The Georgia Tech defense started off the game with a strong showing in the face of a very loud, boisterous and rowdy Death Valley crowd intent on breaking the current 4 game winning streak held by the Yellow Jackets in this series. But as has been the case, the Yellow Jackets are always a step behind or inches away from success this season. On 3rd down Kyle Parker drops back to pass and is pressured by freshman safety Isiah Johnson coming on a blitz. Isiah gets his hands up and slightly deflects Parker’s pass to the receiver on the left side of the field.
As the path of the football is making its way toward the intended Clemson player wobbling and fluttering from the tip by Mr. Johnson, Jerrard Tarrant is salivating as he breaks on the ball right in front of the intended receiver. Unfortunately, instead of catching the ball in stride for an interception and going 28 yards untouched for a touchdown and an instantaneous 7 to 0 lead silencing the Clemson crowd, the ball does an aerodynamic nose dive about 2 inches in front of the hustling Tarrant who makes a heroic effort to scoop it up before it hits the grass for an incompletion.
He darn near made an incredible interception, but alas, just as everything has been going for the Yellow Jackets this season, it was all for naught. But we held the Clemson offense to a 3 and out and now they had to punt the football and we were going to have pretty decent field position. But in keeping with the foregoing trend, we tried to block the Tiger punt and wound up with a 15 yard roughing the kicker penalty and Death Valley was roaring as they now had a 1st down around their 45 yard line.
While no one will disagree that blocking a punt is the ultimate game changer (NC State), we have one of the best returners in the nation in the foregoing Mr. Tarrant, which is why I question the need to sell out on a punt block when we have a dangerous weapon waiting to catch the football. At any rate, the air went out of the tires and the first play from scrimmage the heir apparent to C. J. Spiller; Mr. Ellington went untouched up the middle for a 55 yard touchdown. I am at a loss to explain why the Yellow Jackets seem to become demoralized after a bad turnover or penalty then instantaneously give up a home run play. I’m certain Paul Johnson and his coaching staff are trying to figure that one out too!
After doing nothing of note on offense, we give the football back to Clemson and freshman Isiah Johnson did a great job hustling down the field from his gunner position and had an opportunity to bring down the punt returner at the Clemson 20 yard line, but he eluded his tackle and ran it out to the 37 yard line for a 17 yard gain and then Anthony Egbuniwe had a late hit after the returner was already out of bounds tacking on another 15 yards and now they have the ball at our 46 yard line to start their next offensive possession.
Our defense stiffened as Brad Jefferson had some nice plays and the Tigers kicker missed about a 29 yard field goal attempt wide to the left. Paul Johnson calls for a reverse with receiver Tyler Melton throwing a pass to Joshua Nesbitt down the left sideline who was mugged by the Clemson defensive back resulting in a 15 yard pass interference penalty. We follow that up with a nice 25 yard option pitch to Orwin Smith around the right side and now we have the football at the Clemson 40 yard line. After a couple of plays that go nowhere, disaster once again hits the Yellow Jackets.
Joshua Nesbitt throws a nice 40 yard strike to Stephen Hill who has to adjust to the ball at the last moment and he lets it hit him in the chest and bounces to the ground. It was another missed catch negating a touchdown for the Yellow Jackets. These opportunities to catch the ball for big yardage or touchdowns have been really hurting this offense all season long. At this point I am imposing a moratorium for the rest of the season on anyone complaining about the passing accuracy or prowess of Joshua Nesbitt, given the incredible number of sheer inexcusable drops by our receivers and running backs all season long and also much of last season.
We punt the ball and Isiah Johnson hustles down to the 3 yard line and just misses catching the football at the 2 yard line as the punt sailed away from him and bounced into the end zone for a touchback. So instead of having the Tigers start a drive inside the 5 yard line, they begin on their 20. Our defense plays stout forcing a 3rd down and 4, and Kyle Parker throws a pass to his receiver on the left sideline and he made an impressive one handed catch with his left hand while tip toeing the chalk that was reminiscent of something the one armed assailant from the Fugitive would have been able to accomplish. That really fired up the crowd and Clemson continued down the field and this time their kicker made a field goal for a 10 to 0 lead.
On the kickoff return we are hit with yet another holding penalty and start at about the 15 yard line. We give the football back to Clemson and Ellington tears off another 40 yard plus touchdown for a 17 to 0 lead in the 2nd quarter. The effort of the Yellow Jackets this game appeared to be very good, but the repetitive penalties are just devastating when playing against a very good football team. Moreover, the inability to catch easy footballs is also taking its toll. When you have a chance to hit a long play against the defense through the air, it really changes the play of the safeties coming up tight for run support on the triple option for the rest of the game. We are getting players open but they are just not finishing plays by catching the football. That has nothing to do with this offense, Paul Johnson, or the offensive system. Dropped passes ruin any offense!
In fact, Joshua Nesbitt appeared to be trying to put the game on his shoulders as he was pressing and missing some reads in the option on the next possession. Give Paul Johnson lots of credit for calling that fake punt at his own 20 yard line to prevent an onslaught of scoring by the Tigers. But even that play turned into a modest gain after Lucas Cox stumbled after finding himself so wide open and once he regained his balance it enabled a couple of Clemson defenders enough time to prevent an even bigger gain on the play and was just another example of a play or catch that we are unable to finish up in the proper manner.
The offense was moving fairly efficiently after the fake punt, but just couldn’t get a critical block when it was needed or an A-Back making the right cut when the block was executed on the edge. The Yellow Jackets wound up settling for a field goal just before halftime to cut the score to 17 to 3. The inability to finish drives and the self inflicted penalties have really hurt the offensive performance this season. That was self evident in the first half at Death Valley.
The 2nd half begins with Georgia Tech settling for another field goal. Then on the kickoff Lucas Cox knocks the ball free and it bounces around with a Georgia Tech player falling on the football, but was unable to secure it and Clemson recovered. Once again, an opportunity to get right back into the contest was thwarted. Then Clemson counters right back moving down the field and scoring yet another touchdown on a wheel route to the running back coming out of the backfield on the left flat. He put a good stiff arm on the cornerback at about the 8 yard line and went in basically untouched to up the score to 24 to 6.
The Yellow Jackets came right back running the football quite well along with Anthony Allen making a very good catch, followed by Orwin Smith doing the same. Joshua then threw a 9 yard scoring toss to Anthony Allen and the lead was cut to 24 to 13 heading into the 4th quarter. After finally making Clemson punt the football again, Georgia Tech moved the ball, but had to settle for a Scott Blair field goal that was wide right. The Tigers went on a long time consuming drive of about 8 minutes and kicked a field goal to make the score 27 to 13 with around 3 minutes left in the game. Joshua threw a pass to Stephen Hill that was intercepted and that ended the afternoon for the Yellow Jackets.
The offense played well in spurts, but just cannot put together a drive without a dropped pass or a critical missed block on the edge. The passing game in the triple option offense is most effective when utilized as a surprise, as opposed to having to throw. The opportunities were there, but the catching portion of the equation is just falling short of the mark. Unless we can start to make these plays consistently, we will continue to sputter on offense. We have a few extra days to prepare for Virginia Tech on the road and they too will be looking for some payback from last season’s loss. It will be interesting to see if we can put drives together against the Hokies because as Paul Johnson likes to say; “good teams don’t lose 2 games in a row.” Go Jackets.