The last time Clemson won a football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Dabo Swinney’s youngest son was just born. Clay is now 13 years old.
“He had a bottle in his mouth. It has been long enough,” Swinney said.
Swinney was just a young wide receivers coach himself back then and in the five previous meetings that followed, Clemson found different ways to lose each of those football games. But it seemed as if the Curse of Bobby Dodd Stadium was lifted on Thursday night in Atlanta.
After the Tigers had just stonewalled Georgia Tech on its first possession, Ray Ray McCloud took a punt at the Clemson 42, made one guy miss and then ran up the middle of the field 11 yards where a Tech defender tackled him and poked the football out of his arm.
Here it was, one of those crazy plays that always seem to bounce Georgia Tech’s way when the Tigers play on Grant Field. This was the early break the Yellow Jackets needed. But it never happened. Reserve linebacker Chad Smith was Johnny on the spot as he jumped on the loose football, and Clemson continued to move forward.
Smith’s recovery was the proof the Tigers needed that they weren’t cursed as they rolled to a 26-7 victory.
“Really, as a team, we were tired of hearing how it had been 13 years since we won down here and everything,” defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said afterwards. “So we just took it as a personal challenge to end that streak and come out with a win.”
With Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) already in front, 14-0, again it was obvious there was no curse when late in the second quarter Georgia Tech’s Lance Austin intercepted a Deshaun Watson pass in the end zone after Mike Williams ran the wrong route. Austin ran the ball out of the end zone when Williams grabbed him, and as he was trying to pull him to the ground, Austin’s own teammate knocked the ball out of his arm while trying to jump over him. The ball bounced into the end zone where Austin recovered the ball.
After a brief meeting of the minds, the officials ruled the play as a safety for Clemson. Instead of Tech getting the ball at the 20, and maybe having another momentum play, the Tigers got the ball back and Watson orchestrated a last-second scoring drive in the final seconds—a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett—to conclude the first half for a 23-0 lead.
The defense proved there was no curse with one of the more impressive defensive performances in recent history. Clemson held the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 1-1 ACC) to 124 yards of total offense and limited their running game and the triple option to just 95 yards on 38 carries.
“That’s a good job by our defense. Hats off to our defensive staff, they got us ready and hats off to all the other guys. They really bought in and were focused this week,” Wilkins said.
Georgia Tech had just 22 total yards in the first half.
“I just think speed, quickness, size … Those big guys inside can really move,” Georgia Tech head coach. Paul Johnson said.
And maybe that’s why the curse was lifted? Or maybe there was never a curse after all. Regardless, Clemson made sure there was not one on Thursday night.