ATLANTA — Brent Venables was not nervous as he watched Georgia Tech drive right down the field against his Clemson defense on Tech’s first possession of Saturday’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
No, the Clemson defensive coordinator was feeling a different emotion as the Yellow Jackets marched into Tiger territory following the opening kickoff.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was mad,” Venables said. “There was no nervousness. Just very mad.”
Nonetheless, it was that exact drive that ended up being Venables’ favorite of the game.
That’s because second-ranked Clemson’s defense stiffened up, did not allow Georgia Tech to score on the possession and ultimately held its triple-option attack to just 203 total yards while scoring a defensive touchdown in a 49-21 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
“I love that drive. I love everything about it,” Venables said of Georgia Tech’s opening 11-play, eight-minute possession. “I love facing some adversity, making some mistakes, and then I really thought that set the tempo for the rest of the day, the way we were able to knock them back.”
Georgia Tech (1-3, 0-2 ACC) started the game’s opening drive at its own 25-yard line and got as far as Clemson’s 16-yard line before going in reverse.
Two forced fumbles by cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and a pair of false start penalties, pushed the Yellow Jackets back 20 yards. The second false start penalty occurred before a field-goal attempt and moved the ball back to Clemson’s 36-yard line, causing Georgia Tech to change gears and decide to punt.
Clemson’s defense locked in after that drive, forcing three-and-outs on four of Georgia Tech’s next six possessions in the first half. The Tigers allowed only seven points in the first two quarters and watched the offense score four touchdowns en route to a 28-7 halftime lead.
“I loved every minute of it, the adversity, the response,” Venables said of the defensive stand to start the game. “We made some adjustments, and then just knocked them backwards to set the tempo for the rest of the day.”
Georgia Tech’s second offensive possession of the game turned out very well for Clemson, as well.
On third-and-20 from the Georgia Tech 19-yard line, Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins forced Tech’s Qua Searcy to fumble, then picked up the loose ball before fumbling it himself. Tigers defensive end Clelin Ferrell then landed on Wilkins’ fumble in the end zone to give Clemson its first lead of the game at 7-0 with 3:42 left in the first quarter.
“It was great,” Venables said of the touchdown. “We probably should have had a couple of them down there. There were some balls on the ground there inside the 10-yard line. But it was fun to watch.”
Overall, Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) forced eight fumbles, and allowed only 15 first downs while holding Georgia Tech to a 4-of-15 clip on third down. The Yellow Jackets averaged just 3.2 yards per play and 2.6 yards per rush on 64 total plays and 56 rushing attempts, respectively.
The Tigers recorded four sacks and 10 tackles for loss, and every player that traveled with the team played in the game on both sides of the ball.
Except for a few drives, including the two Georgia Tech touchdown drives in garbage time late in the second half, Clemson’s defense stifled the Yellow Jackets’ offense all afternoon long.
“We didn’t play perfect, but we didn’t need to. I really liked the attitude,” Venables said. “I thought our guys really responded all day. We never panicked and had good positioning. I really liked the secondary play and the support.
“Just very disciplined. I thought it was a disciplined effort. We played a bunch of guys. We had some adversity and some failure that they’ll learn and grow from, but overall, very pleased with the day.”