For starters, the Tigers scored just three points in the first half and turned it over four times for the game. The running game, without Andre Ellington, was basically absent the entire night, too. Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard struggled with handling Georgia Tech's blitz packages, which proved critical on a number of short possessions. Tajh Boyd had his worst game of the year too, throwing a costly interception in the end zone just moments into the fourth quarter. There were also two occasions when it looked like the Tigers were going to go for it on fourth down, before the staff elected to kick a field goal (that was badly missed), and punt later on (which proved to be the right call). Where's the killer instinct of the last eight games? It clearly didn't arrive with the team in Atlanta this weekend. Sammy Watkins is still one of the top three receivers in college football and set three ACC records on his 48 yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. But still - four turnovers and 17 points - that's downright terrible for this offense.
Clemson's problems Saturday night can be quickly summed up in one word: linebackers. Simply put, it wasn't a very good performance by this crew. Missed assignments and tackles could be seen everywhere at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and those issues were a big reason why Tech possessed the football a mind-boggling 39 minutes (to Clemson's just 21). The secondary was burned on several occasions, but did rebound to pick off Tevin Washington at a critical point early in the fourth quarter. Brandon Thompson was amazing at times, surviving chop blocks and routinely forcing Washington to pitch the ball before he wanted to on the sweep. But it wasn't nearly enough. The Tigers gave up 31 points ... but it felt like much more.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Chandler Catanzaro badly missed a 40-yard field goal late in the first half, but made his first attempt from 34 yards. Sammy Watkins also had a nice kickoff return in the second half as well. Other than that, it was a non-eventful night for Clemson's special teams. Nothing too terribly bad. But nothing that great either.
For whatever reason, Saturday night's version of the Clemson football team seemed to lack the killer instinct of the first eight weeks. Give Georgia Tech credit for clearly bringing it's 'A' game. The Jackets were physical from the start and wanted it much more than Clemson. Still, the Tigers' defense was woeful and the offense never consistently found the rhythm it needed on a night like this. And while we don't like to write it, Paul Johnson seems to have Kevin Steele's number. Again Saturday night, he was one step ahead of Clemson's veteran defensive coordinator.
The offense turned it over four times, after suffering just eight turnovers in the previous eight games, and the defense was torched for big plays and long drives. Clemson looked like anything but a team in the running for a National Championship Saturday night and the 31-17 score reflects that fact. In fact, the Tigers looked tired. The good news is a win over Wake Forest in two weeks clinches the Atlantic Division for the second time in three years. That's not too shabby, right? The Tigers are also 8-1 and 5-1 in the ACC and looking ahead to a much-needed off-week. All in all, it's been a great season for Dabo Swinney and company - with the exception of Saturday evening.
GRADES: Too many mistakes
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