-time defending ACC champions, eyes were upon them to demonstrate that they had gained ground on the Tigers in Collins’ third season. In losing the past six to Clemson, Tech had never led once in any of the six games and by halftime had trailed by no fewer than 18 points. The memories of last year’s 73-7 defeat at Bobby Dodd Stadium, a game the Tigers led 52-7 at halftime, lingered.

“Does it add any motivation going into the game?” cornerback Tre Swilling asked Wednesday. “I’d be a fool to say that it doesn’t.”

But, in Clemson, the Jackets were to tangle with an opponent that even No. 2 Georgia had difficulty with, accumulating but 256 yards of offense in the teams’ season opener two weeks ago in Charlotte, N.C., a 10-3 win for the Bulldogs. It was not without reason that Tech was a 27.5-point underdog and given a 4.7% probably of pulling the upset by ESPN’s calculations.

Tech gained 309 yards to Clemson’s 284, its lowest total in an ACC game since the Jackets’ 28-6 win over the Tigers in 2014.

“Now we’ve got to turn around, we’ve got a really good opponent (No. 21 North Carolina) in seven days in Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” Collins said. “But that team that played (Saturday), they can play with anybody.”

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