Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
October 6, 2012
CLEMSON -- Clemson has learned to treasure wins over Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech - partly because Johnson is so easy to loathe, but mostly because his Yellow Jackets are so darned hard for Clemson to beat.
Georgia Tech gave Dabo Swinney his first loss as a head coach way back in 2008. Georgia Tech denied his team an ACC title a year later. And last year, Georgia Tech rudely derailed Clemson's 8-0 joy ride with a thorough dismantling in Atlanta.
When you consider the Yellow Jackets came in having suffered a three-touchdown pummeling to Middle Tennessee just seven days earlier, the tendency might be to wonder how in the world Top 15 Clemson can find itself down to the same stinking team in the fourth quarter.
The Yellow Jackets don't have some of the horses they used to beat Clemson a few years ago. They are 2-4 and out of the ACC race with a 1-3 conference record.
But everyone at Clemson should've walked away from Death Valley happy after Saturday's 47-31 victory, which improved the Tigers' record to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the ACC. Swinney beat Johnson for the second time in six tries, and Clemson beat Tech for just the third time since 2003.
You could make a strong case that this was Clemson's toughest matchup between now and the regular-season finale against South Carolina. It doesn't sound right when you look at Georgia Tech's record, but it makes perfect sense given the dynamics entering this game.
The Tigers' defense gave up a ton of rushing yards against the Jackets last year, and that was with Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch on the defensive line. So you knew Georgia Tech was going to give Clemson fits, and that's what happened before the Tigers came up with a couple of big stops late - including Spencer Shuey's tackle for a safety that made it a nine-point game with 10:14 on the clock.
The Jackets looked positively awful in the embarrassment against Middle Tennessee, but you figured Johnson's team would give Clemson its best after getting ripped all week in Atlanta.
And Georgia Tech's defense, bad as it is, is funky enough schematically to give Clemson some problems. And it did, even though the Tigers piled up 601 yards of offense, ran 93 plays and converted 13 of 19 third downs. Clemson had some trouble running the ball, and Tajh Boyd was sometimes bothered by the different pressures drawn up by Al Groh.
So with all those dynamics considered, the story of this game has to be the way Clemson responded to a nerve-wracking situation. And this wasn't just any nerve-wracking situation, because the guys on the other side of the ball have owned Clemson to the point that old demons threaten to obliterate execution.
It seems almost criminal to mention anyone before Nuk Hopkins, who is rapidly making a case for the title of The Great Nuk Hopkins. He played a monster role in rescuing his team Saturday, making spectacular plays left and right on the way to hauling in seven catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. One of those was the 35-yard scoring catch that followed Georgia Tech's go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter.
The play was a pump-and-go, and the pump forced cornerback Isaiah Johnson to bite. But Boyd's throw sailed a bit and was short, forcing Hopkins to leap high into the air and make a contested catch. He's known for making the amazing look routine, and this one certainly qualified. He even added a razzle-dazzle toss to Boyd for the two-point conversion, providing a 38-31 lead with 10:29 left.
Boyd wasn't himself at times but finished with 387 yards passing on a 26-of-41 clip while throwing for two touchdowns and claiming the school's career record for touchdown passes.
Hopkins' sustained excellence was vital, but possibly the two biggest plays of the game were provided by defense and special teams.
Georgia Tech return man Chris Milton slipped on the kickoff and fell to the turf at the 2. Momentum was turning in Clemson's favor, but you began to wonder if Milton's miscue might ultimately work against the Tigers by allowing the Jackets to drain more time off the clock by driving 98 yards for a touchdown.
But that's when the defense rose up. Corey Crawford dropped into a passing lane and almost snared an interception on first down. On second down, Shuey dropped Orwin Smith for the safety that unleashed a deafening roar from the crowd.
On numerous occasions previously, Shuey and fellow middle linebacker Stephone Anthony had been late getting to the pitch guy on the corners. Georgia Tech ran for 339 yards, and a bunch of them were on option pitches to the outside.
Not this time. Shuey seemed to guess the exact play that was called, and the head start allowed him to dash into the end zone before anyone could touch him.
Regarding this maligned defense, it's also important to note that they came up with a stop earlier in the fourth quarter. A 38-yard run by Smith gave them a first down at Clemson's 11-yard line, but the Tigers held and forced a field goal.
Another crucial sequence: came in the third quarter after Boyd threw an interception to give Tech the ball at Clemson's 26. The Jackets were up 28-27 at the time, but on fourth-and-1 from the 7 Tevin Washington couldn't get the snap and Grady Jarrett recovered the fumble to eliminate the threat of Clemson falling behind by eight.
Down 40-31 later, the Jackets were still in it after a tipped pass for an interception gave them the ball at midfield. Jabari Hunt-Days made contact with Sam Cooper to force the ball into the air, and replays made a strong case that a flag should've been thrown.
Tech reached the Tigers' 20 but the defense held, stuffing an option run on third-and-6. Johnson had no choice but to try a field goal to make it a one-score game, but Josh Watson ruined that plan by bull rushing in and getting a hand on the kick.
The stadium finally exhaled with a mix of jubilation and relief.
"It was unbelievable," Watson said. "I don't even remember what I did. I just remember all my teammates on the field jumping around. It was probably one of the best feelings I've had here."
And that's the feeling that should define this day. When the alternative is the nausea and numbness of yet another loss to Johnson and the Jackets, any win against this crew is a fulfilling one.
*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.