The Tigers’ first win over the Yellow Jackets since 2006 was shored up by a 15-play, 64-yard drive that milked 7:36 from the clock in the fourth quarter. Chandler Catanzaro capped the drive with a 21-yard field goal for the game’s final score.
“This eases a lot of pan, just knowing that they beat us twice last year,” said Da’Quan Bowers, who picked up his 10th sack of the season. “The ACC Championship was a dagger. We all had a chip on our shoulder since last year. [We’re] just glad to get it off.”
Head coach Dabo Swinney couldn’t help but think back to that December night in Tampa when Georgia Tech marched 86 yards down the field for the game’s winning score.
“I told the team it was good to be able to win the game that way,” he said. “That’s how we got beat. You stand over there and watch them just finish the game, and not be able to stop it.
“To be able to see us get a stop, and then our offense keep the ball away from them—that was a good way to win.”
Andre Ellington, who rushed nine times for 41 yards on Saturday’s drive, finished with 166 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, plus one more score through the air.
“I give my teammates credit. Without those blockers, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I did,” he said. “Today was really special after falling short last year in two games against Georgia Tech. We had good preparation.”
After giving 600 yards rushing in two games last year, Clemson (4-3, 2-2 ACC) held Georgia Tech (5-3, 2-2 ACC) to 242 on Saturday—86 yards below the Yellow Jackets’ average this season.
“We had a few more arrows in quiver,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who was forced to improvise at linebacker. “We could show them some different looks.”
Defensive end Andre Branch made his first-career start at weak-side linebacker in place of the injured Brandon Maye. Safety Carlton Lewis played some on the strong-side because starter Quandon Christian missed one practice during the week.
The Tiger defense limited Yellow Jacket quarterback Joshua Nesbitt¬, the ACC’s leading rusher before Saturday, was held to only 2 yards on 15 carries.
“The players did this,” Steele said. “They executed the scheme. They played hard. I’m very happy for them.”
On three of Georgia Tech’s visits inside the Clemson 20-yardline, Scott Blair kicked a pair of field goals.
The first, a 26-yard hit at the end of the second quarter, cut the first half score to 17-3. The second, also from 26, ended the opening drive of the second half.
“In a game like this, in this business…field goals are not going to win games like this, unless you’re putting them on top of touchdowns,” Steele said.
Georgia Tech’s touchdown was a 9-yard touchdown pass from Nesbitt to Anthony Allen as time expired in the third quarter.
Clemson reached the end zone much quicker. Forced to punt after three downs on the game’s opening possession, a roughing the punter penalty extended the drive one more play, which Ellington took for a 55-yard touchdown run.
The rush put Ellington over the 1,000-yard mark for his career. It took him 151 carries—the second fewest in school history.
After missing a 29-yard field goal from the right hash mark, Catanzaro hit from 38 on Clemson’s third drive to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead with 3:15 left in the first quarter.
Ellington reached pay dirt on a 42-yard run in the second quarter, upping Clemson’s lead to 17-0.
He has four touchdown runs of 42 yards or more this season, equaling the number of 42-yard or more touchdown carries that C.J. Spiller had in 2009.
Kyle Parker, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 167 yards, found Ellington for a 10-yard strike on Clemson’s first drive of the second half to give the Tigers a 24-6 lead. The score—Ellington’s first-career touchdown catch—was also Parker’s 28th career touchdown throw, which tied Mike Eppley for fifth all-time in school history.
Clemson heads to Boston College next weekend in search of the season’s first win away from home.
“Overall, we’re getting better as a team,” Swinney said. “We have great leadership and our team is full of determination. We’re finally getting our swagger back.”