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November 14, 2013

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CLEMSON -- Paul Johnson spent much of Monday's press conference in Atlanta cleaning food from his teeth.

Clemson will spend the weekend cleaning Georgia Tech from its teeth.

The Tigers chewed up the Yellow Jackets and spit them out in a thoroughly satisfying 55-31 trouncing on a cold Thursday night at Death Valley.

After the fits Johnson has given the Tigers since taking over at Georgia Tech in 2008, there are few better sensations for Clemson fans than watching Johnson stand helplessly on the sidelines as his team gets pounded into the turf.

"We've had some battles with these cats," Dabo Swinney said afterward. "This has been a tough team."

Not this time. It was the Tigers' highest point total against Georgia Tech since 1903. Some guy named Heisman was the coach at Clemson that year.

The story of this season will not be told until Nov. 30 when the Tigers go to Columbia to try to knock off rival South Carolina. But ripping the Yellow Jackets to shreds is something that should and will be savored.

Swinney and Clemson have spent the past few years loading up on talent. Johnson and the Yellow Jackets, not so much. The gap was on full display as the Tigers earned their first back-to-back wins over Georgia Tech in a decade. More important: Swinney has won three of his last four over Johnson, who took three straight from Clemson in 2008 and 2009 and dealt the Tigers a world of heartache in the process.

Both of these teams are known for their offenses, but the story of their seasons has been dramatic defensive improvement. Clemson's defense held up its end for most of the time, overwhelming the Jackets early and limiting them to 10 first-half points.

One might say Georgia Tech's impressive defensive numbers this season were fraudulent after watching the Tigers do pretty much whatever they wanted. When Cole Stoudt is engineering back-to-back touchdown drives with ease as Clemson puts up more than half-a-hundred, it's probably time to say the Jackets' defense wasn't worthy of its billing. Or maybe the Tigers' offense is just becoming that good as some skill players develop.

The Tigers' offense has done some growing and mending since falling apart against Florida State. They showed it after promising field position on their first three possessions resulted in two field goals and a punt.

Tajh Boyd threw a 41-yard touchdown strike early in the second quarter, and a third-and-18 heave to Martavis Bryant set up a fade touchdown toss to Mike Williams to make it 20-0.

Georgia Tech, completely throttled by Clemson's defense to that point, suddenly snapped to life and whipped down the field on a seven-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to make it 20-7.

Quickly and easily, Boyd found Bryant on a perfect deep ball for a 76-yard touchdown.

After recovering a fumble inside Georgia Tech's 40-yard line, Clemson was about to put the thing away as it drove inside the Jackets' 10. But Boyd was pressured from the left side and flung a pass to the right, right into the hands of nose tackle Adam Gotsis.

The defense returned to the field and produced a three-and-out. But then they were right back on the field after Daniel Rodriguez crossed the line while trying to time the snap on a rush of the punter.

Georgia Tech went down the field and got a field goal before halftime to make it 27-10, and it was still a game at the half.

The defense forced a three-and-out on Georgia Tech's first possession of the second half. But then Clemson went three-and-out too. And then Robert Godhigh took a toss and raced 65 yards for a touchdown after shaking Travis Blanks.

Clemson was still up 10 points, but there were some seriously anxious vibes in the stadium. Because when you've been through the ringer like Clemson has been through the ringer against this team the last five years, you become anxious very quickly.

But there was no apparent anxiousness in Boyd and his offensive mates. They promptly put together their most impressive drive of the night, motoring right down the field on a six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that made it 34-17. Rod McDowell bolted up the middle for 6 and 15. Then Boyd went off left guard for 4. Then Boyd hit Bryant over the middle for 12. Then he hit Bryant down the right sideline for 33. Then Boyd took it in from the 1 with 10:13 left in the third quarter.

"The biggest thing is we responded - all night long," Swinney said. "They'd get a little momentum, and our guys would respond and never let them fully get back in the game."

Clemson finished with 551 yards on 67 plays, and Boyd was sensational in throwing for 340 yards and four touchdowns on a 20-of-26 clip before going down with a collarbone injury with 10 seconds left in the third quarter. Swinney said the injury was not serious.

Georgia Tech's final numbers - 440 total yards, 248 rushing - looked pretty good, but there was no doubting that Clemson's defense dominated them when it mattered.

The Yellow Jackets didn't pick up a first down until 13:52 remained in the second quarter. Their first three possessions produced 3 yards of offense.

And quarterback Vad Lee looked lost and slow and scared early before recovering somewhat to throw for 165 yards on a 13-of-23 clip with his team in comeback mode.

Clemson racked up 10 tackles for loss, the product of a defensive line that came in knowing it could own the night.

"It all started up front," Swinney said. "We stayed in the backfield all night. That's hard to do against this bunch, because they know what they're doing."

With three or four minutes left in the third quarter, ESPN's announcers started digging into their filler material and began talking about the importance of Clemson's game at South Carolina. Not long thereafter, a large group of fans in the lower south stands turned toward the press box and began ridiculing Jesse Palmer.

And with 10 minutes left in the game, after a McDowell run pushed the Tigers past 50, the fans started to head home.

It was cold. It was late. It was a weeknight. But on this night there was no better feeling in the world than walking away with a complete annihilation of Johnson's team already guaranteed.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.

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