ATLANTA – Second-ranked Clemson defeated Georgia Tech, 49-21, on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. The Tigers improved to 4-0 (1-0 ACC) on the season, while the Yellow Jackets dropped to 1-3 (0-2 ACC).
Here’s a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:
Trevor Lawrence had a happy homecoming at Bobby Dodd Stadium, which is located about 45 minutes from his hometown of Cartersville, Ga. The freshman quarterback threw three touchdown passes in the second quarter – a 17-yard dart to Hunter Renfrow, 53-yard strike to Justyn Ross and 3-yard toss to Travis Etienne – and Clemson took a 28-7 lead into halftime.
The Tigers piled on after the break, finding the end zone on each of their first two drives of the second half. Tavien Feaster scored on a 27-yard run, and Etienne had a 3-yard rushing touchdown, as Clemson extended its lead to 42-7 with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Georgia Tech responded with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to cut Clemson’s lead to 42-14 at the end of the third quarter, then scored another touchdown with a seven-play, 33-yard drive in the fourth.
But after the Yellow Jackets cut their deficit to 42-21, Lawrence and the offense answered with a five-play, 77-yard drive for a touchdown. Lawrence hooked up with Tee Higgins for a 30-yard catch-and-run to provide the 49-21 final score.
What went right?
Lawrence replaced Kelly Bryant on Clemson’s first possession of the second quarter – its third drive of the game – and kickstarted the offense as he led touchdown drives of 74 yards, 55 yards and 64 yards to put the Tigers comfortably ahead of the Yellow Jackets at halftime. The former five-star quarterback finished the game 13-of-18 passing for 176 yards and four touchdowns.
Clemson’s defense was equally impressive as it shut down Tech’s triple-option attack, allowing only 203 total yards and an average of 3.2 yards per play. The Tigers notched four sacks and 10 tackles for loss while holding the Yellow Jackets to a 4-of-15 clip on third down. J.D. Davis started the game at linebacker in place of the injured Kendall Joseph and shined with a game-high 10 tackles including a sack and tackle for loss.
Also, Clemson was aided by eight Georgia Tech fumbles, including a critical fumble in the first quarter (see game-changing moment below). The Tigers’ run game was effective as well as they rushed for 248 yards on 36 attempts, an average of 6.9 yards per carry.
What went wrong?
It’s hard to believe considering the final score, but Clemson started the game slowly and led just 7-0 after the opening period. Bryant and the offense sputtered to the tune of just 13 yards on their first two possessions of the game, while the defense allowed Georgia Tech to drive to the Clemson 16-yard line on its opening possession. However, the defense did not allow any points on the possession thanks to a couple of forced fumbles and two false start penalties, and the unit stiffened up from there while the offense rolled.
Being nitpicky, other things that went wrong for Clemson include a dropped interception by Mark Fields in the second quarter; Lawrence’s second-quarter pass that bounced off the backside of Gage Cervenka, was intercepted and led to Georgia Tech’s first touchdown of the game; and a targeting call against linebacker Chad Smith in the second half that resulted in his ejection and will cause him to miss the first half of Clemson’s game vs. Syracuse next Saturday.
Also, after Clemson went up 42-7, the reserves on defense yielded touchdowns to Georgia Tech in the third and fourth quarters that cut the lead to 42-21 and forced the Tigers’ first-team offense to come back into the game late.
Clemson grabbed the lead, and never looked back, late in the first quarter courtesy of a big defensive touchdown.
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins forced a Qua Searcy fumble, then picked up the loose ball and fumbled it before Clelin Ferrell landed on the ball in the end zone to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 3:42 to play in the first quarter.
The defense smothered Tech’s offense for most of the rest of the first half, and the offense kicked it into high gear as Clemson took control of the game heading into halftime.