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Defense stands tall late in Clemson win over Georgia Tech

Yes, Georgia Tech is now 2-4 and off to their worst start since 1994. Yes, Georgia Tech has now lost three straight. Yes, Georgia Tech has a home loss to Middle Tennessee State. However, none of this matters to Clemson. The Tigers were able to exercise some demons of past seasons with a 47-31 victory over Georgia Tech in Death Valley on Saturday and now sit at 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the ACC heading into their bye week next weekend.

The truth is, after losing five of the previous six meetings to Georgia Tech, this was a big game in Clemson’s season to prove that the Tigers could overcome the GT hurdle that the program has tripped up on so many times before. On Saturday, with 9:45 remaining in the third quarter, it looked as if that GT hurdle would cause yet another Tiger stumble in 2012.

Clemson had the ball on their first possession of the second half trailing Georgia Tech 28-27 when Tajh Boyd was intercepted by Georgia Tech defensive lineman Shawn Green, who returned the ball to the Clemson 26-yard line. It was the type of play that could change a game, suck the energy out of a stadium and turn the momentum in one teams favor.

However, after Tevin Washington led Georgia Tech down to the Clemson 7-yard line, Paul Johnson decided to attempt to convert a fourth-and-one in an effort to get into the end zone rather than attempt a field goal. In what may have turned out to be the play of the game, a botched center-quarterback exchange resulted in a fumbled snap that kept Georgia Tech off the board and provided a very young and much maligned Clemson defense with a huge boost of confidence.

Before Saturday, Clemson’s defense had been gashed against both Florida State and Boston College, giving up a combined total of 80 points and 1,087 yards in their first two conference games. Against Georgia Tech, the defense still allowed some of the chunk plays that have hurt them all season, while giving up 339 yards rushing but certainly showed significant improvement in the second half. Georgia Tech scored only one touchdown the entire second half and only three points in the fourth quarter. The longer the game went on, the stronger the Tiger defense got, forcing a Georgia Tech safety in the fourth quarter as well as blocking a field goal that essentially iced the game with Clemson leading 40-31. While the stats will suggest that the young Clemson defense, which features six starters who are sophomores or younger, still has a ways to go to compliment Clemson’s high flying offense.

As far as the other side of the ball, it was status quo for offensive coordinator Chad Morris and company as they continued to rewrite the record books. Tajh Boyd set career highs for most passing yards in a single game (397), rushing yards in a single game (63), as well as breaking the school record for most passing touchdowns in a career (50). Nuk Hopkins continued his campaign for ACC Player of the Year by snagging seven passes for 173 yards and two scores.  Hopkins has more receiving yards (777) than anyone in the country while also leading the ACC in catches (49) and touchdown receptions (8).

The bye week comes at the perfect time for the Tigers, as several players are dinged up and will benefit from a week off. Clemson will now prepare for their next game following the bye week on October 20th against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

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