Swinney: No. 8 Tigers back on track after big win
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)
Perhaps the biggest thing Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was happy about Thursday night was his team's positive showing at home in the national spotlight.
Clemson dominated Georgia Tech 55-31 in the first Thursday night game at Death Valley since 2002.
A month ago, Clemson was poised for a nationally televised Atlantic Coast Conference showdown that turned into a 51-14 drubbing against Florida State, raising questions whether the Tigers were a team to take seriously in college football.
In that Thursday night game in 2002 against North Carolina State, a quarterback named Philip Rivers led the Wolfpack to a 38-6 victory against Clemson.
The Tigers rebounded against the Yellow Jackets behind QB Tajh Boyd, who passed for four touchdowns to overtake Rivers as the ACC's career leader.
Even more important for Swinney was how Clemson quickly and confidently took control of the game against Georgia Tech.
''It was good to get back on national TV in Death Valley since we played like dogs the last time'' against Florida State, he said. ''We did a great job of creating momentum at the beginning of the game.''
Clemson's defense held Georgia Tech's league-leading rushing offense to three straight three-and-outs and without a first down until the second quarter. By the time, the Yellow Jackets got going, the Tigers were up 20-0 on Boyd's accurate arm and his speedy wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
Watkins had TD catches of 41 and 44 yards while Bryant his a career-high 176 yards on five receptions, including a 76-yard scoring catch that moved Boyd past Rivers' 95 career touchdowns.
Georgia Tech cut the lead to 27-17 on Robert Godhigh's 65-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. But Clemson answered with touchdowns on its next two possessions to take control for good.
''We came out and made a statement in the second half,'' Watkins said.
The Tigers hope to make even a few more statements this season.
They close their home season next week against FCS opponent Citadel before facing state rival South Carolina, which has won the past four games in the series - something that does not sit well with Clemson fans no matter how many double-digit wins the Tigers get each season.
Clemson seemed poised to end the streak last season as Boyd carried the record-setting offense into Death Valley and the Gamecocks went with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson for an injured Connor Shaw.
But led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina dominated much of the way in the 27-17 victory that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. Clowney finished with 4 1-2 sacks, all against Boyd.
Boyd put a scare into the 75,324 at Death Valley when he went down at the end of the third quarter with shoulder injury. He had X-rays in the locker room - no breaks were uncovered - before bounding out to the sidelines to the relief of teammates, coaches and fans.
Boyd finished 20 of 26 for 340 yards, his 17th career game with at least 300 yards passing. That's one shy of Rivers' ACC mark in that category.
''The offense was in synch and every time they needed to respond and make a play, guys like Tajh, Martavis, Sammy and Mike (Williams) stepped up and made the plays,'' Swinney said.
Clemson's defense also responded to the challenge of playing Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets came into the game leading the ACC with 311 yards a game on the ground, but managed only 248 against the Tigers. Clemson has struggled keeping its poise against the Yellow Jackets' tricky, triple-option. But defensive ends Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford controlled the line of scrimmage and linebacker Quandon Christian cleaned up the mess with three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
''They have got a good football team and we would have had to play much better than we did tonight to win the ball game,'' Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. ''But we didn't do it.''
Swinney had a difficult task picking up the embarrassed Tigers after the Florida State debacle last month. Now, he's got Clemson thinking about more positive possibilities.
A win next week is Clemson's third straight season with 10 or more wins. Defeating South Carolina would mean consecutive 11-win seasons, a first in program history. And then there's the likelihood of a BCS berth, perhaps against Oregon in the Orange Bowl, that would be the second time in three years Clemson's advanced to the game's biggest stage.
Swinney said, ''We're playing our best football of the year right now.''