However, now there are extra obstacles to hurdle to get there and they all start with fixing the offensive line.
If there were any questions heading into Saturday’s game about the capabilities of Clemson’s offensive line, there are none now as the Yellow Jackets had practically embarrassed the guys up front for the Tigers.
Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper was sacked six times and the team rushed for a measly 34 yards on 32 attempts in Georgia Tech’s 13-3 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
One week after rolling up more than 600 yards of total offense, the Tigers (4-1, 2-1 ACC) managed to get into the red zone just once. And even then, they couldn’t score. It was a complete and total breakdown offensively and it all started with the offensive line.
“That’s the poorest we’ve played offensively in some time,” Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. “There was no continuity the whole game. I don’t remember gaining any momentum, first quarter, second quarter, third or fourth. I don’t remember us consistently driving the ball.
“Our statistics aren’t very impressive running or throwing. Nothing was very productive from what I saw.”
Harper said while he knew he was going to be pressured and take some hard shots, he didn’t think he’d get as much pressure and get hit as he did.
The six sacks were the most given up by Clemson since 2003.
Things were so bad that once again the offensive line has gone into lockdown. Requests were made to speak to several offensive linemen after the game, but nary a one showed.
Tigers placekicker Mark Buchholz, who missed four field goals, even showed for the post-game interviews to answer questions. And in all fairness to Buchholz, three of his four misses were from 48 yards and beyond.
The offense also had problems with penalties as they committed four of them, including one that was very costly and could have been the difference in the game.
Trailing 7-3 with 25.3 seconds left in the first half, Harper hit tailback C.J. Spiller for what appeared to be a 6-yard touchdown reception. However, it was nullified when left guard Chris McDuffie was flagged for a personal foul for hands to the face.
It was a legitimate call as he nearly ripped off the helmet of the defensive player with his blow.
“Every time we caught the ball or scored a touchdown, we had a flag thrown or a personal foul,” tailback James Davis said. “Every time we get down to the red zone, something goes wrong. … We just could not execute our plays for some reason.”
Had it not been for a Georgia Tech fumble on the very first play of the game that ultimately led to a 48-yard field goal by Buchholz with 13:52 left in the first quarter, the Tigers might have been shutout.
But it wasn’t all the offensive line’s fault. There were several critical drops by the wide receivers, one of which came in the end zone by Tyler Grisham, and another by Spiller that might have gone for a score.
Harper also missed a couple of throws that could have been big plays.
“Games are going to be weighed heavily on how well you can protect, throw and catch,” Tigers offensive coordinator Rob Spence said. “I wouldn’t look at it as a failure of the offensive line. I would look at it as a failure to execute in a lot of different phases.”
While the Yellow Jackets (3-2, 1-2 ACC) gave Clemson a gift field goal, the Tigers basically handed Georgia Tech its only touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets blocked a punt and recovered it at the Clemson 8. Following a pass interference in the end zone on third down, Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice ran in from two yards out for the score with 5:05 left in the first quarter.
“We’ve got some guys on there that are hungry and fighters and hustlers,” Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey said. “I thought the special teams gave us a big, winning edge today.”
However, as earlier stated, all is not lost for Clemson. If the Tigers take care of business the rest of the way, they will play for the ACC Championship. One loss doesn’t ruin a season.
That’s a fact that hasn’t been lost on the players. Immediately following the game, defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson gathered the team in the locker room and made sure his teammates understood that the division title was still there for the taking.
That’s also a fact not lost on Bowden.
“Florida won the national championship and they had a conference loss,” he said. “Every year (the ACC) has had a championship game, the divisional champions have had at least one loss. So, I’ve just got to make sure I do a good job with the team in making them bounce back.”
But unless the problems with the offensive line are fixed, it may not matter much.