CFN: Not much margin for error in ACC

CFN’s analysis of Georgia Tech’s 30-27 thriller over Clemson on Thursday night:

What’s troubling the Tigers?

Why isn’t Clemson better? The coaching staff seems to have something on the ball, the right adjustments were made at halftime on both sides of the ball as the Tigers made their roaring comeback, and there’s enough speed and athleticism to have handled everything Georgia Tech wanted to do, but for some reason, the team and the program don’t seem to know how to win consistently enough in games like this.

Clemson should’ve been a perfect match for the Tech spread with very good, very athletic, very big defensive tackles to stuff everything inside, fleet linebackers to handle the option when it got spread out, and an offense with playmakers like a healthy C.J. Spiller and lightning-fast WR Jacoby Ford to get creative. The loss can’t be pinned on having a young quarterback, because Kyle Wilson was marvelous at times, even though he completed fewer than half of his passes and threw two picks. He gave Tiger fans plenty to be excited about with a few “Did-you-see-that?” throws, his toughness under fire, and the wisdom to throw away several passes instead of forcing a bad play. But when push came to shove, Georgia Tech made plays and Clemson didn’t.

There isn’t much margin for error in the ACC; games like the thriller in Atlanta are going to be the norm all season long, but it’s time for Clemson to use all its athleticism to be on the right side of the close shaves more often than not.

— Pete Fiutak

Kudos for Coastal

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In the span of about 72 hours, things have taken a much-needed turn for the better for the ACC … Coastal.

Couple Miami’s thrilling 38-34 defeat of Florida State with Georgia Tech’s pulsating 30-27 win over Clemson, and the league’s Coastal Division is staring down the barrel of a riveting three-month race to Tampa. Adding in North Carolina and preseason favorite Virginia Tech makes this bracket of the conference a poor man’s Big 12 South and a four-team scrum that won’t be decided until the final weekend of the regular season.

While Thursday’s win in Atlanta was a gigantic one for the Yellow Jackets, don’t dismiss the weak links that could derail the Ramblin’ Wreck, especially during a wicked five-game stretch that begins Thursday with the ‘Canes and ends with a visit from the Hokies. Save for one big run from Anthony Allen, that triple option was kept under wraps, largely because of the blocking up front and the complete absence of a passing threat from Josh Nesbitt. Oh, and the pass defense had way too many breakdowns against a rookie quarterback, who’d never been on the road. Tech is in this thing after surviving an uneven performance, but it has to get right quickly because an improving Coastal Division is going to afford little margin for error.

— Richard Cirminiello

Why Ga. Tech=Roger Federer

Chris Fowler, who called this game on national television, can easily understand the following comparison, given the fact that he flew from New York to Atlanta to shift gears from tennis to college football: When a tennis player gets hit off the court in the first two sets of a five-set match, the scoreboard deficit is awful, but the utter lack of competitive balance actually gives the losing player a chance to work his way back into the conversation, given that the winner acquired a massive lead with considerable ease. When a big lead is attained without much exertion, the trailing team or player — with just a modest improvement in quality — can temporarily surprise the leading team or player. Once in a while, the trailing team or player sustains and increases this improvement in quality, which causes the leading team or player to tighten up a little bit (at best) or descend into absolute panic (at worst). Chris Fowler would tell you that Wednesday night’s Roger Federer-Robin Soderling men’s quarterfinal and this Clemson-Georgia Tech pulse-pounder were very similar sporting entities.

No, I don’t love Georgia or hate Georgia Tech; let’s just acknowledge what any sensible football fan should: Much as Georgia got shafted last week by a terrible personal foul penalty late in a tight 17-10 slugfest, Georgia Tech was helped by a god-awful holding penalty with just over three minutes to go. The defensive lineman for Tech fell to the ground, while the Clemson offensive lineman executed textbook technique and remained squarely in front of his man for the duration of his sustained block. Somehow, the fall of the Tech lineman was construed as a backside push, but in reality, the white-shirted defender merely slipped in the face of stronger blocking. At any rate, the yellow laundry came out of the pocket, a 38-yard pass from Kyle Parker to Jacoby Ford was wiped out, and instead of seeing Clemson win with a field goal, the Yellow Jackets stole one. Yes, Tech was victimized by a horrible personal foul call late in the first half, but not all calls carry the same amount of weight. Once more with feeling, it’s not whining when a poor piece of officiating just happens to define the ebb and flow of a football fistfight. That holding call WAS the most influential play of the game. It would be hard to claim otherwise.

— Matt Zemek

Tech delivers unconventionally

All we have heard over the past year-plus about Georgia Tech is how its formidable ground attack could well change college football and bring back the days of the option. Well, Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele put the brakes on that talk a little Thursday night by controlling the Yellow Jacket offense, particularly in the second half. And then, when it looked like the Tigers had things under control, Tech QB Josh Nesbitt did something he is not known for at all: he completed a pass. That big third-down conversion allowed the Jackets to kick the game-winning field goal and escape with a conference win that will serve them well later in the season. This was a biggie, because Clemson is going to be good this year, and for GT to beat the Tigers on a night when its rushing game wasn’t exactly crackling shows how much this team has. The Georgia Tech special teams were strong, accounting for two touchdowns, and its defense came alive when it had to. These are two good teams, but on a night when Clemson was able to do a pretty good job against a tough offense, Georgia Tech was able to deliver in an unconventional manner.

— Michael Bradley

Tech DE making his mark

Every now and then, there’s a defensive player capable of imposing his will on an entire offense. Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan is one of those unique guys.

Just a junior, he’s already playing as if he’s outgrown the college game and closing in on early entry to the 2010 NFL Draft. Time will tell what the future holds for No. 91, but it’s blatantly obvious that it’ll include playing on Sundays. Somewhat hidden in the shadows of veterans Michael Johnson, Darryl Richard, and Vance Walker in 2008, he’s playing like a man possessed. That was supposed to be an improved and experienced offensive line that the 6-4, 272-pound predator embarrassed to the tune of three sacks and countless hurries Thursday night.

With Morgan commanding double-teams up front, so much athleticism in the secondary, and the dearth of quality passers in the ACC, it should be tougher to throw on the Yellow Jackets down the road than it was for Clemson and Kyle Parker on Thursday night.

— Richard Cirminiello