Grading the Tigers Versus Georgia Tech

Finally…a football team to be proud of. Clemson wrapped up the first quarter of the season by absolutely dismantling a favored Georgia Tech team on their home field Saturday night to the tune of 39-3.

Astonishingly, the score was not indicative of the dominance that Clemson displayed in Atlanta. The score could very easily have been 50-0 considering the following misplays: Airese Currie was wide open on the first play from scrimmage and would have walked into the end zone had Charlie Whitehurst not overthrown the pass. The Tigers ended up turning the ball over later in that series and did not get any points. Derrick Hamilton dropped a touchdown pass on 3rd down in the end zone late in the first half on a slant pattern. Clemson settled on a field goal on the next play. And finally, Justin Miller dropped an interception in Tech's end zone on the drive that the Yellow Jackets ended up making a field goal.

This was the most lop sided win over Georgia Tech in 100 years, dating back to a 73-0 win over Tech in 1903. And, more importantly, the game gets the Tigers off to a 1-0 start in ACC and place the Tigers on a 3 game winning streak heading into a bye week before taking on Maryland in College Park.

I predicted a 20-17 Clemson loss Saturday night, which was off by an embarrassing 39 total points. Needless to say, I was happy to be as wrong as I was Saturday night as I sat in Bobby Dodd Stadium watching the final ticks of the clock wind down.

Here is how I graded the Tigers on my 5 keys to the game.

Deny Daniels
Watching P. J. Daniels go nowhere Saturday night reminded me of watching our running backs go nowhere against Georgia in week 1. The results were quite similar.

The Clemson defense never gave Daniels room to run, and sometimes he struggled just to get back to the line of scrimmage. Daniels rushed for a measly 34 yards on 16 carries which equates to just over 2 yards a carry. Considering the Tigers had struggled the week before in stopping the run, the fact that Georgia Tech only rushed for 96 total yards Saturday night has to be the best statistic on a night full of great statistics.

John Lovette had the defense prepared and ready to play, and the Clemson down lineman seemed to be dominating the line of scrimmage all night long. Donnell Washington, Maurice Fountain, Trey Tate, and Eric Coleman caused havoc all day long, and Fountain made the highlight shows with his safety on Reggie Ball in the 2nd half.

The linebackers were also spectacular Saturday night, with John Leake putting up his most impressive day as a Tiger. Leake had 14 tackles, three of which were for a loss. Leake also had an interception and a fumble recover to top off his night.

This was by far the best defensive performance of a Tommy Bowden coached team at Clemson, and the results made for a long night for P.J. Daniels.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Long Field
The Georgia Tech offense did not exactly throw shivers into Clemson fans going into the game, but it was obvious that Clemson did not want to give Tech short fields to work with Saturday night. The goal was to make Tech go a long way by moving the ball on offense and keeping field position in the favor of the Tigers.

Mission accomplished. Georgia Tech had 14 offensive processions Saturday night, and 13 of them started inside their own 37-yard line. Tech also started drives at their own 11-yard line twice and on the 7-yard line one other time.

The result was a Tech offense that was able to move the ball at times, but never could sustain a drive long enough to get into scoring position. Credit the offense for moving the chains all night, Cole Chason for averaging 44 yards a punt, and the Clemson cover units for not allowing Tech to make long returns.

Clemson's offense has done a good job of moving the ball and taking care of the ball in recent games. The opposition has taken over possession of the ball inside their own territory on 26 consecutive possessions dating to the Furman game on September 6th.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Red Zone Offense
The first two Clemson processions offered up enough to be concerned. Both times Clemson started with excellent field position only to see the drives stall without any points being scored.

But, that is where the concern ended and the fun began. Clemson spent the rest of the night relentlessly attacking the Yellow Jackets. The first time the Tigers were in the red zone, Aaron Hunt came in and calmly drilled a 23-yard field goal. The next 5 times Clemson got into the red zone, the Tigers came away with touchdowns, something they had not been able to do against quality defenses in the past few years.

Creative play calling by Tommy Bowden is one reason for the success. Bowden continued to attack for the 2nd straight week and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. The next reason for the success is the excellent hands the receivers continue to show. If Whitehurst gives them a ball to catch, they catch it every time. Tony Elliot even made an acrobatic reception in the end zone for Clemson's first touchdown. And the final reason for the success lies in Charlie Whitehurst making great decisions as the playmaker on the offense. The offensive line continues to give him ample time to pick defense apart, and Whitehurst is taking advantage of his opportunities.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Charlie In Charge
Charlie Whitehurst continues to establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Whitehurst completed 23-38 passes Saturday night for 298 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air and one running.

Whitehurst has now moved to 15th in the nation in passing efficiency with 153.64 rating points. He is also 21st in the nation in total offense with 273 yards per game.

Whitehurst's only mistakes Saturday night was an overthrown ball to Currie on the first play of the day that would have been an easy touchdown followed by an interception later in that same series.

Whitehurst came in averaging 70% on his completion percentage, a number that most felt was not attainable against Tech. I thought Charlie needed to stay above the 60% mark versus Tech for Clemson to win, and Whitehurst's 61% rate Saturday night was plenty enough for an easy Clemson win.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Tricky Tommy
It thought Clemson would have to mix things up Saturday in order to consistently move the ball against a good Georgia Tech defense. I was wrong.

Bowden left the tricks in the bag for another day because they simply were not needed. Clemson's dominance was so thorough that trickery would have been an insult to the players who were whipping Tech on both sides of the ball in the trenches.

So while a trickery grade is not applicable, I do think it fitting to credit Bowden and the offensive staff for the continued brilliant play calling on the offensive side of the ball. For the 2nd straight game, the game plan was outstanding and aggressive. If Clemson had a 3rd and 8, the passes were thrown past the first down markers. Clemson exploited the middle of the field as well as the sidelines. Several times Whitehurst rolled out of the pocket to find multiple receivers wide open.

Tommy Bowden earned his 50th career victory in the win over Georgia Tech. That total includes 18 at Tulane and 32 at Clemson.

Simply put…credit is due. It is easy and sometimes fashionable to criticize this coaching staff, but the past two games shows what can be at Clemson if the Tiger players and coaches continue to improve each week.

Rhymer's Grade On Bowden…A

Random Notes:
  • This is the first time in the three years I have been grading my keys that Clemson received all A's. I'm a tough grader at times, but I think the performance of this game justifies the all A's.

  • Clemson has improved for the 3rd straight week, a fact that probably cannot be said for Bowden coached teams while at Clemson. The one exception might be the start of the 2000 season, where Clemson ended up winning the first 9 games of the year. Otherwise, this is the best stretch of improvement that we have seen since then.

  • The renovations at Bobby Dodd Stadium are very nice. I sat in the new upper deck in the end zone, and the view was good with a spectacular view of the Atlanta skyline. I walked the entire stadium at half time, and the stadium now has a nice flow to it with plenty of brick facades. Yet another reason why the West End Zone is a terribly needed addition to Death Valley.

  • Clemson fans came out in droves Saturday night. It would have hard to estimate an exact number, but there had to be at least 9,000 Clemson fans at the game. The new upper deck holds 15,678 seats, and it was at least half full with Clemson fans. And Tiger fans occupied 3 of the 4 corners of the sideline upper decks. Another small group was positioned beside the Tiger band, and numerous orange shirts could be seen scattered throughout the Georgia Tech sections.

  • It is nice to know that the biggest debate about this team that will rage in the coming two-week hiatus will be around the purple jerseys. From the stands, the orange numbers were a little hard to read. But in pictures and highlight videos of the game, the jerseys looked sharp. And, of course, they look much better seeing how Clemson won!

  • I think it is safe to say Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball learned a valuable lesson about keeping his mouth shut with prognostications…

  • Moving Up In The ACC: Florida State continues to ride a roller coaster in 2003, improving greatly Saturday by whipping Florida State in Tallahassee. The Seminoles made my Moving Down list after last week's performance versus Georgia Tech, but righted themselves by beating an admittedly bad Colorado team. Maryland seems to have turned the 0-2 start to the season completely around with another big win Saturday over Rich Rodriquez and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Add that to the fact that Northern Illinois, a team that defeated Maryland in week 1, beat Alabama Saturday night, the Terrapins 2 losses seem to have been against top 25 teams (FSU and Northern Illinois). And Wake Forest bounced back nicely by pounding a winless East Carolina team 34-16 Saturday.

  • Moving Down In The ACC: Georgia Tech's loss to Clemson may be a sign of things to come for Tech. The offense seems average at best, and it was obvious that the ball can be thrown against the Yellow Jackets. Tech's lack of depth with all the suspensions may be catching up with them. Despite beating Texas Tech 49-21, N.C. State continues to make the moving down list. The State defense gave up an unbelievable 681 yards on defense, including 586 yards through the air. No team is worth of a top 25 ranking giving up those kinds of numbers to any team…much less Texas Tech. Speaking of pitiful defense, North Carolina continues to stink it up under John Bunting. Wisconsin somehow managed to score 38 points against the Tar Heels Saturday afternoon. And Duke can't seem to stand prosperity. A week after winning their 2nd game of the season, Duke dropped a winnable game against Northwestern 28-10 in Durham.

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