Ga. Tech hands Tigers first loss
ATLANTA -- Clemson being Clemson. That will be the refrain today following the Tigers' 31-17 loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday night.
But the sixth-ranked Tigers saw their dreams of a perfect season come to an end in large part because Clemson was not being the Clemson that observers had witnessed this season.
The Tigers (8-1, 5-1 ACC) turned the ball over four times, a season high on a chilly night at raucous Bobby Dodd Stadium. Clemson turned the ball over just eight times in eight games entering Saturday, the 12th fewest turnovers in the nation despite leading the nation with 626 plays under offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
"We made some uncharacteristic plays," Morris said. "I think in the second half everyone was pressing."
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who had been so good at protecting the football, threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, including a critical one in the Georgia Tech end zone with 10 minutes to play. On the play, Boyd threw a fade to the back of the end zone, but Sammy Watkins had broken off his route.
Clemson also lost two fumbles. With running back Andre Ellington out with an ankle injury, freshmen Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard each lost a fumble. Howard's led to Tech's first touchdown; Bellamy's killed a key third-quarter drive.
Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen had to collect himself before answering several questions.
"We missed (Ellington)," Allen said. "He has a lot of hidden value in pass protection."
The big play, Clemson's staple so far this season, was also gone.
Boyd threw just two passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the first half, and the Tigers trailed by three TDs at halftime.
Clemson entered the game with 47 plays of 20-yards or more, fifth in the nation. But Clemson failed to come away with one such gain in the first half.
Clemson struggled with Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2) pressure and Cover 2 coverage scheme.
"We tried to go deep early in the middle field I thought we had some areas to take," Morris said. "We were trying to establish the run early on and you get caught on some three-and-outs and the next thing you know you've squandered an opportunity."
Three-and-outs are tough to overcome when Georgia Tech is being Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets' option offense controlled the clock and possessions. Clemson ran just 65 plays after averaging 78.35 per game.
After struggling the previous two weeks in losses, Georgia Tech got back to running the triple option like it typically does under coach Paul Jonson, accumulating 386 rushing yards and possessing the ball for 39 minutes, including a nine-minute drive after Boyd's interception.
Georgia Tech hurt Clemson with quarterback runs and run plays to the outside.
Georgia Tech was first in the nation with plays of 50 yards or more (11) -- Clemson was second with 10 -- and Georgia Tech added two more 50-yard plays Saturday.
Quarterback Tevin Washington's 60-yard run on third down led to a touchdown that answered a 48-scoring catch by Sammy Watkins on Clemson's first possession of the third quarter to cut the Tech lead to, 24-10.
"The biggest problem was the quarterback," said Clemson coach Swinney said. "I didn't think that would happen." Had Clemson's defense recorded a stop there, perhaps momentum would have swung, and Clemson could have continued on its magical path. Not Saturday night. Not this year.
"Momentum is powerful thing in this game," Swinney said. "They flat out whipped us."