ATLANTA — From the moment Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas took the snap on the Yellow Jackets’ first offensive possession, it was obvious they had no chance against third-ranked Clemson’s defensive front.
Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins blew up the right side of the offensive line and threw Thomas, Tech’s leading rusher coming in, for a four-yard loss. The play was recorded as a four-yard loss, but it did more than that. It set the tone for one of the more dominating performances by a Clemson defense in a long time.
“That was really it. We came out early with guns blazing and just ready for anything,” Wilkins said after the Tigers’ 26-7 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium. “We were ready to stop the triple option. I don’t think they gained a yard on that first drive and we just took that and used it as a confidence builder and just played with that same intensity pretty much the whole game.”
Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1 ACC) finished that opening drive with minus-one yard and it did not get much better from there. In fact, the Yellow Jackets had just 22 yards the entire first half and finished the game with just 124 overall. Tech averaged just 2.4 yards per play.
The Tigers held the Yellow Jackets to just 124 yards of total offense Thursday, the lowest figure by a Paul Johnson coached Georgia Tech team.
“We knew we would keep them under 150 yards the whole game,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “It was not really a fluke, but I knew at some point they would get some yardage, but still, holding them to 120 yards, a team like that, that was pretty incredible.”
Tech did score a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make things a little interesting at 23-7, but the defense came back out afterwards, forced a turnover and did not give them anything else the rest of the night.
Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) allowed just 11 first downs and held Tech to 2 of 12 on third down. The Tigers also had three sacks.
“It was a party in the backfield all night,” said linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, who had one of the three sacks. “When one guy made a play, it was like the whole team made a play. Everyone was excited for everyone. That’s the selfless attitude that a defense needs.”
It also needs a defensive front that can dominate the way the Tigers did at the point of attack. Wilkins, along with Dexter Lawrence, Scott Pagano, Carlos Watkins and Clelin Ferrell lived in the Georgia Tech backfield all night.
Thomas finished with minus-25 rushing yards and threw for just 29 on 4-of-13 passing. When he was not being thrown for a loss, Thomas was hurried time-and-time again as he saw more orange jerseys than he did white ones.
Clemson’s defensive front just did not cause problems on Thursday night, but they were causing issues all week in practice, too. So much so defensive coordinator Brent Venables had to get onto them so he could show the rest of the defense the looks they needed.
“I told them don’t cross face and quit knocking guys back into me and let them block you,” Venables said. “That’s hard for them, you know, but otherwise you don’t get anything done. I was like, ‘I know you can make the play and I know you can whoop him.’ That was actually the conversation.
“Let me throw. I want to see if the secondary is in good position here.’”
— Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports