Tony Elliott likes to give his players a hard time.
Like any coach, he picks at them or tells jokes or does his old man impressions. You know the kind, “The back in my day” jokes.
Though Elliott is still a young man, just 36 years old, he likes to remind his guys that he played wide receiver for the Tigers the last time a Clemson team beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
“I was actually telling a joke the other day. Remember when you used to get those stories from your parents, ‘That has not happened since I did it.’ I was telling some of our guys, ‘We have not won down in Atlanta since the last time I played.’ So I remind them of that,” Elliott said smiling.
Elliott, now Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, was actually 2-0 as a player in Atlanta. In 2001, he was a part of the Tigers’ crazy overtime game, a game in which Woodrow Dantzler totaled 418 yards, including 164 on the ground, while scoring two touchdowns and throwing for two more in a 47-44 thriller.
“The times when I played, we went down there and won,” Elliott said.
In the 2003, Clemson thrashed the Yellow Jackets, 39-3. It was exactly 13 years ago on Tuesday when now NFL quarterback Charlie Whitehurst threw for 298 yards on 23 of 38 passing for three touchdowns, including a nine-yard toss to Elliott.
Elliott’s was Clemson’s first touchdown of the game as the Tigers led 23-3 at the break.
“I actually had to steal the ball away from the DB to get credit for the touchdown,” Elliott joked.
But joking aside, Elliott can’t put his finger on why the Tigers have struggled to win games in Atlanta, though he says it is a nice atmosphere to play a game.
“It’s a neat little environment. It is not a big environment, but they get loud, they crank the music up and they’re always excited to play Clemson,” he said.
Clemson’s players are tired of hearing about the streak. They all want to end it, something they will try and do when third-ranked Clemson visits Bobby Dodd Stadium on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
As for Elliott and the coaches, they have pointed out, this year isn’t about the streak or 2003, it about this year and what this team is capable of achieving.
“Each year is a new team and a new opportunity. Obviously, we are not defined by what happened in 2003. We have to go down there and create our own legacy,” Elliott said.
Over the years, the Clemson-Georgia Tech rivalry has perhaps been the ACC’s best from a competitive standpoint. Since the Yellow Jackets began playing in the ACC in 1983, Clemson and Georgia Tech have each won 17 games.
They have both dominated the series for long stretches. Clemson won eight out of 11 from 1986-’96, including four straight from 1993-‘96. Tech rebounded by winning four straight from 1997-2000. The Tigers then took three straight from 2001-’03, but then the Yellow Jackets stung them with six wins in the next seven meetings.
Clemson responded with four wins in the last six games heading into Thursday night’s showdown.
“It has always been back-and-forth with Georgia Tech. If you go back and look at that stretch, they won some games (in Death Valley), too.”
They have not won many. In fact, only Tech in 2008, Dabo Swinney’s first game as interim head coach, has won on the other’s field since 2004. The Tigers have won the last four meetings in Death Valley between the two rivals.