Instead, the frustrations only mounted for the Jackets.
Allowing 601 yards of offense, Tech suffered a 47-31 loss to No. 15 Clemson and fell to 2-4 on the season, which represents Tech’s worst start since they went 1-10 in 1994.
“Right now we’ve got to play close to perfect,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Clearly we have to score more points.”
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd threw for a career high 397 yards, but both he and his coach agreed he could have played better.
“Could have been some more out there,” the junior QB said.
“Honestly, I came out too hyped. I was missing some passes, some easy throws.”
But Boyd and the rest of the offense settled down, running 93 plays and gaining 601 yards. It is the fourth time the Tigers (5-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have gained more than 500 yards this season.
DeAndre Hopkins had 173 yards receiving on seven catches and two touchdowns, Andre Ellington ran for 82 yards on 24 carries and Clemson ran 93 plays to just 60 for Tech (2-4, 1-3), leaving offensive coordinator Chad Morris happy after a rough opening two possessions.
“The only thing that’s going to stop us is ourselves,” Morris said.
For all the offense, it was still a defensive play that turned the game Clemson’s way. Right after Boyd threw a 35-yard touchdown to Hopkins that put the Tigers ahead 38-31 with 10:29 left in the game, Georgia Tech bobbled the kickoff and had to start from its 2 yard line.
Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey sniffed out an option pitch two plays later for a safety that crushed the Yellow Jackets’ chances. It was the first time either team led by more than a touchdown.
“We got points and the ball. That was big,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Orin Smith was tackled for a safety. It was his only bad play — he gained 117 yards on seven carries. Quarterback Tevin Washington, who ran 16 times for 104 yards, also missed seeing Shuey when he made the pitch. But he didn’t think it cost his team the victory.
“With a game like that, there are so many little things that add up,” Washington said. “It could have been something that happened in the first quarter.”
Georgia Tech had a chance to get back in the game. Linebacker Daniel Drummond picked off a tipped pass with 8:32 to go. The Yellow Jackets drove to the Tigers 20, but David Scully’s 37-yard field goal was blocked by Josh Watson.
“If they had had a fake on, they would have got it,” Swinney said. “We really gambled and brought everybody thinking they’ve got to kick it, they’ve got to get this field goal.”
The offenses were expected to dominate. Clemson came in allowing 1,087 yards in its past two games, and the Yellow Jackets had allowed 1,119 yards in their last two games.
Both teams chewed up yards. There were only two punts, with one per team. Georgia Tech couldn’t even stop Clemson at the end, with Roderick McDowell running a yard for a touchdown with 50 seconds to go.
“If we take a knee right now, I was going to be disappointed,” Boyd said of the last drive. “I know it’s sportsmanship, but at the same time, we got down there, we’ve got to go get it. This is a rivalry game for us.”
The rivalry has recently been slanted Georgia Tech’s way. Even with the win, Swinney is 2-4 against the Yellow Jackets.
Clemson’s offense hummed for the most part. The Tigers only struggled when they got close to the end zone, settling for three field goals and three touchdowns on six trips inside the Georgia Tech 6 yard line. Clemson was 13-of-19 on third down, but three they failed to convert were with goal to go.
Sammy Watkins, back from missing a because of a virus, caught six passes for 42 yards and ran twice for four yards.
Along with completing 26 of 41 passes, Boyd also ran for a touchdown and caught one pass — a 2-point conversion. The ball was snapped to running back Andre Ellington, who pitched to Hopkins, who threw the pass to Boyd. The points were critical, because Clemson would take a nine-point lead after the safety.
Boyd also set a school record for career touchdown passes with 51, beating Charlie Whitehurst’s 49 TD passes.
After the game, Swinney heaped praise on his quarterback, saying he does what every coach wants a player to do — get better with every game.
“That’s where he had grown the most as a football player. Last year, when he would struggle at times, he would go out and it was like, I’ve got to get it all right now. He couldn’t go to the next play. He’s still ticked off about the last series,” Swinney said. “But he’s grown beyond that.”