CLEMSON, S.C. — Andre Ellington had a career-high in rushing, two long touchdown runs and his first-ever scoring catch as Clemson defeated Georgia Tech for the first time in four years.
And the sophomore tailback says he’s only just beginning to feel good about what he can do.
“I’m starting to get more confident as each game goes on,” Ellington said Saturday after the Tigers 27-13 victory. “The chemistry is coming.”
When it gets here, watch out ACC.
“I think he’s got it,” Tigers offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. “He’s got a unique ability.”
That’s from a coach who watched last year’s ACC player of the year, C.J. Spiller, pull off amazing plays game after game.
“I’m fired up he’s on our team,” Napier said.
Ellington finished with a 166 yards on scoring runs of 55 and 42 yards. Just when Georgia Tech seemed ready for a comeback, Ellington had a 10-yard TD reception to build up Clemson’s lead.
The Tigers (4-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) hadn’t beaten the Yellow Jackets (5-3, 3-2) in four years, a run that included a 39-34 loss in last season’s ACC title game.
Between Ellington and Clemson’s defense, Georgia Tech barely had a chance. The Yellow Jackets came in leading the ACC at 328 yards rushing a game. The Tigers held them to 242. Georgia Tech’s 13 points was it’s lowest output this season and more than two touchdowns from its average coming in.
“We played technique ball,” said Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who had his ACC-leading 10th sack. “Everyone did their job and we were able to get stops.”
Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt came in needing 44 yards surpass former Clemson great Woody Dantzler and set the ACC’s mark for rushing yards gained by a quarterback. But he was continually harassed by Clemson’s defenders and ended with 2 yards on 15 carries.
“He’s going to have to get that against somebody else,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson has had its share of troubles with Georgia Tech the past few meetings since its last series win in 2006. That night, the Tigers’ “Thunder and Lightning” duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller combined for 332 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-7 rout.
But the Yellow Jackets have had their way over Clemson ever since — albeit by the slimmest of margins.
Their four straight wins have been by a combined 15 points, including the five-point victory to take the ACC championship.
It appeared that Clemson hex might continue, Swinney said, when at the team hotel about a dozen players including offensive line starters Chris Hairston, David Smith and Antoine McClain were trapped in an elevator for close to an hour.
Once the game began, no one was stopping Ellington or the Tigers, who made sure this one couldn’t come down to the end.
The Tigers “had a lot of built up frustration against this team,” Napier said. “I think that showed up a little bit.”
A roughing the punter penalty on the Yellow Jackets kept alive Clemson’s first drive that ended with Ellington’s 55-yard touchdown run.
Ellington was at it again in the second quarter with a 42-yard scoring run. He even added a little Spiller flair at the end, cutting back on Georgia Tech’s Jerrard Tarrant for the score.
Clemson’s defense, which didn’t force a punt in the title match last December, didn’t give Georgia Tech’s typically efficient option room to move.
The Yellow Jackets punted three times and gave up the ball on downs their first four possessions.
“I was frustrated because we’d move the ball, but then we’d kill ourselves,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We would pitch it on the ground or turn somebody loose. It was a myriad of things.”
The closest Georgia Tech came after Ellington’s TD catch was 24-13 on Anthony Allen’s 9-yard scoring pass from Nesbitt.
Clemson took a page from Georgia Tech’s playbook with a 15-play, all run, fourth-quarter drive that lasted for nearly 8 minutes and ended with a clinching field goal.