ATLANTA — Overcoming an all-too-common slow and sluggish start, No. 4 Clemson beat Georgia Tech 41-10 on Monday night as the Tigers look to return to the top of the ACC after falling short of expectations in 2021. DJ Yougalley, who was questioned the season after his sophomore campaign, was 19 of 32 passing for 209 yards and a touchdown. The junior added a huge 9-yard touchdown run with 1:43 to play in the third quarter to push the lead to 24-10, putting the game out of reach for the Yellow Jackets.
After a scoreless quarter with both offenses struggling out of the gates, the first spark of the night came from Clemson’s Carson Donnelly, who blocked a Georgia Tech punt and returned it to the 5-yard line. That set up a four-play touchdown drive that ended with Will Shipley’s 1-yard touchdown run to finally put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
Yougalley rallied things on the next drive when he led the Tigers by eight plays and threw the only touchdown pass of the night — a 6-yard pass to Beo Collins in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. 0.
But Georgia Tech had its chances. Quarterback Jeff Sims found EJ Jenkins for a 13-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 14-10. However, the Tigers’ stifling defensive front kept the Yellow Jackets from going on several night drives. Sims finished 23 of 36 for 164 yards, one touchdown, one interception and 41 yards rushing.
Here are the highlights from Monday night’s game.
Clemson has a QB battle.
OK, so it won’t be “official” until late September after Furman and Louisiana Tech come to town, but anyone watching can see it. Despite the good stats on paper, Yougalley is still tough with an offense that has been the powerhouse of past quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson and Taj Boyd.
Yougalley essentially came down to a “read and bail” quarterback for most of the night. He didn’t look any different from last year, completing 55.6% of his passes and throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns, despite some pressure on his face that forced him to come off the knee. 9).
Clemson fans have been missing freshman Cade Klubnik, and they got their wish in their team’s final outing. Klubnik, a five-star prospect and No. 6 overall pick in the recent recruiting class, was 4 of 6 for 50 yards and a touchdown — a beautiful 3-yard touchdown pass to Will Taylor to cap off a 10-play, 66-yard drive.
Yes, the game was basically in the books at that point. Still, when you combine the first three-plus quarters from Uyagalele with a lack of production last season, a full-time switch — or at least an extended attempt — should at least be considered.
Clemson’s defensive front is the real deal.
The Tigers were viewed as one of the most talented defenses in the country, especially up front with Brian Bresse, Tyler Davis, Myles Murphy and KJ Henry on the line. They lived up to that on Monday.
The four have been in the Yellow Jackets’ backfield, forcing seven tackles for loss and allowing just 4.5 yards per game. On the night, the Tigers’ defense gave up just two third-down conversions on 16 attempts.
Henry was the star of the show with six tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. The senior was a force from the start when he hit Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims on the first play of the game, which was intercepted by Andrew Mukuba.
Tonight was Henry’s night, and opposing offensive coordinators need to focus more on that going forward. This opens up more room for his teammates up front for injury.
The offensive line, however, needs some work
Clemson’s defensive line was a force, but the same could never be said for the other line. The Tigers only gave up one sack, but stats don’t always tell the whole story. Yougalelei was running for its life and the Yellow Jackets often held just four and were disrupting the running game behind the line all night.
The offensive line was a concern coming into the season and coach Dabo Swinney should feel even more so coming out of tonight’s game. The Tigers have tough conference matchups against Florida State and Miami — two defenses that looked strong in Week 1 — and a trip to Notre Dame on the podium. Those could be tough games in Clemson’s hole.
Unless that problem is addressed, it’s hard to imagine this team as a real threat to make the college football playoffs.
Jeff Collins needs to prove he’s worth staying.
Collins, now the 9-26 head coach of the Yellow Jackets, tonight’s game against Clemson was a good example of how frustrating it was on the Flats. Simply put, some of the decisions were terrible.
Late in the first half, Clemson had all three timeouts in the back pocket, but opted for a 10-second run to put the clock on the clock with 33 seconds left. Then, he fired three of his second-half timeouts before the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
What’s more, Collins took the ball out of Sims’ hands early in the fourth quarter when he was down 14 points at the Georgia Tech 42-yard line. Clearly, Clemson was the better team on Monday, but even a few better situational calls made things more interesting. Those kinds of decisions could prove more costly in tight games this year.