By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, SC – The Clemson football team suffered its first loss Saturday night in Atlanta against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Clemson Insider graded the Tigers’ performance in this week’s edition of Game Grades.
Tajh Boyd played what may have been his worst game of the season Saturday night. He finished the night having completed just over half of his pass attempts for 295 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. Boyd was off from the get-go, throwing off his back foot and sailing passes high to his receivers. He made a great throw to Sammy Watkins for his lone touchdown pass of the game in the third quarter, but threw an interception at the most important part of the game at the start of the fourth.
Andre Ellington was missed, and turnovers were the story for this group. In the first quarter, DJ Howard fumbled inside his team’s own 20-yard line, resulting in a Georgia Tech touchdown. Later, in the third, Mike Bellamy fumbled and gave Tech the ball at Clemson’s 49. The Tigers’ running game was effective at times, but the turnovers overshadowed any success they had.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B+
Sammy Watkins was on fire again and caught 9 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. DeAndre Hopkins was right behind him, catching 7 passes for 83 yards. Hopkins did drop a pass, however, on a huge third down play late in the game. The drop was totally uncharacteristic of Hopkins who is known for having good hands. All in all, this group was not the reason the offense could not get going on Saturday.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-
Clemson’s offensive line was average at best against the Yellow Jackets. They allowed 2 sacks and once again seemed inept against the blitz. The inside running game was nonexistent, and penalties plagued this group at the worst times. All of the Tigers’ runners averaged over 3 yards per carry, but the running game was taken away after Georgia Tech took a big lead and kept the ball away from Clemson.
DEFENSIVE LINE: D
This grade would be lower if not for Brandon Thompson. Thompson has been in opposing teams’ backfields all season, and the same was true Saturday night. Unfortunately he didn’t have any help from the rest of his teammates on the line. Georgia Tech’s offensive linemen cut-blocked all game long and the Tigers’ front four were unable to stay off the ground.
Sometimes it takes an offense like that of Georgia Tech’s to see how dismal your linebacker corps is. Corico Hawkins was a non-factor against the Yellow Jackets at the one position you need the most against Tech’s offense – middle-linebacker. Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard were not athletic enough to get off blocks and get outside the tackles to make plays on the option. The result was 383 yards rushing for Georgia Tech’s offense.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D
Clemson’s defensive backs didn’t allow a big play touchdown like Georgia Tech is known for throwing, but they certainly didn’t help in defending the run. Tech’s wide receivers maintained their blocks outside play after play with Clemson’s corners unable to get off and make a tackle. Rashard Hall did come up big with an interception in the fourth quarter that could have changed the outlook of the game. But other than that, this group was just like the rest of the defense – outmatched.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Clemson’s special teams took little part in the Tigers’ loss. Chandler Catanzaro hit on one field goal attempt from 34 yards out and missed on another from 40 yards. Clemson’s coverage teams seemed to be improved from previous weeks, and Dawson Zimmerman did his best to win the field position game. Unfortunately, nothing the Tigers did on special teams was enough to spark a comeback.
COACHING STAFF: D
The main objective is always winning, and in this area the coaching staff certainly failed.
Chad Morris’ offense has been shaky in the first half of almost every game this season and has flourished off of second half adjustments. But Morris was unable to get his group going like they have in the past, as Tajh Boyd was off the mark for most of the game.
Kevin Steele absolutely deserves the blame for his group’s performance Saturday night. They were unprepared and out of position all night, with the exception of two or three drives. Steele’s own position group – the linebackers – were awful and have been all season. Steele has seen Paul Johnson’s offense several times now, with little to no improvement. Yet Virginia and Miami game planned to successfully shut down the Yellow Jackets in the two previous weeks. Are their defenses that much more talented than the Tigers? It certainly wouldn’t seem so.
Bottom line, this team wasn’t ready to play. They were out played and out coached from the first kick-off, and were ultimately blown out. There’s still a lot left to play for this season – including an ACC Championship – but this team won’t go much further if they continue to play like they did in Atlanta on Saturday.