Not much to see here, and really not much to say. Clemson is better than Georgia Tech. We knew that already. What we didn’t know is that Tech’s defense, long the poorer side of Paul Johnson’s operation, is better than his beloved offense.
Clemson’s offense, which came close to carrying the Tigers to a national championship in January, isn’t as good as it was, either. But there’s a difference between being less good and awful, which Tech’s offense was Thursday night. The Yellow Jackets gained 22 yards in the first half, 79 in the first three quarters, 124 all told. The reason the final margin was only 26-7 was that Ted Roof’s defense stood relatively tall.
Clemson finished the first half with as many touchdowns (three) as Tech had first downs. (And one of those was on a bad pass-interference call.) You’d think this augured domination, and there were moments when it came close. But the lopsided halftime score — Clemson 23, Tech nil — was largely a function of one weird play.
The Tigers started as if they were going to hang as many points on Tech as Louisville had Florida State. It was 7-0 after 3 ½ minutes, and Clemson’s second series would have yielded another touchdown had Mike Williams been able to drag his foot in the end zone. Then Greg Huegel, missed a field-goal try from 27 yards.
It was 14-0 by quarter’s end, but Tech’s defense was limiting tailback Wayne Gallman and making Deshaun Watson, who wasn’t especially sharp, work hard. If a defense that yields 347 yards in 30 minutes can be said to have given ground grudgingly, Tech’s kind of did.
Trouble was, Tech’s offense did nothing nothing. It rushed for 25 yards in the half, 14 of those on the last play. It passed for minus-3. At halftime, you wondered if Johnson might fire his offensive coordinator. Then you remembered he is his offensive coordinator.
Johnson’s failure to sign top-shelf talent is a topic beaten within a millimeter of its life by this correspondent, but such a night brings the difference between a loaded roster and Tech’s into sharp relief. The Jackets’ offensive front was being overrun by the left side of Clemson’s line, and it made little sense to ask why Tech couldn’t block Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins. Sometimes it really is about the Jimmys and Joes.
Maybe Todd Stansbury, the alum who was named Tech’s athletic director earlier Thursday, will get around to asking Johnson about his recruiting. It can improve hugely without touching Clemson’s, and the Jackets’ scheduling lot is that the Tigers are their permanent out-of-division opponent. But here I hop off my hobbyhorse and move to the sequence that tipped the game from tilting-Clemson’s-way to something approaching a wipeout.
Inside the final two minutes, Watson loosed a pass in the direction he thought Williams would head, which wasn’t the way he headed. The awful-looking throw was intercepted by Tech’s Lance Austin in the end zone. Choosing unwisely, Austin sought to advance his gift. He made it to the 1-yard line before being bumped by teammate Corey Griffin and fumbling the ball over the goal line. He covered it there, not that it much mattered. Clemson’s worst play of the half resulted in two Clemson points.
After the safety, the Tigers moved inside the Tech 5 with nine seconds remaining. A false start pushed them to the 9. On third-and-goal with his team out of timeouts, Watson found Jordan Legget, a 260-pound tight end who ran past cornerback Lamont Stephens, for a touchdown.
Had Austin not intercepted Watson’s pass, the Jackets might still have been in the game. As it was, the night flattered neither side. Clemson didn’t look all that great. Tech’s offense wasn’t even good. That’s not a promising development.