It is a maritime tradition that new ships be christened by smashing a bottle of champagne against their hull before they launch – an artifact of practices long since lost to history, it is believed to bring good luck to the ship and its crew. It is a wonder, then, as to why ESPN decided to christen the ACC Network by throwing a juice-box at it.
During the ACCN’s first ever live football broadcast, the reigning national champions Clemson thoroughly dismantled Tech, 52-14. There were bright spots, to be sure – Tech held Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence to a mortal 13/23 on passing, for example. But Tech looked like every bit the rebuilding program that they are, such as muffing a crucial punt after forcing third-and-out on Clemson’s first possession that gave the Tigers an easy score. Clemson is a dominant force in college football, and no amount of rust that they might have needed to shake off could have given Tech a chance at winning.
Perhaps out of necessity, Tech did not showcase much of its promised new pro-style offense. Instead, coach Geoff Collins relied heavily on the run, recording a 45-18 rush-to-pass ratio. That Tech rolled primarily with Tobias Oliver at QB – a leftover from the Paul Johnson era who was already intimate with the option playbook but had relatively little experience in, y’know, throwing the ball, is evidence enough that Tech might not feel comfortable enough with passing yet, let alone passing against a Clemson defense that recorded 12 interceptions last year.
Indeed, it’s difficult to fault the Jackets for much in this game. Lawrence is easily the best playmaker in the ACC – possibly in all of college football – and the double threat of his arm and Travis Etienne’s legs scorched Tech’s defense to the tune of 632 total yards for the Tigers.
The Jackets were thoroughly expected to not only lose but be humiliated. No one, checking the schedule for this year, expected the Geoff Collins era to find its first check in the “W” column in Death Valley. That they even scored is a miracle in and of itself. So, tonight was nothing gained, nothing lost for the rebuilding Jackets.
Still, there were signs of life. Tech managed to hang two interceptions on Lawrence – half as many as he recorded all last year. No matter that they failed to capitalize on those turnovers – getting there in the first place is commendable. Tech managed to hold Lawrence to a 56.5% completion rating. No matter that Clemson averaged 12.3 yards per completion – that they held Lawrence down from his usual demi-god status is a small victory, one that Tech will gladly take when real victories may be difficult to come by.
Indeed, this is a season for Tech that will not be measured by the standings – it will be measured in small victories, in the steps players take forward from previous seasons, in every stop the defense can make against a unit that outclassesit in every way.
In a way, this will become business as usual for Tech. Tonight was an introduction for fans to the way things will be this season. Those small steps will be sources of solace for weary fans, who might sit through games like tonight’s several more times this season, if they decide to sit down for them at all. And make no mistake, tonight was a painful reminder of the gap in talent, skill, and resources between Tech and its longtime rival. But perhaps knowing that this is a part of the plan, the plan that has good things in store for Tech down the line, might make those losses sting a little less.
But damn if they don’t sting.