Sept. 25, 2016
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –
There was no joy to be found Thursday night in Bobby Dodd Stadium, yet much as Georgia Tech re-trenched in the second half, the Yellow Jackets will work to re-track themselves as the meat of their ACC schedule will soon begin.
Sure, the first half was especially ugly, but even after a 26-7 loss to No. 3/5 Clemson, there are prizes to be had for Tech. The Jackets (3-1, 1-1 ACC) have finished playing Atlantic division teams and the Coastal division – all of it – awaits.
Miami will be here in a week.
“We’ve got to get better from this; we can’t let this happen again,” quarterback Justin Thomas said after Tech mustered 22 yards of total offense on 21 plays on the way to a 23-0 halftime deficit. “We’ve got our whole division to play . . .
“Basically, a new season starts in our conference on our side so we’ve just got to come out and get ready. We can’t harp on it.”
The Tigers (4-0, 1-0) clicked early as if they knew both teams’ plays. In churning out 347 first-half yards on a staggering 56 plays, it was clear that their talented group was resolved to keep Clemson from losing a sixth-straight game in Bobby Dodd.
Tech drew an angry, committed opponent.
“[Sports information director] Tim Bourret told me before we came in here that Clemson has come in here undefeated many times since 1903, but it’s the first time they’ve left undefeated,” said Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney. “Hats off to Georgia Tech, but our guys were locked in.”
They were large, too, and quite swift.
Clemson’s starting defensive linemen go 310, 305, 340 and 265 pounds, and they’re not drop-anchor-and-eat-space guys. They haul. Two of them – freshman Dexter Lawrence (6-feet-5, 340 pounds) and sophomore Christian Wilkins (6-4, 310) – work on the punt coverage team. Rare are such large-bodied sorts skilled so as to serve on such a special team.
Head coach Paul Johnson said the Tigers’ gifted front seven, “come in waves.”
That doesn’t mean he was content with Tech’s effort in the first two quarters.
“Offensively the first half was embarrassing, that’s ridiculous. They’ve got a good defensive football team . . . but it didn’t seem like we could get in their way,” he said. “The speed, size, quickness . . . I mean those big guys inside can really move.”
The Jackets were far more dialed in after halftime, limiting the Tigers to 95 total yards and a field goal. Offensively, Tech went for 102 yards and a touchdown.
So, if you want to say that the home team won after halftime, add that senior center Freddie Burden is hopeful that that example of re-focusing will play forward as the Jackets get ready for the Hurricanes.
It was no masterpiece, but Tech put up a fight when it might have not.
“We just kind of challenged the halftime, not to quit, not to give up, something you never want to do,” Burden said. “We kind of took it personal, played a little bit better but not as good as we should have. You’ve got to give [Clemson] all the credit.
“Their defense is ranked pretty high for a reason . . . but a lot of it was us not executing.”
Fate also worked against the Jackets.
Soon after Lance Austin’s interception late in the second quarter, teammate Corey Griffin accidentally knocked the ball loose as he left the end zone. The ball went back in the end zone. Tech recovered for a safety, giving the Tigers the ball right back. They scored with four seconds left in the half for a 23-0 lead.
When A-back Qua Searcy got open down the right side, Mills underthrew a B-back pass. A Clemson interception set up the Tigers’ field goal.
So, Thursday was not a good day.
It was not the last day, however, and that’s good news.
“Like I told our team, it’s not a division game, which is a good thing,” Johnson said. “We’re going to see the same kind of athletes next week when Miami comes in here. We’ve got to have a little pride and throw our bodies around, get in front of some people and play better.”