ATLANTA Clemson put to rest any concerns that it might struggle to be ready for Georgia Tech on a short week or have any lingering thoughts about past failures at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a hurry Thursday night, racing out to a 23-0 halftime lead and cruising to a 26-7 win over the Yellow Jackets.
The third-ranked Tigers dominated on both sides of the ball in the first half, outgaining Georgia Tech 347 yards to 22. The win was Clemson’s first at Georgia Tech since 2003 and ended a five-game losing streak to the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta.
Clemson’s offense did not produce much in the second half after Deshaun Watson accounted for 289 yards and two scores in the opening two quarters, and it didn’t need to as Brent Venables’ unit kept the clamps on Georgia Tech.
“Mission accomplished,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We were really happy to get out of here with a W. It’s been a long time. The last time we won here my son was just born. … He had a bottle in his mouth. It’s been long enough.”
The Yellow Jackets finished with only 124 total yards with less than 100 of those coming on the ground.
Linebackers Ben Boulware and Dorian O’Daniel led the way for the Clemson defense, with Boulware recording 10 tackles and O’Daniel nine. O’Daniel added two tackles for loss and a sack.
The linebackers were able to have success thanks in part to defensive linemen Carlos Watkins, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins winning at the line of scrimmage.
Boulware said he could tell early on that the Clemson defense was set to have a big night.
“The first series where I saw where Christian made the first two plays and Carlos I was like, ‘If they can’t even get past our d-line it’s going to be a pretty easy night,’ ” he said. “Our d-line is just so big. … They were able to make plays because they’re so athletic.”
Watson connected with Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett for touchdown passes in the first half, while Wayne Gallman added a 4-yard touchdown run. The Tigers were also gifted two points on a safety after a Tech interception that was fumbled back into the end zone.
Georgia Tech put together an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, but that accounted for practically all of the Yellow Jackets’ offense.
“Our guys were locked in. They played very well,” Swinney said. “Just a dominant performance, especially from our guys up front. That’s where it all starts.”
The win sets up a potential top-five showdown with Louisville next Saturday at Death Valley.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was picked off in the end zone by Lance Austin in the second quarter but Georgia Tech only had momentum for seconds as Austin brought the ball out of the end zone, was hit by his own man and fumbled it back into the end zone. He dove on the ball for a safety, which gave Clemson a 16-0 lead.
Star of the game: Dorian O’Daniel: The Clemson linebacker has played well against Georgia Tech throughout his career and that continued on Thursday as he finished with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. O’Daniel recorded his first career sack two years ago at Georgia Tech.
Play of the game: Deshaun Watson found Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett for a 9-yard touchdown with four seconds remaining in the second quarter to push Clemson’s lead to 23-0 and squash any hopes of a Tech comeback.
Stat of the game: 262: Deshaun Watson passed for 262 yards in the first half.
Who: Clemson vs. Louisville
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1
Where: Death Valley