Coming off of a two road game losing streak, the Jackets returned home to face off against the No. 5 ranked Clemson Tigers for Homecoming. The Jackets put together a complete game on offense and defense, holding the Tigers to their lowest point total of the season on the way to a 31-17 upset win.
Tech rushed for 383 yards in the victory, the most it had rushed for in any ACC contest this season. As a result, the Jackets controlled the pace of the game, holding onto the ball for 39 minutes and only allowing the quick paced Clemson offense 12 possessions and three scores. A large part of the victory can be credited to the improved performance of the defense, led by two interceptions by redshirt sophomore cornerback Jemea Thomas. The defense had four turnovers for the night.
The Jackets moved up to 7-2 on the season with a 4-2 conference record, ensuring the Jackets at least a .500 record in ACC play for the 17th consecutive season. The Jackets moved back into the polls after the win, coming in at No. 23 in the BCS rankings.
“It was a great win. I know a lot of people are disappointed that wrote us off, but we have a chance to play again next week. Like I said earlier, let us finish the season before you do our tombstone. I am really proud of our guys; I could not be prouder,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.
Redshirt junior quarterback Tevin Washington led the Jackets with 176 yards rushing on 27 carries, breaking a Tech record for rushing yards by a quarterback. However, the Jackets’ offense did not start strong, being forced into three three-and-out situations and allowing a field goal before a defensive spark gave them a chance to score.
Finding themselves down 3-0 midway through the first quarter, the Jackets forced the Tigers into a 31-yard third down conversion when a hit by sophomore cornerback Louis Young forced a fumble by Clemson receiver D.J. Howard. After a recovery by Tech at the Clemson 19, Washington led the charge pitching the ball to junior A-back Orwin Smith on fourth-and-one at the goal line to give the Jackets a 7-3 advantage. After forcing a punt by the Tigers, the Jackets found themselves driving in the second quarter still up by the same margin.
A 71-yard drive to start the second quarter ended at the Clemson five yard line and forced a field goal by sophomore kicker Justin Moore. The drive was highlighted by a 46-yard run by Washington to break his career record for his longest run and put the Jackets up 10-3.
The Tech defense responded to the offensive success with a strong defensive series, ending with a hard tackle on Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen on third down to force a three-and-out. Thomas stepped in for the first time this season at punt returner and returned a 54-yard punt by Clemson seven yards to start the ensuing drive at the Tech 20.
The Jackets’ offense fed off of the defensive success, and punched the ball into the endzone to cap off a ten play, 80-yard drive that ate 4:19 off the clock. The charge was led by sophomore B-back David Sims and Smith who accounted for 43 yards on the drive combined. The Jackets also drew the Clemson defensive line offsides twice on the drive to keep the drive going and eventually went up 17-3.
The Tigers refused to quit though, with Clemson freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins taking the ensuing Jackets’ kickoff 38 yards to midfield. After five plays and a 28-yard drive, Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro could not connect on the 40-yard field goal attempt, keeping the score at 17-3.
The Jackets got the ball back with 4:22 remaining in the half and were looking to go up by three scores before the second half. After two first down conversions, Washington dropped back to pass from the Tech 46 yard line. Washington threw a deep pass to junior wide receiver Stephen Hill who dove for the 44-yard completion setting up another scoring opportunity at the Clemson ten. Two plays later, Washington punched in the Jackets’ third touchdown of the game putting them up 24-3 at the half.
The Tigers came out in the second half needing a score and got just that with a quick touchdown drive that took only 1:26. The drive ended with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Watkins who snagged the pass in full stride and cut the Jackets’ lead to 24-10.
Tech would not allow the Tigers to close the gap though, responding with a five play, 77-yard drive. The scoring drive was highlighted by a 56-yard run by Washington on a draw play, setting a career long rushing play for the second time in the game and putting the Jackets on the Clemson 17. Two plays later, Sims punched the ball in with a dive towards the endzone and put the score at 31-10.
The Tigers began driving again from their own 11 yard line, and found themselves in Tech territory before Thomas stripped Clemson freshman running back Mike Bellamy, forcing him to fumble the ball. Junior linebacker Julian Burnett immediately jumped on the ball, giving the Jackets possession again at their own 39.
Washington led the Jackets’ offense all the way to the goal line, before a controversial fumble was forced by the Tigers to regain possession at the Tigers’ 3-yard line. Clemson defensive tackle Rennie Moore appeared to be offsides on the play, but the penalty was not called, allowing the Tigers to survive.
Clemson responded quickly with a 97-yard drive that took 3:39 and brought the game to 31-17. Neither team would score for the remainder of the game, with three interceptions being thrown between the two teams in the fourth quarter.
Immediately after intercepting Washington, the Tigers had a chance to bring the game within one score at the goal line. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd immediately threw an interception in the endzone to Thomas, allowing the Jackets to milk the rest of the clock and set the final score at 31-17.
“We knew we had a bunch of doubters and whatnot because of the last two games, we just pulled together. We knew we had to use each other to get through it and get done. With adversity, you’ve either got to stand up or lay down. I think we’ve got the type of team where we’re going to stand up and come back and just fight no matter how hard the situation is,” Thomas said.
The Jackets have a bye week following the Homecoming win and will face the No. 11 ranked Virginia Tech Hokies on Thursday, Nov. 10.