What We Learned From Clemson's Rout of Georgia Tech
Clemson's 73-7 rout Saturday was historic and impressive. It gave the No. 1 Tigers their third consecutive win at Bobby Dodd Stadium and provided a big-time learning experience for many young players.
It was also a highlight reel for Trevor Lawrence and many receivers while it proves just how much better Clemson is than lower-tiered teams in the ACC. This game was never really in doubt, and the travel roster was emptied on the field, but that doesn't mean there weren't some meaningful takeaways from this blowout win.
Here's what we learned about the Tigers, who improved to 5-0 on the season:
Clemson is right on schedule
Dabo Swinney said his team grew up last week against Miami and then improved as a team at Georgia Tech. It's crazy to think, but Clemson could've scored 100 points if it wanted to, no matter when they benched Lawrence. Swinney is big on building depth early in the season, and Clemson rarely puts up that kind of point production, even when it can, because of how many backups play. They played well Saturday, even with QB injuries that forced a preferred walk-on and a punter behind center. It didn't matter because the Tigers were ready.
Many of those guys had not seen action since Week 2 against The Citadel, so had they come out rusty or not prepared, nobody would've been surprised. After all, Clemson didn't score a single point in the second half against the FCS Bulldogs last month. This time, the Tigers had three second-half touchdowns and looked like a team that's well-coached. They're right where Swinney wants them to be at this point in the season.
Trevor Lawrence is human...wait, not he's not after all
See, the Clemson quarterback isn't a robot. He made a mistake, a big one. He threw a terrible pass with pressure in his face that nobody on his team could get to, but Georgia Tech picked it off and ended the second-longest streak in ACC history of pass attempts without an interception.
Wait...what's that? Lawrence threw for career-highs in yards and touchdowns? I guess he's not human after all. In all seriousness, it was a remarkable bounce back from that mistake. In the second quarter alone, Lawrence was 14-of-15 passing for 233 yards and three touchdowns. That doesn't even make sense, but there's no doubt he made up for his first INT of the season to remind everyone why he's the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Even though it came against a struggling Tech defense, the video-game numbers will serve him well in this race.
Travis Etienne is human...sort of
So much talk this past week revolved around senior Travis Etienne and what he's been doing as a more complete running back for this offense. But Georgia Tech did something opponents throughout the last four years have rarely done: the Yellow Jackets held him below five yards per carry. It had only happened 11 times in 47 career games before Saturday.
So what happened? For starters, Clemson's game plan revolved around using its outside receivers against Tech, but Etienne only had 44 rushing yards on 11 rushes. He also lost a fumble for the first time since the UNC game last September. He also wasn't really featured in the passing game as Etienne had two catches for 29 yards. Clemson could've pounded the ball with him and had him take unnecessary hits in a blowout, but instead, the coaches rotated Lyn-J Dixon in early. It also hurt Etienne that Tech really didn't want to get destroyed by the Clemson running back for the third consecutive season, so they stacked the box. There's no reason to overreact to one-off performance, but let's see if GT gave any other opponents a blueprint to limiting his success.
Defense rises (early) to a different challenge
Brent Venables gushed about the maturity his young defense showed by showing up for an early game. It's a valid compliment. Clemson had an emotional, late-night win over Miami last week in which the defense was the main storyline. They absolutely stifled the Hurricanes.
It's not crazy to think there was going to be some kind of letdown with a noon start on the road in an unusual atmosphere against a team that would've been easy to take lightly. Instead, Clemson's defense rose, bright and early, to the challenge, creating three turnovers and limiting another opponent to just over 200 total yards. Tech is young in its own right on offense, but aside from one long touchdown pass, the Tigers controlled this game and once again the defense complimented the high-scoring offense. This unit is growing up.
Nobody is stopping this Clemson offense
Georgia Tech had given up over 600 yards once already this season to UCF and had allowed 470 against Louisville in the previous outing, so it wasn't a huge surprise that the Tigers rolled up 671 yards, but the way they did it was impressive. Lawrence threw to 10 different receivers in the first half, and Travis Etienne was a non-factor in terms of production. But his presence opened up the passing game and the middle of the field as the Yellow Jackets had no answer for Clemson's speed.
Looking ahead at the schedule, can you find one defense that has a chance to slow down this high-octane attack? It won't be a bad Syracuse team that lost to Liberty this week or Boston College, which gave up 40 points to Virginia Tech. What has Notre Dame done to make anybody think it can handle Clemson's balance and speed? Yes, the Irish shut down Louisville this week, but the Tigers are a completely different animal and Notre Dame isn't playing complimentary football well enough.
Don't look at UNC, which hasn't impressed defensively, if the Tar Heels are able to overcome a loss to FSU and make the ACC title game. No matter what Clemson's defense does, and it's going to get better, the offense is carrying the Tigers to the College Football Playoff.