CLEMSON, S.C. -- The 100th career game coached at Georgia Tech isn’t likely to be one revisited by head coach Paul Johnson.
That’s because on a rainy afternoon at Memorial Stadium, the Yellow Jackets were picked up, thrown around, shaken and stirred by No. 6 Clemson from the opening kickoff until the final horn mercifully sounded. The result was a 43-24 loss, the fourth straight for the Yellow Jackets, one which left the head coach scratching his head and looking for answers.
“We look like a very poorly coached team, and that starts with me,” Johnson said. “Right from the opening series offensively ... we can’t even take the play call into the huddle without screwing it up.”
It was hardly a fair fight. The Clemson defense showed why it is considered the best in the ACC, with its speed, strength and athleticism. The players wearing the orange jerseys could have been stealing the signals; they seemed to be everywhere the Yellow Jackets were planning to be. Clemson had 11 tackles for loss, three each by Jayron Kearse and Korian O’Daniel. Clemson ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd each had one sack and one hurry.
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The result was 71 rushing yards for Georgia Tech, the lowest total under Johnson since a 10-7 win over Gardner-Webb game on Oct. 11, 2008.
“When you’re an option football team and you can’t run the ball, it makes for a long day,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Georgia Tech had 51 negative yards. Quarterback Justin Thomas rushed 14 times for 3 yards. The leading rusher was freshman Marcus Marshall with 45 yards.
“We had so many negative plays,” Johnson said. “For us, we need to get something established running the football, and we couldn’t do it. They were kicking our tails inside, and some of that is not just the offensive line, some of it is the B-backs not cutting back. I got tired of watching that, too.”
Johnson said some of the problem was Clemson’s physical superiority, while part of it was simply missed assignments.
“It’s one thing to be physically dominated,” Johnson said. “It’s another thing to not even give yourself a chance by doing the right thing. That’s the thing that’s frustrating. There’s nothing you can do about somebody kicking your tail, but you ought to be able to fix the stuff you do to yourself.”
The first quarter was all the Tigers needed to put an end to any notion that Georgia Tech could come into Death Valley and escape with a win. Clemson roared down the hill, touched Howard’s Rock and never seemed to stop. The Tigers scored on their third play from scrimmage, a 66-yard run by Wayne Gallman, a sophomore from Grayson.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas was intercepted by Cordrea Tankersly on the third play of their first possession, but the Yellow Jackets’ defense limited Clemson to a 21-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
After going three-and-out, Georgia Tech forced a turnover. Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a pass reception, and Georgia Tech’s Pat Gamble recovered at the Clemson 20. But the Yellow Jackets could not move the ball and settled for a 39-yard Harrison Butker field goal.
Clemson answered with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard run by Gallman that made it 17-3.
Gallman carried 13 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third straight 100-yard game. It was part of the 201 yards rushing the Tigers accumulated, along with another 336 yards passing.
The Tigers added a safety when Georgia Tech snapped the ball over the head of punter Ryan Rodwell, who had his scrambling punt blocked. The ball was batted around and finally caromed out of the end zone, extended the Clemson lead to 19-3.
Clemson pushed the lead to 26-3 with 66-yard drive that culminated in a 9-yard pass from Watson to Jordan Leggett. He caught another touchdown pass before halftime, an 8-yarder that put the Tigers ahead 33-10 at halftime and offset Georgia Tech’s best offensive play of the day, a 50-yard seam route from Thomas to Clinton Lynch, the redshirt freshman from Norcross.
Now 2-4 and having lost four in a row for the first time under Johnson, the Yellow Jackets have to find some answers if they want to extend their streak of 18 straight bowl appearances. Georgia Tech returns home next week to play Pittsburgh (4-1) and must still play Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia.
“Our mentality has to be 1-0 every week,” senior defensive tackle Adam Gotsis said. “We can’t look and say ‘We’re 2-4, our record stinks.’ We’re at a point where you’re got to be doing your job with effort and not just running around like a headless chicken and trying to make a play. Guys need to do their assignments. Handle your assignment and make a play when it’s your play to make.”