Last Saturday turned out as badly as the ACC could have imagined. Since then, they have captured the country on two different nights.
Georgia Tech escaped a furious rally from the Tigers to move to 2-0, winning 30-27.
This one looked early on as if it was over before it could even get started. The Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 24-0 lead, including three long touchdowns in the first quarter. Clemson was shell-shocked, and head coach Dabo Swinney was being severely out-dueled by his counterpart Paul Johnson.
The Tigers were able to regroup, and went into halftime trailing 24-7.
When the second half began, it was as if Georgia Tech completely forgot what its offense was built to do. Several times quarterback Josh Nesbitt dropped back to pass, and had absolutely no success. Nesbitt finished the game completing three of 14 passes for 83 yards. The Yellow Jackets were abandoning the triple option, which had dominated the Tigers early on.
Clemson took full advantage of their opponent’s blunders. Led by a suddenly poised Kyle Parker at quarterback and Spiller, the Tigers battled back to take a 27-24 lead with 11 minutes to go.
All the momentum in the world was on Clemson’s side, but it was not meant to be. Georgia Tech righted the ship just in time to kick two field goals in the final minutes to evade the upset on Thursday night.
Now, grading my keys to the game:
CJ Spiller (and his health) – A-
Spiller’s leg looked fine, and he made several great runs to lead Clemson’s comeback attempt. Spiller finished the game with 87 yards rushing on 20 carries, including a 63-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to start the rally. With James Davis departed from last season, Spiller looks ready for a strong season as the Tigers’ feature back. They will lean heavily on him all season.
Defense- stay at home! – B-
This grade might be on a slight curve; it is very generous considering it was looking like an epic fail after 15 minutes of action. Georgia Tech ran around, over, and right through the Tigers defense in the early stages of the game. After that point, Clemson was able to slow down Tech’s rushing attack to a certain degree, but when Nesbitt began dropping back to throw the ball so much in the second half, the Yellow Jackets were beating themselves. Overall, Clemson’s defense played decently, but much of that was attributed to a lack of execution by Georgia Tech.
Parker’s promise- B
After an early interception, Parker played well, all things considered. He settled down late in the second quarter and had a great second half. He finished with 261 yards and three touchdowns. In the final minutes of the game, Parker began to show his inexperience, bailing out of the pocket very prematurely on nearly every play and trying to make too much happen at once. The poise and late-game management skills will come, but Parker showed he has all the tools to be an elite quarterback for the Tigers.
Pound ‘em - C
This was an A++ for the first quarter. It was not even Dwyer that was taking care of the Tigers. Anthony Allen was crushing Clemson, starting with his early 82-yard touchdown run. When coach Johnson committed to running the ball, Clemson had a hard time stopping them. Had the Jackets kept the ball on the ground most of the game, this one would not have had such a compelling finish, as the comeback probably never would have happened.
Blitz-krieg…Bop! – C
The Jackets’ defense never really put the kind of pressure they needed to on Parker. Derrick Morgan looked like a first-round NFL draft pick, but outside a strong first half from Morgan, the rest of the line failed to knock Parker out of his comfort zone. Judging by the way Jacory Harris picked apart Florida State’s defense on Monday, Tech’s line better bring a better effort to the table next Thursday against the ‘Canes, or it might not be pretty.
Nesbitt taking control – F
Let’s face it: you can not complete three passes to your team and two to the other and call it a good day. Nesbitt looked inaccurate and unintelligent when he threw the ball, and it showed in the stat sheet. If Tech is going to make a run at the ACC title, Nesbitt will have to make better throws when called upon, or opposing defenses will stack the box against them and just stuff the run.
As you can see, Georgia Tech did not play up to its capabilities for the entirety of the game, and is lucky to have won. They were the more talented team, and a lack of execution and focus for four quarters showed just how dangerous it is to take anything for granted in the ACC.