CLEMSON, S.C. — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson wasn’t sure where to start with his team’s offensive problems, much less how to begin fixing them.
The Yellow Jackets (2-4, 0-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) have followed a 2-0 start with their first four-game losing streak since 1996. And they did it with the lowest rushing total of Johnson’s eight-season tenure, a team that came in averaging 311 yards on the ground held to 71 by the sixth-ranked Tigers in a 43-24 defeat Saturday.
Johnson said his offensive line struggled to keep Clemson defenders out of the backfield. Yellow Jacket quarterback Justin Thomas had trouble finding open receivers or open running room and their running backs weren’t making the right cuts to adjust to the Tigers.
“So I got tired of watching that, too,” he said.
“It’s one thing to be physically dominated. It’s another thing to not even give yourselves a chance.”
Clemson took that away quickly, with Wayne Gallman rushing for a 66-yard TD on the game’s third play. The Tigers led by double digits less than four minutes in and were ahead 33-10 at the half.
Clemson recorded 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, harrassing Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas throughout the game.
Thomas finished 6 of 14 passing for 159 yards, most of that coming on two long TD passes of 50 and 46 yards when the game was already out of reach.
Gallman ran for 115 yards, including that 66-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play to start the rout. Still, coach Dabo Swinney faced questions about if his team had put aside “Clemsoning” — the term detractors use for why the Tigers crumble under pressure — for good.
“This football team has shown up. What else do we have to do?” Swinney said. “I can’t believe I have to come here with a 5-0 football team and talk about ‘Clemsoning.’ It shouldn’t be in the conversation.”
Deshaun Watson, a Gainesville High graduate, passed for 265 yards, his highest total this season, and had touchdown throws of 29 and 8 yards to tight end Jordan Leggett.
The Georgia Tech victory was Clemson’s 33rd straight over an unranked opponent. It was also Clemson’s 13th straight victory at home, tying the school record set from 2011-13.
This time, though, many wondered if the Tigers would get caught in a Georgia Tech trap.
“The rhetoric was, ‘How can you possibly be ready to play the game?’” Swinney said. “I don’t understand that and I’m proud our guys didn’t buy into that.”
Thomas was intercepted moments after Gallman’s opening score and the Tigers tacked on a field goal to take an early double-digit lead for the second straight contest. While Clemson struggled to build on its 14-0 lead on Notre Dame last week, it had little problem piercing the Yellow Jackets defense. Watson went 5-of-5 passing for 68 yards on a second-quarter drive Gallman finished from a yard out for his second TD and a 17-3 lead.
Watson went to the air in the second quarter, finding Leggett on scoring passes of 29 and 8 yards to take a 33-10 lead at half.
The Tigers also got a safety off a blocked punt that looked like something from a Three Stooges short. The ball was snapped over the head of punter Ryan Rodwell, who picked up the ball and booted a low liner that hit off Clemson defender Jadar Johnson before bouncing through several hands and out of the end zone.
Clemson outgained Georgia Tech 318 to 109 in the opening half.
The Yellow Jackets were held to 56 yards rushing in the first half by Clemson’s defense. They did not do much better after halftime, gaining just 15 on the ground the final 30 minutes.