Grading The Tigers Versus Georgia Tech

The Clemson Tigers picked up a huge win in the rain and slosh Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. The 24-19 victory places Clemson squarely in the race for the top of the ACC along with N.C. State and Florida State. I predicted a 20-17 Clemson victory last week, which places me a mere 5 points total off the actual score.

For the year, I stand at a perfect 3-0 with while lowering my point differential down to 9.3. Here are the grades to my 5 keys to the game from last week.

Make The Clutch Play
Derrick Hamilton showed out Saturday with 245 all-purpose yards that included an electrifying 72-yard touchdown run and an even more impressive 79-yard punt return down to the 5-yard line.

But, unlike the previous 4 or 5 years in this series, the clutch play of the game came from the defensive side of the ball as Eric Sampson intercepted A.J. Suggs as Tech was driving for a potential game-winning touchdown. Sampson's interception sealed the win for the Tigers, and maybe officially signified a "changing of the guard" in Clemson. Unlike the last few years, this year's team is going to win or lose games with defense. Saturday, Sampson made sure the result was a win.

Rhymer's Grade…A

Control The Offensive Line Of Scrimmage
Surprisingly, the offensive line stayed out of the spotlight Saturday and that's a good thing. Clemson actually rushed for 223 yards on 41 carries Saturday afternoon, and even when you take off the yardage lost on sacks, the Tigers churned up 195 net yards rushing. Hamilton led the way with 97 yards on 5 carries, and Yusef Kelly crushed out 89 yards on 20 carries.

In fact, the offensive line and Kelly had just about sealed the win with two first downs late in the 4th quarter in what appeared to be a time consuming drive that would end the game. Georgia Tech coaches watched hopelessly from the sidelines without any timeouts to burn as Kelly company marched straight down the field.

Then, disaster struck when Jermyn Chester dribbled a snap back to Simmons and allowed the drama to heighten. Take away that bad snap, and Clemson would have done something they were never able to do last year…run the clock out by getting first downs late in the game.

The Tiger offensive line was getting it's push late, and would have been the toast of the town Saturday night had they kept driving and running out the clock. Instead, the fumble allowed Eric Sampson his moment in the sun.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

Frustrate And Confuse Suggs
A.J. Suggs, starting in his first ACC game was a respectable 17-31 for 201 yards and one interception. But a more glaring statistic with regards to Suggs has to be the 5 sacks the Tigers were able to force.

Suggs lack of mobility showed glaringly at times, but he also showed poise in bringing Georgia Tech back into the game after trailing 24-6.

Fortunately, Suggs failed in leading Georgia Tech to a come-from-behind win, throwing the key interception to Sampson with one minute to go in the game. Suggs said he never saw Sampson, which I would guess would be exactly what John Lovette and the defensive staff designed the play for.

I'm not sure Clemson can get an "A" grade for frustrating and confusing Suggs because I think he stayed realtively cool under pressure. However, there is no question that he never really looked comfortable, either, which is almost as good when you are playing an offense that is explosive as Yellow Jackets'.

Rhymer's Grade…B

Seal The Deal
If there is one common frustrating trend that is developing with this young Tiger football team it is that they can't seal the deal.

Leading 28-21 in Athens, the Tigers got the ball twice with a chance to go up 14 and close out Georgia. They could not do it.

Against Louisiana Tech, four field goals instead of touchdowns kept the Bulldogs in the game when the 4th quarter started.

And Saturday, leading 24-13, the Tigers had a couple of chances to go down the field, score a touchdown, and run Georgia Tech out of the stadium. They could not do it.

Not being able to close Tech out Saturday was not due to a lack of aggressive play calling. But, once again, the lack of a killer instinct in this offense kept Georgia Tech in the game. Make no mistake about it, this is going to jump up and bite Clemson again like it did in Athens if they don't improve.

How you work on it, I have no idea. It may be something that the coaches have to instill mentally into the players heads during the week and on game days. This area drastic improvement if the Tigers are going to continue to win.

Rhymer's Grade…F

12th Man Take Over!
A crowd of about 78,000 withstood absolutely horrid first half conditions to root the Tigers on Saturday. While a walk up sellout probably would have happened had the weather been better, the folks that did buy tickets were, for the most part, in their seats.

And for the second straight week, the crowd was loud. Tech had to burn all three of their 2nd half timeouts in the 3rd quarter due to confusion…caused in some part to the crowd noise. The defense continues to get ample attention from the crowd, and they seem to feed off the crowd in crucial situations.

Rhymer's Grade…B

Random Notes
  • The no pass out rule continues to irk many that attend games in Clemson. While Clemson was a unique place because they allowed pass outs, fans that have been doing it for 50+ years aren't happy with this new adjustment. Last week the heat caused the mass of people under the stands, Saturday it was the rain. Bathroom lines were terribly long and fans that got waterlogged had no chance to go back to their cars and relieve themselves from the rain. The result…many folks had headed to their cars by the end of the 3rd quarter. Bring back the pass outs, please!
  • Bad Call Of The Day: The 50-yard Aaron Hunt field goal in the rain seemed strange, especially considering that Clemson was doing a good job controlling field position. If football is a game of percentages, I would think you would have a better chance of getting a first down than you would a 50 yard kick in the rain. But, better yet, a punt to pin the Jackets back made the most sense to me.
  • You Got Guts Award: To Tommy Bowden going for the 4th and 2 at the end of the first half. We all were screaming for the Tigers to go for it, but usually we don't have that much pull with Bowden. Turned out the play was as big as any in the game.
  • Bonehead Move Of The Day: To Chan Gailey for calling timeout while Clemson lined up for a field goal at the end of the half. The result was Bowden changing his mind, going for it, and the difference was 7 points instead of 3.
  • Is it time to think big? With this win over Georgia Tech, should the Tigers expectations be to challenge for the ACC title THIS year? Before you get ahead of yourself, this is still a very young team that is still not clicking on all cylinders. But anytime you take a defense that is talented and playing well on the road to Tallahassee, you have a chance. Maybe a more realistic challenge will be to finish 2nd behind the Noles. One step forward on that goal this week with the win over Tech. Road games @Virginia and North Carolina won't be easy. But, the home game against NC State is shaping up to be either a battle for the top of the ACC, or a battle for 2nd…depending on what Clemson can do in Talahassee.

    Scott Rhymer can be reached at weekendpreview@cutigers.com.

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