I predicted a 31-17 Clemson win, which obviously was incorrect and drops my season prognostication record to 1-1.
Here is how I graded out my 5 Keys to defeating Georgia Tech:
1. It’s a Ball Game
Reggie Ball was 20-of-36 for 251 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night. Ball never got rattled, a remarkable achievement for such a young player, especially when you consider that he was playing on the road and faced substantial adversity during the fourth quarter. While Ball was not spectacular, he was clutch during the most critical times of the game.
All the focus will be on the great touchdown receptions by his wide receivers, but Ball placed those passes in the perfect locations that allowed Tech to succeed despite excellent coverage. Clemson did get to Ball several times in crucial situations that stalled Tech drives, but Reggie got up each time and came back swinging.
After a lackluster performance against Clemson last year, Ball proved that he has a bright future in Atlanta. There is not much you can do but tip your hat to him…and give Clemson a failing grade in stopping him.
2. Tackle Training
Missed tackles were few and far between Saturday night, so a silver lining can be extracted from the game. P. J. Daniels did rush for 100 yards, but most of that was due to excellent play calling by Tech and some over pursuit on the counter play by Clemson’s defense.
There is some improvement needed, however, in that the Clemson defense has got to be able to stand running backs up and not let them fall forward for extra yards. Nevertheless, if the fundamentals of tackling continue to improve week to week, this will no longer be an area of concern.
3. Spread The Wealth
As I suspected, Tech really keyed on Chansi Stuckey, limiting the spectacular sophomore to just one reception. Stuckey did get the ball two more times on shovel passes, but his three touches for 25 yards were well below his numbers from last week. Airese Currie was also limited, catching 6 balls for 80 yards. Expect to see more of this as the season goes on.
The good news is that the other wide outs did step up and make some plays as the game went on. Curtis Baham, after not catching a ball against Wake, hauled in 3 for 41 yards and a touchdown. Kelvin Grant tied Currie with a team leading 6 catches and 80 yards receiving. Even Ben Hall caught a ball on Saturday night.
This is going to have to be a recurring theme for these “role” players. Their production is going to be desperately needed, especially considering the threats that Stuckey and Currie are to opposing defenses. Teams are going to do everything in their power to stop the big two, which should open plenty of doors for the other guys down the stretch. And so far, so good.
4. Run to Those Holes
For the first time in almost five years, Clemson broke two long runs from the line of scrimmage for touchdowns. Reggie Merriweather barreled 62 yards early in the 4th quarter and Kyle Browning skipped 54 yards for a score late in the game.
Overall, Clemson rushed 30 times for 199 yards on the evening. Of course, if you would have told me that before the game I would have said Clemson would have won the game easily.
Still a bit concerning, however, is when you break the numbers down. The other 28 carries (minus the 2 touchdown runs) garnered only 2.9 yards per rush. That is still too low to maintain clock control, something that certainly hurt Clemson Saturday night. Ironically enough, the fact that Clemson scored on the two long runs actually may have hindered the Tigers chances to win the game since the defense was spending so much time on the field.
That being said, it still has to go down as a positive note that Clemson was able to make create big plays in the running game. Expect to see Merriweather and Browning more and more, at least until Duane Coleman gets back in the lineup full time.
5. Reverse The Turnovers
Once again, Clemson lost the turnover battle 4-2 on Saturday night. And this time it proved to be fatal. In fact, Yusef Kelly fumbled late the game on the 3rd and 1, and that fumble cost the Tigers a critical first down. While Kelly recovered the fumble, it most certainly had a profound impact on the game since Clemson had to punt on the next play.
Clemson simply is not going to beat good teams by getting beat in the turnover department. It kept Wake Forest in the game, and it kept Georgia Tech in the game. It’s so difficult to correct, because you want your players to play aggressive and try to make plays. But it must be corrected. As I said last week, Clemson does not have to necessarily win the turnover battle. But they must at least break even.
Clemson will travel to College Station for a match up with Texas A&M. Stay tuned to CUTigers.com for Clemson coverage as well as information on where we will be broadcasting The Tiger Pre-Game Show.