CLEMSON — Since Dabo Swinney took over as Clemsons interim head coach in October 2008, he has had no more consistent nemesis save South Carolina than Georgia Tech and Paul Johnsons triple-option offense.
Swinney entered Thursday night 2-4 against Johnson, with each of the four defeats characterized by an inability to stop the flexbone option.
Before an ESPN national Thursday night audience, that changed in a big way, and No.8 Clemson took another step towards a Bowl Championship Series bid as a result.
The Tigers held the option in check, ran all over Techs stout defense and took a 55-31 win before an announced crowd of 75,000 at Memorial Stadium. Clemson improved to 9-1, 7-1 in ACC play with games against in-state foes The Citadel and South Carolina remaining. Georgia Tech fell to 6-4, 5-3.
With a win against The Citadel next week, Clemson can clinch its third consecutive 10-win season. If Florida State qualifies for the BCS national title game, the Tigers are likely to be named as the ACCs representative in the BCS bowl structure.
It didnt come without a scare: star senior quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 20 of 26 passes for 340 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, but left the game after injuring his left collarbone on a draw attempt.
Boyd went to the locker room to have the injury (to his non-throwing shoulder) examined, but jogged back out in full pads and warmed up with a football on the sidelines, attempting to talk his way back into the game. Boyd had a bruised sternum and bruised left collarbone, but no broken bones. He said he initially feared his college career was over.
It sounded a lot worse than what it really was, he said. It was this nasty crunching, cracking sound. It was just a stinger, a bruised collarbone. Throw some ice on it, Ill be just fine.
With Clemson up 48-24, backup Cole Stoudt finished the game. Boyd did become the ACCs all-time touchdown pass leader, passing N.C. States Phillip Rivers.
Tech entered the game averaging 311.8 yards rushing per game, fourth-best nationally. However, Clemsons defense consistently took proper angles and bottled up the Yellow Jackets, save two Robert Godhigh runs for 97 yards. Tech finished with 248 rushing yards, well below its average and many of those came against Clemsons defensive reserves with the game well in hand.
Clemson outgained Tech 545-440. Junior wideout Martavis Bryant had a career-best game, catching five pases for 176 yards and a touchdown. Star junior wideout Sammy Watkins had five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns, marking his third consecutive 100-yard receiving game.
Clemson headed to the locker room with a 27-10 lead following a thoroughly dominant first half.
The Tigers outgained Tech 280-135, controlling the Yellow Jackets flexbone option and having their way with Techs secondary.
Techs first three possessions managed a grand total of three yards.
While Clemson managed only two field goals on its first three trips inside Tech territory, once Boyd got rolling, matters got out of hand quickly.
Early in the second quarter, Clemson took over at its own 48. Boyd converted a fourth-and-1 at the Tech 43 with a two-yard run, and then connected down the right sideline with Watkins for a 41-yard touchdown and 13-0 lead.
Cornerback D.J. White wanted an offensive pass interference call on Watkins, but to no avail.
Following another Tech three-and-out, Boyd went deep again, connecting on third and 18 for a 47-yard gain to Bryant that set up a four-yard touchdown toss to Mike Williams and a 20-0 lead.
A 38-yard Vad Lee screen to Robert Godhigh followed by Godhighs 32-yard run allowed Tech to score quickly. David Sims one-yard plunge cut the lead to 20-7 with 6:33 left in the half.
But Clemson struck right back. This time, Boyd found Bryant streaking down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown, pushing the lead back to 27-7 with 5:44 left in the half.
Down 17 points, Tech finally found a crease in Clemsons option Godhigh sprinted 65 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 27-17.
Clemsons response was, again, immediate: Boyd found a covered Bryant for a 33-yard gain to the Tech 1, and finished the drive with a one-yard scoring run for a 34-17 advantage.
On the next drive, Watkins got in on the fun, turning a short screen into a 44-yard touchdown sprint and 41-17 lead with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
Six different Clemson players scored touchdowns, with Boyd, Stoudt and Rod McDowell scoring rushing touchdowns.