By Will Vandervort
Each week we take a look back at what the Clemson Tigers did right and what they did wrong on the gridiron as we grade the Tigers’ performance at every position in Saturday’s 47-31 victory over Georgia Tech
Yes Tajh Boyd had a career-day at Clemson. Boyd’s 397 passing yards were the second most in school history as was his 460 total yards. He broke Charlie Whitehurst’s career record for touchdown passes thrown. He now has 51. But imagine what Boyd could have done had he played better. Boyd was noticeably off in the first half, throwing a lot of times behind or too high to his receivers. He admit his mechanics were a little off and he was not finishing throws the way he was supposed to. But, he bounced back in the second half, which is another sign of his maturity as a quarterback. He also made very good decisions in the running game and used his legs to pick up key third downs on the Tigers’ final scoring drive which ate up much of the game-clock on Georgia Tech.
If you would have told me Andre Ellington rushed for only 82 yards and Clemson would still win, I would not have believed you. With the way Middle Tennessee and Miami gashed the Yellow Jackets the last two weeks, I thought a healthy Ellington was going to have a field day. But to its credit, Georgia Tech did a good job containing him. But Ellington still finished the game with 153 all-purpose yards, including a 40-yard screen pass that set up a Chandler Catanzaro field goal. Ellington’s blocking was also valuable. Several times he picked up a blitzing safety or linebacker to give Boyd just enough time to get the pass off.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
DeAndre Hopkins is making a strong case as one of the best receivers in the country. He again hauled in seven passes for 173 yards and two scores. Both touchdowns came at key times and were momentum shifting plays. His 58-yard catch-and-run of a Boyd pass just before halftime gave the Tigers a 27-21 lead at the break. His second score came from 38 yards out, which gave the Tigers a 38-31 lead in the fourth quarter that they never relinquished. Hopkins also completed a pass to Boyd for a two-point conversion. Sammy Watkins caught six passes for 42 yards, but his presence on the field was once again key as Tech’s safeties and linebackers had to account for where he was going and where he was at. Adam Humphries and Jaron Brown again made clutch catches when needed, while Charone Peake had two catches for 43 yards.
Chad Morris thought this was perhaps the worse game the offensive line has played all year. He said they looked sluggish at times in the first half, and they just weren’t getting to line as fast as he wanted them to. Georgia Tech sacked Boyd three times, after only having seven in the first five games. The line was also called for a hold and the running game was not as crisp as it should have been. Ellington was caught behind the line of scrimmage three times for a loss of nine yards.
When you give up 339 yards on the ground, the criticism has to go somewhere. I thought the interior of the defensive front played well as they took away the fullback dive for most of the game. Quarterback Tevin Washington, who punished Clemson with the quarterback draw last year, only had success on the draw when freshman D.J. Reeder was in the game. Where Clemson had its issues was on the edge. Too often Malliciah Goodman, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes were watching what Washington was doing instead of doing their assignment, which was to keep their head down, fight off the cut blocks, stay on their feet and stretch the play out to allow their linebackers to secure the pitch man. Several times, Washington had already pitched the ball to his running backs before he got halfway down the line because the ends were out of position or lost their footing.
Spencer Shuey is the only reason this unit got the grade it did. His safety on Orwin Smith with 10:19 to play in the fourth quarter turned out to be the play of the game. Shuey did everything correctly on that play. First of all, he read it right. Secondly, he trusted his teammates and let them do their job on the play. Thirdly, when he got the opportunity to make the play, he shot the gap and made a nice form-tackle. At times the linebackers played the option well, and other times they were caught flat footed almost like being in slow motion as Smith ran through gabbing holes following the pitch. A lot of times those holes were there because the linebackers were slow in reacting to where the play was going, failing to make Washington roll the play wide so that the sideline becomes another defender.
Travis Blanks started at safety and for the most part did an okay job. Tech only had one long pass and that 53-yard play came on the Yellow Jackets first touchdown of the day, which was midway through the first quarter. After that, Clemson did not bite on too many fakes and eliminated the big pass that the Yellow Jackets like to hit teams on from time-to-time. However, like the linebackers, the secondary seemed to be running in slow motion when it came time to stopping the option and tackling was still and issue as well.
Catanzaro was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and has now extended his Clemson record to 19 straight. Spencer Benton had one punt all day and it netted 42 yards, while he also had six touchbacks on nine kickoffs, and one of his kicks, though by accident, caused Tech to fumble it and then slip down at the two-yard line which set up Shuey’s safety. Josh Watson also blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter that would have cut the Tigers’ lead to six points and probably making things a little more interesting down the stretch.
Dabo Swinney out foxed the fox for the most part in this game. I thought Clemson kept Georgia Tech’s defense guessing most of the afternoon, and when needed, the Clemson defense was prepared enough to make stops and plays when they needed to the most. The trick play on the two-point conversion was a thing of beauty and is a play that will make defensive coordinators spend extra hours in practice to make sure that doesn’t happen to them, which in turn will allow Clemson to do other things with that play and formation. It’s always good to make any future opponent on the schedule have to think about one more thing.