Attacking Offense: The Tigers liked their match-ups against Georgia Tech, and they aggressively pushed their perceived advantage both on the ground of the through the air. The results were altogether impressive – 236 yards rushing and a 6.2-per carry average, and the Tigers’ best throw-and-catch performance of the season.
With freshman DeAndre Hopkins back on the field, Kyle Parker threw the ball with confidence, and eight players shared in Clemson’s 17 pass receptions. Hopkins and Jaron Brown led the way, while running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper chipped in two catches apiece, as did fullback Chad Diehl and wide-out Bryce McNeal.
The Tigers were particularly effective on first down, said Dabo Swinney.
“We talked about attacking them, and we just did a better job on first down,” said Swinney. “Last week we didn’t do a good job on first down at all, and first down affects everything – all of your quality control.
“We were able to keep them off-balance, and getting Nuke (Hopkins) back was a big shot in the arm for us. There were some match-ups that were good for us, and our backs and offensive line were very productive…
“We felt we matched up well, and then it was all about execution. Our guys out-executed them – on both sides of the ball.”
Attacking Defense: There was nothing ‘sit-back-and-contain’ about Clemson’s defensive approach against Georgia Tech. The Tigers’ defensive front was consistently disruptive, much as they played in Clemson’s early-season game against the Yellow Jackets a year ago.
“It was a phenomenal job by our defense,” said Dabo Swinney. “Our tackles were disruptive, our ends played great and the linebackers were excellent. We really didn’t have many busts. We let a couple of guys get loose, but were able to run ‘em down.”
Malliciah Goodman, Da’Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins all were among the Tigers’ top four tacklers, and together had four stops behind the line of scrimmage. Next in line were linebackers Quandon Christian, Corico Hawkins, Jonathan Willard and Andre Branch, who played his first game at linebacker while filling in for Brandon Maye.
Quarterback Focus: There are a lot of ways Georgia Tech beats teams with its running game, and they all start with Joshua Nesbitt. The Tigers never let Nesbitt get started. Of his 15 carries, he was stopped for losses on six, and four more gained one yard or less. His longest runs were of five yards. He was dropped for losses on four of his final five carries.
Nesbitt, who came into the game averaging 95 yards per game, finished with two net yards, with 22 yards in gains and 20 yards in losses.
With Nesbitt struggling, the Tigers were able to contain the Jackets on first and third-down – both critical to keeping Tech out of drive-extending fourth-and-short situations.
“He needed 43 yards to break Woody Dantzler’s record (for rushing yards by an ACC quarterback), and he’s going to have to get that against somebody else,” said Dabo Swinney. “He had two yards – and you’re talking a great football player. This kid is some ball player. To hold him to two yards is a tremendous job.”
As a team, Georgia Tech rushed for 242 yards – nearly a hundred yards less than its season average.
“They’re as good as it gets when it comes to running the football,” said Swinney. “We felt like if we could be effective on first down, we would have an opportunity to put them into more of a throwing mode than they would want to be, and we liked our match-up there.”
Late-Game, Grind-It-Out: Fifteen plays, no passes, 64 yards, 7:36 off the clock, and a chip-shot field goal – game over.
The Tigers imposed their will at the end, eating up most of the final quarter (a 12:20 to 2:40 possession advantage); and they did it with straightforward, hard-nosed, confidence-building football.
“They don’t really throw the ball, they’re against the clock, and the clock was our best friend,” said Dabo Swinney. “KP was doing a great job of milking it and managing it, and our offensive line was greased up, buddy – they were excited about having an opportunity to finish a ball game when everybody knew you were going to try to run the ball.
“Fifteen plays is a tall order, and we just kept hammering away. We went to some of gap schemes, knowing how they were going to try to hit us and pressure us. We gapped them up and the backs found some creases and made some plays.”
Red-Zone Stops: Georgia Tech was 3-of-3 on its red-zone chances, but on two out of three tries, the Tigers forced the Yellow Jackets to settle for short field goals.
Tech’s three-pointers on either side of halftime ended up spanning the period in which the Tigers took control of the game.
Ellington’s Impact: Andre Ellington reeled off a pair of 40-yard-plus touchdown runs and finished with a career-best 166 yards on 20 carries. He already has as many 40-yard runs as CJ Spiller had all last season.
He continues to impact the game with difference-making plays, and his early-game outbursts have repeatedly given the Tigers a chance to balance their offense by opening up passing opportunities.
“That’s why you go you recruit – it’s all about recruiting,” said Dabo Swinney. “If you’re going to run in the Kentucky Derby, you’d better have some thoroughbreds – it’s just that simple…When you lose good players, you have to replace them with good players. That’s what recruiting is all about. This is Andre’s opportunity, and he’s earned it. He and Jamie (Harper) are giving us a really solid punch…
“Andre is electric. He’s a great zone runner, and he has great vision. He’s further along as a sophomore than CJ was as a sophomore, just because CJ had a lot to learn about playing running back in this system.
“I’m proud of him. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities, and the guys up front are doing a great job.”