CLEMSON, S.C. -- On a big stage again, Georgia Tech offered up another clunker.
The Yellow Jackets fell hard to Clemson on Thursday night, bested by a superior team and done in by its own faltering offense and a string of mistakes. On a chilly night at Memorial Stadium, Tech saw its three-game winning streak game hit a brick wall in a 55-31 loss.
"We got our tail beat, bottom line," coach Paul Johnson said. "They just beat us in all three facets of the game."
Tech, which could have secured at least a share of the ACC Coastal Division title with a win and put pressure on Miami and Virginia Tech for the berth in the ACC Championship game, dropped to 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the ACC. Its chances of making it to Charlotte, N.C., now depend on a highly improbable scenario that would include Virginia Tech losing its last two games to Maryland and Virginia as well as Miami losing two of three to Duke, Virginia and Pitt.
Easily the best team the Jackets have faced this season, No. 8 Clemson (9-1, 7-1) steamrolled Tech with 551 yards of offense. A Jackets defense that had made strides with a focus on strong run defense and limiting plays gave way to a big-play offense with superior playmakers. Tech had given up four plays of 40 yards or more in 564 plays entering the game, tied for fifth fewest in the country. Clemson struck for three in the span of 10 plays in the second quarter.
"Our thing was to not give up the big plays," defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu said. "You can give up five, three, 10 yards here and there, but (not) anyhting over the top, and second quarter, we did a lot of that."
Clemson went north of 50 points for the fourth time this season, its 55 points tying for second most ever allowed by Tech in a game in school history. Clemson hadn't scored that many against Tech since a 73-0 win in 1903. At the end of that season, Tech hired coach John Heisman away from the Tigers.
"They definitely have a lot of threats all over the field," safety Jemea Thomas said. "You never know where it's going to come from or which end."
Tech's identity might be defined this way -- the Jackets are 6-0 against teams ranked No. 40 and lower in the Sagarin rankings and 0-4 against teams ranked higher. Tech was ranked No. 25 entering the game.
Needing to play as close to flawless as possible, the Jackets were unable, dredging memories of their six false starts in the loss to Virginia Tech, the three turnovers in the loss to Miami and the 10 penalties in the loss to BYU. The Tech running game was a non-starter, as the Tigers jammed up option plays before they could develop. Clemson defenders strung out quarterback Vad Lee as he probed for alleys, limiting him to 22 yards on 12 carries. Tech finished with 248 rushing yards, its third-lowest total of the season.
"They're physical, they're fast, they made really impressive fast reads," offensive lineman Will Jackson said of Clemson's linebackers. "We'd run some of our counter stuff, it was like they knew it was coming."
Tech opened the game with a kickoff out of bounds. After Clemson went up 3-0, DeAndre Smelter lost the handle on the ensuing kickoff return and was tackled at the 2-yard line. A-back Synjyn Days slipped and fell on a third-and-3, missing a clear opportunity for a first down.
On the next drive, wide receiver Micheal Summers caught a quick pass with a knee on the ground, whistling the play dead. On a night when it was desperate for a fast start, there was no chance for such. Tech didn't gain a first down until the second quarter.
"The first three-and-outs, I think it was probably a little bit of nerves from pretty much everybody," B-back David Sims said. "We didn't get settled until after we were down two, three scores."
Tech's defense began the night with valiant play, holding Clemson's high-powered offense to six points on the first three possessions, one of which began at the Tech 49 and another that started at the Clemson 41.
However, after going into the second quarter down only 6-0, the Jackets gave up 21 second-quarter points, a surge that all but extinguished their chances. Pass plays of 41, 47 and 76 yards from quarterback Tajh Boyd were crushers, washing out the good work the Jackets had done in defending the run.
"What, did they throw one deep ball they didn't catch?" Johnson asked. "And we were in good position two or three times. You've just go to make a play."
Lost in the wreckage was a legacy performance by A-back Robert Godhigh. He was practically Tech's only viable option on offense, breaking play after play against Clemson. He broke back-to-back plays for 71 yards that led to Tech's first touchdown, in the second quarter, and caught another pass for 32 yards that set up a field goal to end the first half.
He took a toss in the third quarter and dashed 65 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter and finished Tech's 90-yard drive with a 5-yard scoring run. Godhigh finished the game with 229 yards of offense on 17 touches.
"We were kind of struggling to get in a groove on offense," Godhigh said. "I was just trying to make a spark for the offense, get everybody going and get the offense going and get some momentum."