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Georgia Tech still upbeat about season despite Clemson loss
TaQuon Marshall
Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall calls the signals before a play during Saturday's loss to Clemson. Marshall said he still believes the Yellow Jackets can make much of this season, despite the early-season defeats. - photo by Sydney Chacon

ATLANTA, Ga. — What started as a day for a hopeful upset for Georgia Tech against the number three ranked Clemson Tigers quickly turned into a game of being outmatched. Poor execution was the story of the game as the Tigers routed the Yellow Jackets, 49-21 Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Looking back, coach Paul Johnson pulled no punches about his team’s performance against the third-ranked Tigers.

“We got our tails kicked,” Johnson said in his post-game press conference. “I mean, that’s pretty much it. We got out-played, out-coached and we got beat by a really good football team.”

Tech started on offense, and in unusual fashion, were very sloppy and slow. 

Although they ran 11 plays and took the first seven minutes off the clock, the Jackets were slowed down by two fumbles – they would go on to fumble seven times in the game - both of which they recovered but were forced to punt after Tech generated a false start on the field goal attempt.

The fumbling from the Yellow Jackets was a part of the game Johnson took the blame for on behalf of the coaching staff.

“We aren’t doing a really good job coaching them (fundamentals),” he said. “Just call it what it is, we’re not.”

In opposite fashion, the Yellow Jacket’s defense was actually very stingy, not allowing any offensive touchdowns in the first half, while being able to limit quarterback Kelly Bryant’s production. 

Johnson noted that the team came out with some energy, especially on the defensive side of the ball early on.

However, the turning point came with just under four minutes in the first quarter when Qua Searcy coughed up Tech’s fourth fumble and several Clemson defenders got a hand on it before Clelin Ferrell recovered it in the end zone for the game’s opening score. 

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was happy to see his defense get into the end zone to set the tone for the rest of the game.

“To see them score was awesome,” he said. “I thought we had another opportunity or two to score, certainly to give us short field, but we just couldn’t come up with the ball. But yes, I was really pleased with just how disruptive we were, defensively.”

The Jackets had a chance to respond, though, when on their second offensive drive after giving up the touchdown, Tech found themselves near the Tigers’ red zone. After stalling the drive, they had a chance to cut the lead 7-3, but the 43-yard field goal attempt from Brenton King was no good. 

With Bryant not being able to do anything for the Tigers offense, head coach Dabo Sweeney opted to put the highly touted true freshman and Cartersville product, Trevor Lawrence in, and that’s when the Clemson offense began rolling. 

Jaquan Henderson
Georgia Tech linebacker, and Newton High alum Jaquan Henderson (41), surveys a play as it unfolds during the Yellow Jackets' Saturday loss to Clemson.

On their ensuing drive, Lawrence drove his team 74 yards in seven plays, capping it off with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow. 

On their next drive, the score again in even quicker fashion when Lawrence found a wide-open Justyn Ross for a 53-yard catch-and-run score, putting the Tigers up 21-0. 

One of Georgia Tech’s very few bright spots of the half came when Lawrence’s attempted screen pass ended up in the hands of defensive lineman Desmond Branch’s arms. Four plays later, the Yellow Jackets finally found the end zone when Marshall scampered for 11 yards to close the gap.

Just as it seemed the crowd was getting back into the game, Lawrence would silence them once again by leading the Tigers 64 yards on 12 plays in just over two minutes and would ultimately throw his third touchdown pass of the day to Travis Etienne before the half ended.

With Lawrence taking over for Bryant and getting on a roll, Tigers senior defensive end Desmond Branch was quick to dispel any signs of struggle at the quarterback spot. 

“I don’t think we were struggling with the quarterback particularly,” he said. “It was just that (Trevor Lawrence’s) plays were working better than (Kelly Bryant’s) plays against our defense.”

Coming out of the half, Lawrence would continue his roll driving right back down the field, before Tavien Feaster would score on the ground from 27-yards out. 

On their next drive, the Yellow Jackets would finally find cross the goal line again, aided by two personal foul calls on the Tigers quickly set the Jackets up for a two-yard touchdown run from Nathan Cottrell, his first of his career. 

“I’m not going to lie, it felt great to get into the end zone,” he said. “I forgot what that felt like – its been since high school since I scored. I’ll probably buy Clinton (Lynch) some dinner because that was a nice block by him.”

Both teams would score one more time each in the game. 

Tobias Oliver, who came in at quarterback for an injured TaQuon Marshall, would find Lynch from five yards out, and his exceptional plays late in the game had Johnson unsure of who he should roll with at quarterback moving forward.

The Tigers last touchdown would come from Lawrence’s fourth touchdown pass to Tee Higgins for 30 yards to put a nail in the coffin for Tech.

The Yellow Jackets will have one more non-divisional game against Bowling Green before a tough string of games against all of their divisional opponents, two of them — Virginia Tech and Miami — being currently ranked in the top 25. 

Cottrell remained positive about the future of the season. 

“I truly believe that if we buckle down, continue to listen to coaches, and buy in to what they’re telling us, continuing to work on what we need to work on, we’ll be able to bounce back,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, but I know our team has the ability to do it if we all believe it.”

Marshall’s outlook on the season and game-plan moving forward was even more straightforward.

“We just need to win,” he said. “At the end of the day, as long as we have more points than they do, then things will change. Right now, we’re kind of in a slump. We have to come back next week ready to work.”

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