Clemson picked up right where it left off: punishing anyone who dare started across from them. The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the preseason for the first time in school history, began their prowl for the first back-to-back national championships in school history with an easy 52-14 win over Georgia Tech on Thursday night.
Travis Etienne led the way for the Tigers, accounting for 205 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries, while Trevor Lawrence pitched in two scores.
And to think, the night actually started well for Georgia Tech.
Clemson (1-0, 1-0 ACC) accepted the ball to start the game and Georgia Tech immediately forced a three-and-out… and then gave the ball immediately back to the Tigers when Juanyeah Thomas muffed the punt and Brannon Spector hopped on it at Georgia Tech’s 16-yard line. Lawrence cashed in five plays later with a 6-yard zone read keeper to give Clemson its first of many early leads this season.
Georgia Tech (0-1, 0-1 ACC), displaying its brand new (to them) spread offense, picked up two first downs on its first series but saw a promising series end in flames when a backfield miscommunication on a 1st-and-10 at midfield result in an 11-yard loss and a punt.
Travis Etienne put the game in comfort territory for Clemson on the next possession when he raced 90 yards for a touchdown, giving Clemson a 14-0 lead at the 5:39 mark of the first quarter.
Leading 21-0 midway through the second quarter, Lawrence appeared to serve Georgia Tech’s first points on a platter when he tossed a pass straight to Georgia Tech’s Tre Swilling, who raced the ball 41 yards until he was knocked out by Lawrence himself at the 2.
Put in its first disadvantageous situation of this young season, Brent Venables‘ retooled defense shined, surrendering yards of one, zero and zero yards to force a 4th-and-goal from their own 1. Georgia Tech called for Oliver to toss a roll out pass, which was tipped and intercepted by Clemson’s Denzel Johnson.
Clemson then went 94 yards on five plays, the last 62 coming on a catch-and-dash from Lawrence to Tee Higgins to take a 28-0 lead into halftime.
Etienne capped his night a 48-yard touchdown run at the 12:42 mark of the third quarter, and Clemson added scores from Lyn-J Dixon and Frank Ladson, Jr. (via Chase Brice) over the course of the second half.
Georgia Tech got on the board with a 7-yard Jordan Mason run at the 11:40 mark of the third quarter, a score that was set up with — get this — a 54-yard pass from Tobias Oliver to Jerry Howard, Jr. The Yellow Jackets then added a 28-yard touchdown pass from James Graham to Ahmarean Brown with just over 10 minutes left to play.
Breaking in a a spread offense under new head coach Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech experienced mixed success, as would be expected in an opening game that happens to come inside the home of the defending national champions. Oliver started the game and posted a Paul Johnson-era line of 3-of-9 for 65 yards and two interceptions while rushing 20 times for 56 yards. Graham experienced more success through the air, completing 4-of-7 attempts for 72 yards and a score. Mason led GT with 72 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Lawrence was a modest 13-of-23 for 168 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions (the second came on a heave as time expired in the first half) while carrying three times for 24 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Clemson rushed 47 times for an even 400 yards and five touchdowns.