Before the game, Dabo Swinney seemed to be every bit as concerned about Al Groh’s defense as with Paul Johnson’s offense.
As it turned out, he had good reason.
The Yellow Jackets won the battle up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and by midway through the second quarter had put themselves in the driver’s seat and the Tigers into catch-up mode.
The Tigers will now have couple of weeks to catch their breath, heal their wounded, and work on making improvements for their stretch run.
Here’s a look at some of what went wrong Saturday night against the Yellow Jackets:
Tech’s physicality unanswered: A year ago, Clemson gave itself a real chance on the road against Auburn by playing more physically than the eventual national champions – almost from the get-go. It happened again Saturday night, only this time it was the Yellow Jackets who delivered a rather strong and forceful message. It happened on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and it showed on kickoff coverage.
Defending the dive: Once Georgia Tech started chewing up yardage with the first of its flexbone options, everything else began to fall into place.
Defending the quarterback keeper: For the second time in three weeks, a mobile, running quarterback made the Tigers’ defense look bad. A different mode of operation, but similar bottom-line numbers. And this time the Tigers knew it was coming.
Defending the pitch: The Yellow Jackets repeatedly got outside on the Tigers, burning Clemson’s defense for big plays when assignments were missed, and gaining consistent yardage even when the Tigers were where they were supposed to be.
Getting off blocks: The Yellow Jackets won more than their share of those one-on-matchups that Dabo Swinney talked about before the game – especially when Tech had blockers out in front of its runners.
Defending the deep pass: The Tigers got lucky once when Stephen Hill dropped a deep ball after beating Darius Robinson. But the Tigers’ luck didn’t hold when the Yellow Jackets went back to Hill under similar circumstances later in the game.
Turnovers: The Tigers’ early turnover was a momentum changer that helped put Tech in command. The next three were killers, as well.
Reduced options: Coming into the game, the Tigers were beginning to make their offense sing via an expanding field of playmaking options. Against Tech, the options were narrowed to a dependence on Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Dwayne Allen, who had 20 of the Tigers’ 24 receptions.
Andre Ellington’s left foot: The Tigers missed Ellington’s burst – a lot. D.J. Howard ran hard, but rarely got past Tech’s first defensive tier. Mike Bellamy became the Tigers’ best running option, but is still as raw as he is dangerous. What happens in the training room the next two weeks will be as important as what happens on the practice field.
Field goal inconsistency: The Tigers needed the one that Chandler Catanzaro missed.
First-and-10, third-and-short: Too many times, Clemson put itself into almost impossible possession, as Tech set the table for it’s near-automatic short-yardage game with runs of five yards or more on first down. The result was a whopping 39:00 to 21:00 possession edge for Georgia Tech and just 65 offense snaps for the Tigers.