The football team suffered its third loss of the season on Saturday Oct. 23, 27-13. The loss to the Clemson Tigers snaps the Jackets four game winning streak against their in-conference rivals, which saw three regular season wins and one in the ACC Championship last year. Tech moves to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in conference.
“You have to give them some credit, they came after us up front. They were very physical on both sides of the ball. We just didn’t make enough plays to win the game,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.
Senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt had his lowest rushing total of the season, netting only two yards on the day. Nesbitt also struggled in the passing game, only hitting six of 19 passes for 83 yards.
No member of the running-back corps picked up 100 yards rushing. Senior B-back Anthony Allen led the team with 92 yards on the ground and 38 yards in the air. Sophomore A-back Orwin Smith was the most efficient of the ground for the Jackets, picking up 54 yards on four attempts, averaging 13.5 per carry.
“We knew coming into the game that it was going to be a physical game. That’s Clemson; they are a physical team,” Nesbitt said.
The first quarter started rough for the Jackets. Tech did not complete a single pass in the first 15 minutes in the game and saw two bobbled pitches on the offensive side of the ball. All three Tech punts occurred in the first quarter.
“It was definitely frustrating. We would drive and then would get stopped just short of field goal range. Or get a third-and-long and not be able to convert. And that stuff kills us. When we get third-and-long it’s not good for our offense. We are an offense that thrives on third-and-short to keep the chains moving,” said junior A-back Roddy Jones.
The first quarter also kicked off the special team woes for the Jackets. Tech picked up 40 yards in penalties in the first period, which came as a result of roughing the kicker, a late hit and holding.
“On special teams we have to do a better job coaching them and they have to make plays. If you get them unblock someone has to make a play. On a punt you have to catch the ball,” Johnson said.
The Jackets struggles on the offense and special teams spilled over onto the defensive side of the ball, as Tech gave up 10 points to the Tigers off of 174 yards. Clemson running Andre Ellington back also accumulated the first 78 of his 166 yards for the game. He had a 55-yard touchdown run on Clemson’s first drive of the game.
While the Jackets were able to win the time of possession battle nearly two-to-one in the second quarter, Tech’s offense stagnated on both drives with a turnover on downs on the Clemson 35-yard line for the first drive a field goal from inside the Clemson redzone with less than a minute to go in the half.
“We would have had to execute at way higher level to stay in the game. We got down in the red zone a couple of times and we couldn’t get it in. When the field closes off you have to block somebody,” Johnson said.
Ellington started the second quarter with 42-yard touchdown giving Clemson an insurmountable 17-point lead.
Senior B-back Lucas Cox was the one shining spot for the special teams. Cox was able to force a fumble on a kick return by Clemson, but Tech was unable to recover. In the second quarter, Cox rushed for 22 yards off of a fake punt which extended a drive that ultimately came up short.
“[Ellington] may have been one of the best kick returners we have faced all year. We were just trying to make them move laterally [on the fumbled kickoff], and [we] just got lucky and swung,” Cox said.
While Tech was able to get a field goal on the initial series of the second half, Clemson responded with a touchdown and the Jackets remained a two-possession deficit from the remainder of the game.
On Tech’s next possession, Nesbitt orchestrated a 14 play drive that ended with Allen catching a nine yard touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 24-13.
Tech’s defense forced a three-and-out on Clemson’s first drive of the second quarter.
However, Tech’s offense was unable to capitalize on the stop as senior kicker Scott Blair missed a 49-yard field goal.
Clemson got the ball on its own 32-yard line and chewed up almost nine minutes of the clock en route to a 21-yard field goal.
Tech’s offense could not answer the score as Nesbitt threw an interception, and Clemson won 27-13.
With the loss, the Jackets no longer control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal division. The Jackets will have the weekend off as they prepare for Virginia Tech on Thursday. The Hokies are currently leading the Coastal Division.
“[Virginia Tech] is going to be a very good football team too, just as physical [as Clemson],” Johnson said.