Georgia Tech has myriad problems to fix. It can do nothing about one of its biggest.
The Yellow Jackets are playing Clemson, absolutely the wrong opponent after giving up more than 1,100 yards of offense in the past two games.
First, the No. 15 Tigers can safely be assumed to be considerably more talented than Middle Tennessee State, which dealt Tech one of its worst losses in school history Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Second, Clemson will likely spend the week plotting its revenge.
“If we don’t get ready to play a little better and a little harder against Clemson, it’ll be embarrassing,” coach Paul Johnson said Saturday. “They’ve got a great football team. We’ve got a big challenge in front of us.”
Tech has taken five of the past six games against the Tigers, including a 31-17 upset last October that dashed Clemson’s national championship aspirations. Saturday’s game will be a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Clemson on ESPN.
“I don’t care who Georgia Tech has played, beaten or lost to,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday on his teleconference. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for their program, their coaching staff, the tradition of this game and all that stuff. You can just throw all that (overlooking Tech) stuff out the window.”
After permitting Virginia Tech and Miami to stage late fourth-quarter rallies to force overtime and then beat the Jackets, the Tech bubble may have popped. While Tech came within a couple plays of beating both teams, and came back from a 19-0 deficit against Miami to take a temporary 36-19 lead, the team that played Saturday had little energy or focus to give.
The Jackets were run out of their own stadium by a 49-28 score. They surrendered four turnovers and gave up 510 yards of offense to a team they had beaten by a combined 91-35 the past two seasons. This Tech team, with Johnson’s first recruiting classes having reached junior and senior status, has been expected to surpass the 2010 and 2011 teams.
The loss was possibly the most decisive home defeat to a lower-tier opponent in school history. While an FBS team, MTSU belongs to the Sun Belt Conference, a league with neither the resources nor pedigree of the ACC. The task for Johnson and his staff will be to excavate the rubble to find the team that led Virginia Tech and Miami going into the 59th minute of both games.
“I’m as disappointed as [the fans] are, I can promise you,” Johnson said. “I’m embarrassed, too. I’m going to do everything in my power to get it fixed and to get it right. That’s all I can do.”
Two defensive issues – poor tackling and being slow to the ball – could be exploited far worse by Clemson should they persist. The Tigers are ranked No. 16 in the country in total offense at 510.8 yards per game, 29 spots ahead of Middle Tennessee State (443.0 yards per game).
Clemson can attack the Jackets with playmaking wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington. Watkins missed the Tigers’ 45-31 win over Boston College with an abdominal virus. Sunday, Watkins was feeling a lot better and was having blood work done, Swinney said.
“This is a whole different deal,” Swinney said. “I haven’t seen the game, I don’t know what happened. I know in the game of football, crazy things happen from time to time. Sometimes, guys don’t play like they’re capable of.”
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog