When Pittsburgh came to Death Valley in 2016, the Panthers ran the shovel pass to the tight end, according to Clemson linebacker James Skalski, a hundred times that afternoon.
Pitt exposed the Tigers that day. So much so, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables vowed to never let it happen again. So, when Georgia Tech called the infamous play Saturday night during its crucial fourth-and-goal situation at the Clemson 2-yard line, Skalski knew exactly what was happening.
“I remember we drilled that play forever, and that was years ago,” said Skalski who was a freshman at Clemson during that 2016 Pitt game. “Then our offense will run that play a little bit, so I have seen it forever.”
He did not see it from Georgia Tech, though. In fact, Skalski said Clemson did not even prepare for the shovel pass last week.
“We did not really go over the shovel pass once because they do such a good job on third down packages,” he said. “They have so many different looks and so many different plays. That is just one that I have seen forever.”
And that is why, when Skalski saw Tech, pulling their tight ends apart, he knew something was up.
“It happened so fast. I just knew what it was,” the super senior said.
The Tigers, who will play at NC State on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina, were clinging to an eight-point lead with 19 seconds to play when the Yellow Jackets faced a fourth-and-goal from the Clemson 2-yard line. Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates shoveled a pass to tight end Dylan Deveney.
But Skalski blew the play up, hitting Deveney at the three-yard line and then brought him down for no gain to preserve Clemson’s 14-8 victory.
“When that tight end goes from the (H-back) and they sprint, and they are going to sprint-and-pass, they are going to bring the tight end with them, and you are going to have two guys,” Skalski said. “When they get them apart, then there is just something going on backend.”
Skalski’s heads up play, turned out to be the eventual game-winner, as the defense held off the Jackets one more time following a safety with seven seconds to play.
“I thought he played an amazing game,” Venables said. “The game is slow for him because of all of the preparation that he puts into it week in and week out. He takes nothing for granted. He embraces and seeks out the competitiveness of every play and wants to be on the right side of it.
“He has incredible will, heart and toughness that makes you so proud. He is an amazing young guy.”