No. 6 Clemson surges past reeling Georgia Tech to go 5-0
No. 6 Clemson is out to show its old reputation is a thing of the past. The Tigers hope a win over Georgia Tech on Saturday helped them build their case.
Deshaun Watson threw his most yards this season and two touchdowns to tight end Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman had his third-straight 100-yard game and two rushing touchdowns and the Tigers’ defense held the Yellow Jackets to their fewest rushing yards in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure for a 43-24 win.
On the same soggy field where they beat Notre Dame last week, Clemson (2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) improved to 5-0 for the third time in five seasons. Those other two teams — 8-0 in 2011 and 6-0 in 2013 — could not keep their edge after their hot starts.
Maybe this group has more staying power.
Left guard Eric Mac Lain said the Tigers came out eager to keep the momentum from last week’s 24-22 win against the No. 15 Irish — and finally sink the bitter sound of "Clemsoning," a term detractors created to explain why bad things happen to good Tiger teams.
"Our past has nothing to do with us, but we get all the credit for it," Mac Lain said. "So I hope this game is a little bit of statement that we won’t overlook anybody this season."
The Yellow Jackets (2-4, 0-3) lost four straight games for the first time since 1996 and managed just 71 yards rushing, their fewest since gaining 79 yards against Gardner-Webb in Johnson’s debut season of 2008.
Gallman ran for 115 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play and Clemson’s rout was on. Still, Swinney faced questions about if his team had put aside "Clemsoning" for good. He bristled.
"This football team has shown up. What else do we have to do?" Swinney said. "I can’t believe I have to come here with a 5-0 football team and talk about `Clemsoning.’ It shouldn’t be in the conversation."
Watson passed for 265 yards, his highest total this season, and had touchdown throws of 29 and 8 yards to Leggett.
The Georgia Tech victory was Clemson’s 33rd straight over an unranked opponent and proved perhaps these Tigers have more staying power than in the past. It was also Clemson’s 13th straight victory at home, tying the school record set from 2011-13.
This time, though, many wondered if the Tigers would get caught in a Georgia Tech trap.
"The rhetoric was, `How can you possibly be ready to play the game?’" Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I don’t understand that and I’m proud our guys didn’t buy into that."
The proof began three plays in when Gallman swept around the left end and went 66 yards for the Tigers longest play of the year and a 7-0 lead on the game’s third play.
Thomas was intercepted moments later and the Tigers tacked on a field goal to take an early double-digit lead for the second straight contest. While Clemson struggled to build on its 14-0 lead on Notre Dame last week, it little problem piercing the Yellow Jackets defense. Watson went 5-of-5 passing for 68 yards on a second-quarter drive Gallman finished from a yard out for his second TD and a 17-3 lead.
Watson went to the air in the second quarter, finding Leggett on scoring passes of 29 and 8 yards to take a 33-10 lead at half.
The Tigers also got a safety off a blocked punt that looked like something from a Three Stooges short. The ball was snapped over the head of punter Ryan Rodwell, who picked up the ball and booted a low liner that hit off Clemson defender Jadar Johnson before bouncing through several hands and out of the end zone.
Clemson outgained Georgia Tech 318 to 109 in the opening half.
The Yellow Jackets, who came in leading the ACC with 311 yards a game on the ground, were held to 56 in the first half by Clemson’s defense. They did not do much better after halftime, gaining just 15 on the ground the final 30 minutes.
"I’ve never experienced a year like this in my coaching career, being as inept as we are," Johnson said. "It’s one thing to be physically dominated. It’s another thing to not even give yourselves a chance."