Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tech / Clemson: The Game

In beating Clemson 31-17 last Saturday, Tech mostly did everything right, and Clemson did several things wrong. For a Tech fan, it was a great game.

After being unable to get the running game going the past two weeks, Paul Johnson called passes on two of the first three plays of the game. Both fell incomplete. Quarterback Tevin Washington threw eight passes in the first half, completing half one them. He hit Stephen Hill right in the hands on a deep route, but Hill dropped it, as he often does.

Both teams were able to move the ball. Tech’s option ran smoothly, with Washington finally able to make the outside pitch. This enabled him to sometimes fake the pitch and turn it up the field, or to make the pitch quicker or later than usual. The outside option and the quick pitch sweeps opened up the fullback dive. After taking and building the first half lead, Johnson quit passing and ran the clock with the running game. For the evening Tech won the time of possession battle: 39 minutes to Clemson’s 21 minutes. Clemson’s athletic defense was continually fooled.

The key play in the first half was Clemson’s fumble, deep in their own territory. A Tech player scooped it up and dashed to the end zone. The referees said the ball was dead, but were soon overturned by the replay. A nearby fan correctly remarked that had the original ruling been touchdown by Tech, it would not have been overruled. Tech scored, increasing their early lead.

At halftime the Tech players danced off the field like they had won the game. I knew Johnson wouldn’t rest on his laurels. In the past two games Clemson’s offense really didn’t get in gear until the second half. And sure enough, the Tigers opened the second half with a lightning-quick scoring drive, capped by a 48 yard touchdown pass to their freshman receiver Sammy Watkins. The game was far from over.

But Tech answered right back with a long touchdown drive of their own. Instead of passing, Washington fooled Clemson’s defense by starting back as if to pass, then charging through the line on a quarterback draw. Last year Josh Nesbitt ran the same play, but with brute force. Washington employed an evasive, jitterbug style, with great success.

By early in the fourth quarter Tech still has the momentum. After a Clemson punt Washington seemingly surprised Clemson, throwing his first pass since the first quarter. A receiver was open deep down the middle, but Tevin floated his pass too high and too short, allowing a Clemson defender just enough time to swoop in and intercept the pass. The orange-clad Clemson fans, filling a quarter of the seats in Bobby Dodd Stadium, went crazy.

Just that quick, the momentum swung Clemson’s way. There was plenty of time for them to make up the two-touchdown lead. But after the inevitable TV timeout, Watkins couldn’t find Boyd’s high floating pass. Instead of a Tiger touchdown, a Tech turnover. Clemson uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times (thrice in the second half). This, along with their defense’s inability to stop the option, sealed Clemson’s fate.

Season after season, Clemson gets off to a strong start. Most years they eventually get upset by an undermanned opponent, a case of young players thinking too highly of themselves. Not this year. Dabo had his Tigers ready, but they couldn’t execute. Clemson played without the services of their top running back, who had scorched the Jackets in last season’s game. Against Tech, the Tiger offense was out of synch most of the night. Boyd’s passes were often low, or otherwise off the mark.

Tech’s beleaguered defense rose up and played their best game of the season. Their job was made much easier by (a) Clemson’s aforementioned turnovers, (b) their offense’s massive time of possession advantage, and (c) improved special teams play. Despite one flubbed field goal, all-around special teams play was greatly improved. Punts averaged 44 yards (one went for over 50), and coverage of Clemson’s dangerous returners was decent.

As player-of-the-game Washington downed the ball to run out the clock, Yellow Jacket students swarmed out onto the field. Stadium workers surrounded, guarded, and slowly lowered the goalposts. By now most of the Clemson fans were long gone. Appeasing Will, we slipped out while those around us celebrated.

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