By Michael Crouchley
CLEMSON — It was far from pretty, but the Clemson football team managed to narrowly avoid a major upset against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
The Tigers’ overcame a poor offensive performance, a one hour and 53 minute lightning delay and a disjointed final push from Yellow Jackets to escape Memorial Stadium with a 14-8 win.
“I entered college in 1988 and I have never, ever, ever experienced a game like that,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “It was really a crazy day, but man, what an unbelievable effort by our guys. I’m super, super proud of our team.”
After Georgia Tech’s Brent Cimaglia hit a 22-yard field goal to cut Clemson’s lead to 14-6 with 1:19 left to play, the Yellow Jackets recovered the onside kick and drove all the way down the field again.
On fourth and goal from the 2-yard line, Clemson linebacker James Skalski came to the rescue, tackling Georgia Tech’s Dylan Deveney to force a turnover on downs with 15 seconds to play. Clemson running back Will Shipley was tackled in the end zone after picking up his own fumble for a safety on the ensuing drive, but the Yellow Jackets didn’t have any more tricks up their sleeves as the Tigers limped to a victory.
“(Skalski) was tremendous, just tremendous,” Swinney said. “He’s the heart and soul over there, and really of our team. He’s just so smart and that play is a reflection. We had a good call, but that’s just preparation for Skalski. That’s just knowledge.”
Clemson’s offense struggled all game, putting up just 284 total yards against Georgia Tech’s 309. Georgia Tech keyed in on stopping the Tigers’ passing game, and while quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei hit on 18-of-25 passes, he was held to 126 passing yards and he missed badly on a couple of key throws.
Swinney chalked the offensive miscues up to “growing pains.”
“We’re kind of who we are right now. We’re young on that side of the ball, and we’ve got some guys going through some growing pains,” he said. “They lined up in nothing that we prepared for. They decided they were going to play corners up, play overhangs, and make us get everything between the tackles. They just were not going to let us have the big play.
“We did a poor job of finishing drives. We had a turnover on downs situation, a fumble — we’re continuing to put the ball on the ground way too much. The turnovers were critical.”
Most of the good that Clemson produced on offense came on the ground. Shipley led the way with 88 rushing yards and both of Clemson’s touchdowns on Saturday. Uiagalelei also found some rhythm running, going for 46 yards.
“What an effort by that kid (Shipley),” Swinney said. “I thought he did a heck of a job.”
On the other side of the ball, Clemson’s defense continued its dominant start to the season. For the third straight game, the Tigers defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown.
After a Clemson punt on the first drive of the game, Georgia Tech was forced to punt deep in its own territory following a big sack from Xavier Thomas.
The Tigers took advantage of their good field position, leaning on Shipley in a drive that he capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
The score stayed at 7-0 up until the lightning delay with 32 seconds left in the second quarter.
When play resumed almost two hours later, the Yellow Jackets cut into Clemson’s lead with a 22-yard field goal from Brent Cimaglia as time ran out in the second quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Clemson’s offense finally started to move the ball again in a drive late in the third quarter. But a fumble from Uiagalelei on Georgia Tech’s 17-yard line gave the ball back to the Yellow Jackets.
The Tigers forced a punt on Georgia Tech’s ensuing drive and started marching up the field again. This time, the Tigers were able to find the finishing blow, with Shipley running into the end zone from three yards out for his second touchdown of the night, doubling the Tigers’ lead.
The Yellow Jackets still had some fight left. Yates led Georgia Tech on a 16-play, 70-yard drive, that included a wild fourth down conversion on a broken play, and Cimaglia hit a 22-yard field goal to bring the score to 14-6.
Then came the onside kick, Skalski’s stop and the safety, before time finally ran out in the Clemson 14-8 win.
Clemson will be on the road next week to take on N.C. State at 3:30 p.m., with the game being broadcast on ESPN.
“The goal is to win the game, and we were able to get that done,” Swinney said. “We’ll enjoy tonight, and get back at it on Monday to prepare for a tough road game against N.C. State.”
Clemson 14, Georgia Tech 8
GT 0 3 0 5 — 8
CU 7 0 0 7 — 14
CU — Shipley 3 run (Potter kick), 4:37
GT — Cimaglia 22 field goal, 0:00
CU — Shipley 3 run (Potter kick), 8:12
GT — Cimaglia 22 field goal, 1:19
GT — Safety, 0:07
First Downs 21 19
Total Yards 309 284
Rushes-Yards 39-106 41-158
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 4-1
Com-Att-Int 20-33-0 18-25-0
Passing Yards 203 126
Penalties-Yards 10-66 8-66
Punts-Avg 7-39.1 4-39.5
RUSHING — Georgia Tech, Yates 16-32, Gibbs 11-30, Smith 3-24, Mason 9-20; Clemson, Shipley 21-88, Uiagalelei 8-46, Pace 7-13, Dixon 5-11.
PASSING — Georgia Tech, Yates 20-33 203; Clemson, Uiagalelei 18-25-0 126.
RECEIVING — Georgia Tech, McGowan 4-82, Carter 4-47, Sanders 3-20, Deveney 4-16, Smith 1-16, Harris 1-3, McCollum 1-2; Clemson, Ross 7-61, Ngata 2-25, Pace 1-17, Allen 2-13, Ladson 1-5, Taylor 1-5, Shipley 2-6, Galloway 1-1, Dixon 1-(-)7
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