By Will Vandervort.
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 sixth-ranked Tigers’ performance at every position in Thursday’s 55-31 victory over Georgia Tech.
It was another gutsy performance by Tajh Boyd. The senior, who chose not to run down the hill because of lower body injuries from previous games, shook off several big hits from Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu to throw for 340 yards and four touchdowns on 20 of 26 passing. He also ran for 43 yards and scored on a run-yard plunge in the third quarter. Along the way, Boyd became the ACC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (97) and became the first player in ACC history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for over a 1,000. Boyd bruised his left shoulder and sternum on the last play of the third quarter and backup Cole Stoudt came in and played well, while leading the Tigers on two scoring drives, which included his own 13-yard touchdown run. He was also 2-2 for 38 yards through the air. Chad Kelly came on late in the fourth quarter and completed one pass for eight yards, while rushing for 24 more on three carries.
Only two running backs played in the game as Roderick McDowell and D.J. Howard combined for 73 yards on 14 carries. McDowell had 60 of those rushing yards as he ran between the tackles with authority. The senior averaged 5.5 yards per carry and did just enough to keep the Rambling Wrecks’ defense off balance. Where McDowell was the most valuable was in his pass blocking, where time and time again he blew up Georgia Tech blitzes and kept Boyd upright long enough for the Clemson quarterback to find his receivers downfield.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
Martavis Bryant has finally become that No. 2 guy Clemson has desperately needed at wide receiver to compliment Sammy Watkins. While Watkins continues to do his thing—five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns—Bryant hauled in five passes for a career high 176 yards, which included a 76-yard bomb from Tajh Boyd. It was Bryant’s longest touchdown reception of his career. He also had catches of 33 and 47 yards in a game where he averaged 35.2 yards per reception. Watkins’ five catches included touchdowns of 41 and 44 yards, while his 104 yards marked the seventh time this year, and for the third straight game, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark. His seven 100-yard games set a Clemson record for a single-season. Freshman Mike Williams continues to grow in this offense as he hauled in three catches for 45 yards in the first half, including a nice 4-yard grab on a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone.
Georgia Tech did record 10 tackles for loss and four of those were sacks. However, two sacks can be charged to Boyd because he did not get rid of the football in time, while one sack was brought on from a blitz rather than the Tigers’ offensive line getting whipped. For the most part, the OL had one of its better games against a defense that was second in the ACC rushing yards allowed coming in. The Tigers averaged 4.5 yards per carry with most of those yards coming up the middle. Clemson rushed for 168 yards. Tech was only giving up 103 coming in. The offensive line was physical at the point of attack as guards Tyler Shatley and David Beasley, along with center Ryan Norton dominated the Yellow Jackets’ defensive front. Isaiah Battle got his first career start at right tackle and did well until an injury to his AC joint limited his playing time the rest of the night.
Grady Jarrett dominated Georgia Tech center Jay Finch and along with DeShawn Williams, D.J. Reader and Josh Watson, the Tigers took away the dive man in Tech’s option attack. The B-back, David Sims—Tech’s leading rusher coming in—was held to 25 yards on eight carries. Clemson controlled the line of scrimmage for much of the night and took the Yellow Jackets out of their comfort zone. Georgia Tech was averaging 311.2 yards a game on the ground coming into Thursday’s showdown, but the Tigers held them to 248 yards – the Yellow Jackets third lowest output of the season. Clemson had 10 tackles for loss and only one of those was a sack and that came from reserve defensive end Shaq Lawson. The defensive line recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, while Jarrett had six total tackles and defensive end Corey Crawford five.
Quandon Christian played perhaps the best game of his career at Clemson. He, along with fellow linebacker Spencer Shuey, led the Tigers with eight tackles. Christian became the first player this season to tackle Sims for a loss, when he grabbed him for a one-yard loss in the third quarter. Clemson’s linebackers blitz the gaps often in the first half, while limiting the Yellow Jackets to 72 yards on the ground. They also stayed within their assignments and forced quarterback Vad Lee to pitch the ball or simply just eat it. Lee was held to 22 yards rushing on 12 carries. The Tigers top tackler, Stephone Anthony, had four tackles, including one for loss. The only reason the linebackers did not get an “A” is due to the few times running back Robert Godhigh slipped past them down the seam of the Cover 2. Godhigh had five catches for 103 yards to go along with his game-high 126 rushing yards, which included a 65-yard jaunt.
With the exception of one play—Godhigh’s 65-yard touchdown—the secondary played well. On the Godhigh touchdown, safety Travis Blanks took a bad angle, allowing the quick running back to cut back into the middle of the field and out run the Clemson secondary to the end zone. But for the most part the corners and the safeties stayed within their assignments, even when they were out flanked, and did what they were supposed to do. Safety Robert Smith had six tackles. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland had five tackles, including one for loss, while also recording his team-leading fourth interception of the season. Clemson, Ohio State and Connecticut are the only schools in the nation with at least one interception in every one of its games this year.
Chandler Catanzaro made field goals of 40 and 51 yards. The 51-yard kick was a career-high for the former walk-on, who is now 11 of 12 on kicks this season. He also set the career record for most 40-plus yard field goals, which he is now holding at 24. Punter Bradley Pinion punted three times around midfield and on two of those occasions he pinned the Yellow Jackets deep in their own territory. Adam Humphries had three punt returns for 35 yards, including one for 22, while Tech’s potent return game averaged only 15.2 yards on nine kickoffs and only had one punt return for 0 yards.
Swinney had his team fired up from the get go. The defense set the tone by forcing four straight three-and-outs to start the game, while holding Georgia Tech’s potent offense to three yards in the first quarter. The offense eventually took advantage of the extra stops and got going in the second quarter as Clemson built leads of 20 points twice in the second quarter and led 27-10 at halftime. Clemson was very efficient on offense, as it racked up 551 yards on only 67 plays, while averaging 8.2 yards per play.