Well…WOW! What more can you say. Clemson is always tough, but this series is getting to be a bit ridiculous!
The day started off pretty well for me. I got some real work done Thursday morning and then met up with a good GT buddy around Noon.
We made the trip down GA400 and went directly to the Varsity where I chowed down on a pair of chili dogs and a stack of onion rings. We noticed a few Clemson folks who’d come down early, mixed in with the rest of the early GT arrivals. (I like the Clemson fans…they’re always classy, in my experience.)
Stuffed full of chili, onions, and grease we wobbled over towards our west campus tailgate spot. Things were already set up and in full swing. If you’ve read Jennifer Brett’s recent article “Tailgaters pay homage to football gods” then you’ve read about our tailgate. Vu, Trey, and I first met back around 2001 (or was it 2002?) and the tailgate has grown yearly ever since. The grassy area next to the Instructional Center really is one of the best spots on campus. I’m not sure how Jennifer found Vu…I had nothing to do with it…honest!
By the time game time rolled around, I’d added a fair number of hot wings and an Abita Purple Haze (thanks Sam!) to the Varsity meal from earlier in the day. The weather was perfect, spirits were high, and it was time for Toe Meets Leather in front of a nation ESPN Thursday Night audience.
Walking into the stadium, I was very impressed with the number of people who were wearing white. I’d estimate the participation rate upwards of 90% amongst GT fans who were in attendence. As good as it looked on TV, it looked ever better in person. There’s actually a great Youtube video that was shot from the front seat of the Wreck as it came back out to start the second half. Check the link here.
The game itself was a strange combination of ups and downs, highs and lows, exhilaration and frustration…all emphasized by the fact that I found myself sitting directly next to three Clemson fans. They were great guys, shaking hands and socializing with everyone before the game started. In short, they were everything I’ve experience and expected from Clemson fans over the years…classy folks who love their football.
The first half was a laugher…jumping up 21-0 on the strength of an 82 yard option pitch, an 85 yard quick kick return, and 34 yard fake field goal. When we weren’t alternately laughing and cheering we were consoling our new Clemson friends and reminding them that there was plenty of football left to be played. (And wow…how prescient did those assurances turn out to be…) Even after the big play of 63 yards to Spiller, we were still leading 24-7 and knew we’d get the first possession of the second half.
And we all expected Spiller to make some big plays…right? We knew we wouldn’t get out of that game without giving up at least a few yards to a Tiger offense that boasted Spiller and Jacoby Ford…
The second half turned out to be about as aggravating and disheartening as the first half was amusing and entertaining. The third quarter alone may have been the worst I’ve seen Tech play in person…ever. The offense managed somewhere around 50 yards on three possessions while the defense gave up 17 points on three Clemson possessions. I was having flashbacks to the horrid loss to the Hokies years ago when the Jackets blew a 17 point lead late in the second half.
The fourth quarter started for the Jackets at the Tech 20 and Nesbitt promptly threw to the Tiger’s 35. Unfortunately, it was caught by a defender wearing purple, not a receiver wearing white or gold.
But at this point in the game, the defense seemed to rise up and recover from the blunders of the third quarter. Stopping the Tigers at the Tech 35 yardline, it seemed like the Jackets had forced Clemson into four down territory and a 4th and 8 situation. Clemson responded with a 53 yard field goal that looked like it would have been good from 60 yards. When your opponent drills a 53 yard field goal…well…there’s not much you can do but appreciate it.
The Jackets responded with a 12 play, 69 yard drive that ate up almost six minutes off the clock. As bad as Nesbitt had been in the third quarter, he was just as good on this drive…running for 44 yards and throwing for 24 yards to set up a 34 yard field goal attempt to tie, which Blair nailed.
The defense came back out to a tie game and Clemson with the ball on their 33. The result was a five play drive that gained one yard after a holding penalty erased a 38 yard completion that might have put Clemson into scoring position.
Tech took over on their 35 for what everyone knew would be the defining possession of the game for the Jackets. The result was a 47 yard, seven play drive that ended at the Clemson 18 yard line. The Jackets had fought their way into field goal position despite a holding “make up” call on an Allen 13 yard run and by way of a crucial 39 yard third down completion to Thomas.
Scott Blair nailed a 36 yard field goal, Jerrard Terrant heroically deflected a deep ball on third down as the Tigers threw down field in desperation, and a weary Josh Nesbitt took a knee to seal a miraculous 30-27 win…at which point, close to 50 thousand Tech fans breathed a sigh of relief and the Clemson faithful groaned at opportunity lost after a great, gutsy comeback.
As I walked back to the post-game tailgate (to wait out traffic) I reflected on the game and gained a huge amount of respect to Dabo Swinney and the Clemson players and coaching staff. They got punched in the mouth horrendously in the first quarter of play and could have given up. But they didn’t…they came back out scratching and clawing in the third quarter and made adjustments that completely confounded the Jackets. It was only sheer heart and lack of quit on the Jackets part that allowed them to recover and execute the fourth quarter drives that allowed Scott Blair to be the hero…kicking us to a win.
Coming up in the next week…Is Miami’s swagger truly back or is it just more hot air? You decide…