CLEMSON — Georgia Tech’s defense confused Clemson’s sophomore quarterback and dared him to throw deep into heavy coverage.
Sixth-ranked Clemson pulled out a 14-8 victory Saturday against Georgia Tech at Memorial Stadium, thanks to a Tigers defense that didn’t allow an offensive touchdown for the third straight game, and will take a questionable offense on the road for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday (ESPN) at N.C. State.
D.J. Uiagalelei, who took over for the NFL’s No.1 overall draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, and was considered a Heisman Trophy contender, threw for a pedestrian 126 yards and no touchdowns.
Clemson’s coaching staff was not ready for what Georgia Tech’s defense presented and the in-game adjustment didn’t solve any problems.
“They absolutely lined up in nothing we prepared for,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
“They were doing a lot of things to try to confuse a young quarterback in the passing game,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “Probably half the game, if not more, they were dropping eight guys into coverage. … I wouldn’t say they caught us off guard, but it was definitely something different than what we were expecting. It took us a little while to get adjusted.”
But even after basically a two-hour halftime because of a lightning delay, Clemson scored the eventual winning touchdown in the fourth quarter on six rushing attempts and three passes completions, the longest being 12 yards.
“I thought (defensive coordinator) Andrew Thacker did a great job of preparing our defense, scheming up their offense and getting the guys to play really, really hard,” Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins said.
“… Coach Thack and our defensive staff did a great job of studying this offseason with our personnel and what we can do, who we can be. We practiced that package a bunch through the preseason, didn’t really feel like it was game-ready in Game One or Game Two, but once the guys were really confident in playing it, we rolled it out.”
Georgia Tech lost its season opener to Northern Illinois, which then gave up a combined 113 points in its next two games against Michigan and Wyoming. N.C. State (2-1) has given up 31 total points this season against South Florida, Mississippi State and Furman.
Uiagalelei completed 18 of 25 passes against Georgia Tech, but the longest, a 17-yarder, was on a short throw to a running back near the line of scrimmage. Uiagalelei never attempted a pass of more than 20 yards.
“(Georgia Tech) said, ‘You know what, we’re going to give you a three-man front and drop eight into coverage,” Elliott said. “They came out structurally different from what we were anticipating — very, very different than how they were last year.”
Clemson (2-1), which dropped its opener against Georgia, cannot afford to lose another game and reach the College Football Playoffs. The Tigers play Saturday at N.C. State and then have a home game against Boston College headed into an open date.