ATLANTA -- As soon as last downtrodden player had filed into Clemson's locker room, defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson gathered teammates for a pep talk.
There is no reason to hang one's head, Jackson exclaimed. The No. 13 Tigers merely lost one game.
Which explains precisely why Clemson may have more anxiety about how it handles Saturday's 13-3 defeat at Georgia Tech than the manner in which it was soundly trounced.
After cruising to a 7-1 start last year, a single lopsided defeat to Virginia Tech knocked the Tigers (4-1, 2-1 ACC) off their high horse for good, initiating a streak of four losses in the final games. And with the No. 17 Hokies coming to Death Valley next weekend, the prospect of being left in the dust in the conference race now looms again.
"The season is not over," sophomore tailback C.J. Spiller said. "We knew when we faced adversity, it was going to test us. Are we going to let what happened last year happen, or are we going to move forward?"
Moving forward, Clemson can only hope opposing defenses are unable to duplicate the blitz-heavy approach that is Georgia Tech's defensive calling card.
After averaging 38.3 points through four games, the Tigers registered their lowest scoring output since a 31-3 loss to North Carolina in 2001, a span of 66 games.
A 48-yard field goal by kicker Mark Buchholz a minute into the first quarter -- following a Georgia Tech fumble on the opening play from scrimmage -- was all that kept Clemson from its first shutout since 1998.
Buchholz proceeded to miss four field goals, and the Tigers' inability to protect quarterback Cullen Harper or establish a consistent push up front pinned the offense into a one-dimensional corner that made for a long, frustrating afternoon.
A week after pounding North Carolina State with 608 yards of total offense, they scrounged together just 228 -- their lowest total since last year's Virginia Tech debacle. Spiller and fellow tailback James Davis finished with a combined 62 yards on 21 carries.
"There was no continuity the whole game," coach Tommy Bowden said. "That's the poorest we've played offensively in some time."
It was a striking contrast to the precursor to that Virginia Tech game, Clemson's 31-7 home rout of the Yellow Jackets, in which the Tigers were able to take advantage of the defense's aggression by isolating tailbacks James Davis and Spiller for one-on-one matchups.
Coming off consecutive ACC losses to Boston College and Virginia, Georgia Tech (3-2, 1-2) continued its perceived tradition of excelling in the underdog role and forced the Tigers into a carbon copy of a sloppy 10-9 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2005.
Quarterback Cullen Harper was sacked six times -- tying a high in Bowden's nine seasons -- and pressured into his most erratic showing in five starts, completing just 43.6 percent of his passes.
Seemingly armed with a rejuvenated passing game that would ease the burden on its vaunted running game, Clemson tried to make Georgia Tech pay for its aggression in the first half but was unable to give Harper enough time to make downfield throws.