CLEMSON — Even the sound was different.
After Clemson’s 47-31 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, music thumped from the Clemson locker room. The No. 15 Tigers were in a celebratory mood. A year earlier, the Clemson buses were silent as the caravan traveled back to campus from Atlanta where their perfect season ended.
During his pre-game speech Saturday at the team hotel, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said he rekindled the memory.
“I remember the bus ride we had coming back from Georgia Tech. I remember the bad feeling we had,” Morris said. “That was the start of a tailspin. I wanted them to hear it. We have an opportunity to recover from that against a team that put you guys down last year and started a tailspin.”
Much was different about Clemson (5-1, 2-1 ACC) on Saturday. The offense played differently than it did a year ago against Georgia Tech. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd did not force throws into the same Yellow Jackets’ two-deep safety defense. There was offensive balance with a healthy Andre Ellington and a mobile Boyd. There was not the inflated confidence that came with last year’s 8-0 record
Boyd had career bests of 397 passing yards and 63 rushing yards. His 460 yards of combined offense were the second most in school history, trailing only Woody Dantzler’s 517 yards against N.C. State in 2001. DeAndre Hopkins caught seven passes for 173 yard and two touchdowns. The Clemson offense produced 601 yards.
The Tigers have set record after record under Morris, but there’s still a few things he wants from his offense.
“Maturity and being able to finish,” he said.
Clemson trailed Georgia Tech, 31-30, early in the fourth quarter after a David Scully field goal. The Tigers answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, capped with Hopkins’ 35-yard touchdown on a pass from Boyd.
Clemson’s defense didn’t make many plays — allowing 483 yards — but it recorded a safety on the ensuing possession to make it a two-score game at 40-31.
Later in the fourth, Clemson mounted a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped by a touchdown.
Like last season, Georgia Tech tried to take away the Clemson deep game by keeping two safeties back. It worked against Boyd then. But he was a different quarterback on Saturday.
Boyd didn’t force passes downfield. All six of Sammy Watkins’ receptions were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Boyd’s two interceptions came on a tipped ball and a screen play where the junior quarterback simply did not see the Georgia Tech defender.
“We got a big head (last year) to the sense that we are Clemson, and we are going to go out and score points without the effort and mentality and being smart,” Boyd said. “I’m a reflection of what (Morris) teaches and coaches. You have to be focused on getting the job done.”