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Tech-Clemson Has Not Always Followed Script

Oct. 6, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– It says here that enough strange things have happened when Georgia Tech has played Clemson that the notion of the Yellow Jackets winning up there this afternoon is reasonable in spite of uncomfortable context.

Second thing first, or that context: Clemson (4-1) is ranked No. 15, and there is no debating that the Jackets (2-3) traveled Friday with consecutive home losses of wildly disparate natures hanging like millstones around their necks.

Yet how about this: the last seven times these teams have played when Tech was un-ranked and the Tigers were – in 1989, ’92, ’97, 2000, ’04, ’07 and ’11 — the Jackets have won. That’s seven straight times that a script somewhat like today’s has burned. So who’s lugging the heavier rocks, the Jackets or the Tigers?

When un-ranked, Tech is 8-2 all-time against ranked Clemson teams.

Izaan Cross hasn’t been thinking about any of that.

The piggy-backing of Tech’s last two defeats, and especially last week’s 49-28 loss to MTSU, has been brutal enough that the senior defensive end developed a special appreciation for the fact that he does not play for a football “factory.”

He was not savaged by schoolmates this week. No zealots popped out of the bushes to harass him between classes. For some small things, he’s hugely thankful.

“I have a science class where . . . this school is different than many other schools when it comes to people who follow football and the fanatics that they have,” he said before pausing to practically marvel over the story he was telling. “I asked a girl in my class the other day who our starting quarterback was, and she had no idea.

Sometimes, a little anonymity goes a long way. “It could,” Cross said, “because clearly all of us are embarrassed about how we played.”

With humans, there are variables. We saw that last week in Bobby Dodd Stadium, where only one team was engaged and it wasn’t the home squad.

Today might be different.

Tech is 50-25-2 all-time against the Tigers despite losing the first four and tying the fifth. The series got off to a lousy start, in fact, for the Jackets. They lost 23-0 to Clemson in 1898 in Augusta, and 41-5 in 1899 in Greenville, S.C.

Yet un-ranked Tech squads have beaten ranked Clemson teams eight times over the years, including the Jackets’ 31-17 win over the then-No. 6 Tigers last season.

To put a finer, up-to-the-moment point on matters, three of those glorious wins – in ’89, ’00 and ’04 — came up in Death Valley. Each was sublime in its own way.

In ’89, the Jackets thumped the No. 14 Tigers 30-14, a thorough beating that stands as Tech’s most lopsided win over Clemson in the past 40 years, or since a 31-9 win in ’72. In 2000, the Tigers were ranked Nos. 4 & 5 in the polls.

Then, George Godsey passed for a school-record 454 yards, the lead changed three times in the final seven minutes, and Tech won when Kerry Watkins made a one-handed touchdown catch of 16 yards with 11 seconds left for a 31-28 win.

Kelly Campbell caught 14 passes for 209 yards on a day when Tech had one punt blocked and another returned 88 yards for a score only to have Jackets coach George O’Leary say when it was over: “We just happened to have the ball last.”

That almost paled next to ’04.

The Tigers, ranked Nos. 20 & 18, ran as much clock as they could near the end of the game before preparing to punt with less than a minute left.

They led 24-21, and . . . the snap was horrible. Tech took over in the red zone. And, again with 11 seconds left . . . Calvin!

The video quality is poor, but you can watch the botched hike and Calvin Johnson’s touchdown catch on the very next play here.

Tech has won five of the past six games against Clemson, including the ’09 ACC Championship game, seven of the past nine and 11 of the past 16.

Sure, three of those five losses have come in Memorial Stadium, but that place has a knack for drawing something out of the Jackets.

“If you’re competitive, and if there’s one thing I am it is competitive sometimes to a fault, you want to play again no matter who or where,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “We drew a great football team, and a good place to play.

“We’ve had some good games with them the past few years so hopefully if we can hold up our end of it, I’m sure it will be a good game again.”

Cross and his teammates will try to stretch the ranked v. un-ranked streak to eight.

“We’ve got to focus on communication, having fewer mental errors, and hustling to the ball like we have in the past,” he said. “I sense more communication, and we’ve been trying to focus more on wrapping up. The missed tackles we had . . . were embarrassing. We want to make sure nobody takes a play for granted.”

The Clemson series has been good, especially to Tech, since they resumed playing annually in 1983.

But now that the ACC has decided to go back to playing eight conference games per season rather than the previously suggested nine (imagine a season where Tech had nine ACC games, a contest against Notre Dame and the Georgia game) . . . a question:

Is it worth considering the possibility of doing away with the one permanent crossover game on every ACC team’s schedule and instead playing two different ACC teams from the other division every year instead of the crossover plus one?

The way it’s set up now, the Jackets will play Clemson of the Atlantic Division every year, and the rest of the Atlantic — Florida State, Syracuse, Maryland, N.C. State, Boston College and Wake Forest – once every six years.

Only once every 12 years will those teams visit Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Is everybody OK with that?

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