Player of the game: Ray-Ray McCloud
The offense did exactly what it needed to do to open the game: march right down the field for a touchdown. That was the antithesis of what we saw in the 2011 and 2014 trips to Atlanta. In 2011, Hot Rod McDowell fumbled on the opening possession, setting up a quick touchdown for Tech that really energized the night game crowd. In 2014, Watson drove the offense down to the red zone and was about to take an early lead but tore his ACL, effectively ending the Tigers’ chances then and there. This time, however, the Tigers took the Bobby Dodd fans out of the game before they had all even reached their seats.
Watson picked up where he left off against SC State, completing 32 of 48 passes (67%) for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns. He had the one interception, but it was a mistake by Mike Williams in which he ran the wrong route. Fortunately, the ball bounced the Tigers’ way for once in Atlanta, and the pick resulted in a safety. Watson missed a couple of throws again, including a wide open touchdown to Diondre Overton, but the receivers also dropped a couple, including two perfectly thrown touchdown passes to Cain and Williams. If the Tigers ever put together a complete passing game with no mistakes by Watson or the receivers, look out. They don’t lose to anyone.
Despite the mistakes, the offense still managed to total 442 yards. You’d like to see more than 138 yards rushing, but Ted Roof’s defensive scheme forced the Tigers to throw the ball more than they had planned. Watson had 35 pass attempts in the first half alone, which has to be a career high for him. Gallman only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, and Watson averaged 3 yards on 12 carries. Again, a result of the Tech defense dedicated to stopping the run. The tempo was outstanding in the first half—the Tigers ran an incredible 56 plays in the half. That’s close to the national average for a game. It was a strange 3rd quarter, however. The Tigers ran just 7 plays to Tech’s 19 and scored no points after putting up 23 in the first half. The offense converted 10 of 18 on 3rd down and scored 3 touchdowns in 6 trips to the red zone. The big one was the touchdown to Leggett with 4 seconds left to go in the first half. That was a clutch play and really demoralized the Tech team and fans, giving the Tigers a 23-0 lead going into the half. Speaking of Leggett, I noted last week that he was having a slow start to the season with just one catch in three games, and when I asked Dabo about it, he said that Leggett had been targeted several times but just hadn’t shown up on the stat sheet yet. Dabo said Leggett would have plenty of big plays by the end of the season, and the one before halftime was just that.
I liked the “pop passes” and end arounds we saw in Atlanta. It’s something we haven’t seen much of early in the season, and it was a wrinkle I don’t think Tech was ready for. You can bet Tony Elliott has some more up his sleeve that he has yet to unveil.
Ray-Ray had another outstanding game and has proven to be the most consistent go-to WR this season—particularly since the Renfrow injury. He led the team in receptions and yards for the third straight game with 8 catches for 101 yards. He also had a 17 yard run on an end around.
You can tell Dabo’s confidence in Cornell Powell is growing. He made another nice diving catch in Atlanta and finished with 5 catches on the night. As I alluded to above, Diondre Overton was wide open for what would have been his second touchdown, but Watson overthrew him.
Finally, it would have been nice to see the offense score more than just 3 points in the second half, but keep in mind that they drove the length of the field at the end of the game and let time expire with the ball inside the 5-yard-line. They could have easily put 7 more on the Jackets.
Players of the game: Ryan Carter, Van Smith and Carlos Watkins
Brent Venables did it again. In my What We Are Hearing last week, I stated that I felt Venables has cracked the code of Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, and for the third straight year his defense shut the Tech offense down. Just 7 points and 124 total yards! That ties the FBS record this season for lowest total yards in a game, and I believe it’s the lowest in Paul Johnson’s career. The Tigers held the Jackets to just 22 total yards in 21 plays at halftime, and they did it on the road! By comparison, the Tigers had 19 first downs in the first half! It was clear from the start that the Tech offensive line had no answer for the Clemson front, and early three-and-outs enabled the offense to build a fast lead and take the crowd out of the game. Dorian O’Daniel had another excellent performance against Tech, just as he did last year, recording a sack and another tackle-for-loss. Tech averaged just 2.5 yards per carry and were 4 of 14 passing with an interception. They converted only 2 of 12 on 3rd down, were 0 for 1 on 4th down and possessed the ball for just 28 minutes compared to 31 minutes by the Tigers. All of these metrics are very uncharacteristic for the Georgia Tech offense, and they had no problems at all scoring points against Vanderbilt’s SEC defense in their previous game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Player of the game: Chad Smith
Huegel had been just about perfect inside 40 yards but missed an easy field goal in the middle of the field on the Tigers’ second possession. It should have put them up 10-0, and it almost had a “here we go again” feel to it. Fortunately, the defense was able to give the ball right back to the offense, and they scored a touchdown to make it 14-0. Huegel later redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal, and he was perfect on his PAT’s. However, he also put one of his kickoffs out of bounds as he did against Auburn. He had 2 touchbacks out of his other 5 kickoffs. The Tigers’ kickoff coverage was again impressive, allowing just 11 yards on Tech’s lone return. They allowed 16 yards on Tech’s only punt return. Ray-Ray had 3 punt returns for 17 yards, but he had that big drop. Thank goodness Chad Smith was there to pounce on the ball or that could have been a big momentum-changing play. Finally, Teasdall did a nice job with his 6 punts, averaging 38.7 yards per and landing 4 inside the 20 yard line.
This was a big road win, folks. The Tigers hadn’t won at Auburn since 1950 and had lost 5 straight at Bobby Dodd Stadium, dating back to 2003. They exorcised both demons in the first four games despite playing lest than their best. It sets up a mammoth ACC Atlantic showdown with the hottest player and team in the country, Lamar Jackson and Louisville. The Clemson defense is peaking at the right time with one of the best offenses in the nation coming to town. Let’s hope the Tigers can put together a complete game in all three phases for 60 minutes on Saturday. Death Valley will be rocking!