Tech’s football team won with a last-minute field goal to top Clemson for the fifth time in six years and beat them for the third time in a row at Bobby Dodd Stadium, 30-27, on Thursday night.
Junior kicker Scott Blair kicked both the game-tying and game-winning field goals in the fourth quarter. He also threw a touchdown pass in the game and scored 18 of Tech’s 30 points.
On what appeared to be a field goal attempt, Head Coach Paul Johnson quickly substituted junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt and the regular offense with the kicking team as the play clock ran down. Blair received the direct snap and threw a floater to junior wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 34-yard touchdown.
“Once I saw it in the air I was hoping that he would catch it,” Blair said.
“We put it in this week and practice and it is something I have done before with Navy … Every time we have run [the play] we have been successful,” Johnson said.
Redshirt junior A-back Anthony Allen rushed for an 82-yard touchdown on Tech’s first rush of the game. It was the second consecutive game where Tech scored a touchdown on their first run play of the game.
The touchdown was one of three in the first quarter that seemed to indicate the game was going to be a Tech rout. The Jackets extended the margin to 24-0 early in the second quarter to pad the already large lead.
Under Johnson, Tech has never lost a game in which the team has led by more than three points, much less 24 points. Clemson, though, came back and scored 27 unanswered points to take the lead with 11:33 to play in the game.
“It’s a credit to Clemson that they came back and scored 27 points,” Johnson said.
The Jackets gave up numerous big plays to Clemson’s offense on the touchdown drives, including two plays of 60 yards or more.
“We were giving up a ton of big plays … our guys maybe lost focus to a certain extent,” said junior defensive end Derrick Morgan.
Morgan had a career-high three sacks in the game, but they all came during the first half of the game.
After going up 24-0 in the second quarter, the Tech offense was able to do little until late in the fourth quarter. Their next seven drives included three occasions of Tech going three-and-out, with no drives longer than 36 yards and a total of just 86 yards.
To add to Tech’s offensive woes, the team did not convert a third down until early in the fourth quarter and was zero-for-nine at one point.
Much of the Jackets’ offensive troubles stemmed from Tech’s two biggest offensive threats being contained for most of the game.
Junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt struggled, finishing three-for-14 for 83 yards with two interceptions. Tech’s first offensive possession ended on the first play when Nesbitt threw an interception to strong safety DeAndre McDaniel. His second pass attempt on a later drive was nearly picked off in the end zone before a review overturned the original call.
Still, Nesbitt completed two crucial passes to extend the game-tying and game-winning drives. He connected with Allen for 24 yards to convert Tech’s first third-down of the game and continue a 69-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard Blair field goal, tying the game at 27. Nesbitt’s third completion of the game during the Jackets’ last drive was a 39-yard throw to Thomas on third down to set Tech up for the winning field goal four plays later.
“Josh did enough to win the game… I guarantee you he will [learn from his mistakes]” Johnson said.
Junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer had 66 yards on 18 carries. The total was his lowest output since the Gardner-Webb game last year, where he was only able to rush for 27 yards on 16 carries.
Despite what seemed like a slow offensive night, the team still gained 418 total yards including 301 yards on the ground.
“It never felt like we got any consistency offensively,” Johnson said.
The Jackets’ special teams unit produced two touchdowns in the game, one on Blair’s fake field goal attempt and one on a punt return. During a drive that saw Clemson stall at Tech’s 38-yard line, the Tigers lined up for what appeared to be a 57-yard field goal. Instead, Clemson attempted a short pooch punt; redshirt sophomore cornerback Jerrard Tarrant was able to catch it, and he then ran it back for 85 yards and the touchdown.
It was Tech’s longest punt return since 1972, when Randy Rhino ran a punt back for 96 yards against South Carolina. It was also the second consecutive game in which the Jackets got a touchdown on a punt return after going six years without one.
“I thought they [were going to punt the ball]…Jerrard is a very talented young man and when he gets into the open field he can do some things,” Johnson said.
Tech will next travel to Coral Gables to face Miami next Thursday night for the Jackets’ second consecutive game televised on ESPN. It also marks the second year where the two teams have met in a nationally televised Thursday night game. The Jackets won the last meeting 41-23 after racking up 472 yards on the ground. This year, they will face an improved Miami squad that is coming off a ten-day break after their 38-34 win at Florida State.
“We’re off to a 2-0 start which makes the [game against Miami] bigger,” Johnson said.