Georgia Tech’s 26-7 loss to Clemson was an industrial-strength eye-opener. The impact for the Yellow Jackets was jarring — it went wider and deeper than merely falling behind the ACC champions Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The ACC has trumpeted its improved position in the national landscape. That position might also mean the league’s elite teams have separated themselves from the Yellow Jackets.
Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC Atlantic), ranked No. 5 in the AP poll and No. 3 by USA Today, looked like a Top-10 team. Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1 ACC Coastal) may have lost its votes among “others” that equaled No. 35 in both the AP and USA Today polls.
The triple-option offense Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson brought to Atlanta from Navy nine years ago has been good enough to win four ACC Coastal titles and two Orange Bowl trips… but that was then.
Georgia Tech hasn’t able to impose its ball-control formula against the top ACC teams that are now playing for national titles.
Florida State won the final Bowl Championship Series national crown in 2013. The Seminoles earned a bid in the first College Football Playoff in 2014. Clemson earned the ACC’s CFP bid last year and advanced to the final before losing to the Alabama Death Star.
Georgia Tech did beat Florida State (22-16) a year ago in a season that finished with a 3-9 record, but the victory wasn’t taken from the triple-option blueprint. Georgia Tech had only 16 points until a blocked field goal was returned for the game-winning touchdown as time expired.
The triple-option is designed to control the ball and keep the opponent’s offense off the field. The Yellow Jackets failed to do so on Thursday night. When Georgia Tech does face an explosive team like Clemson, the Yellow Jackets need the capability to break off their own big plays to keep up. They clearly didn’t show that potential running or passing the ball.
Just two years ago, when Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas was a sophomore, the Yellow Jackets managed to do both in a 28-6 win, but with Thomas at a quarterback as a junior and senior, Clemson has dominated Georgia Tech, 69-33.
Georgia Tech faced its first true test of the season and failed.
The Yellow Jackets usually schedule light to open the season. They had defeated Boston College 17-14 in Ireland, Mercer 35-10, and Vanderbilt 38-7. Their inability to put together long drives and big plays was exposed by an elite opponent. Georgia Tech stared at its first shutout loss at home since 1957 until Dedrick Mills scored early in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run to trim the deficit to 23-7.
Georgia Tech converted only 1-of-5 third-down plays in the first half. Once the Yellow Jackets trailed 14-0 in the first quarter and were scoreless at halftime, there was little reason to expect a comeback.
By the end of the night, Georgia Tech converted only 2-of-12 third-down plays.
As for explosive plays, Georgia Tech didn’t have a run longer than Mills’ 18-yarder. In the passing game, there was one 26-yard completion to Brad Stewart, but only four receptions for 29 yards overall. Thomas was 4-of-13 and Mills 0-of-1.
In Georgia Tech’s 2014 victory, Thomas broke off a 65-yard run. Three other players had long runs of 46, 30 and 22 yards.
This year Georgia Tech avoids cross-conference games against Louisville and Florida State, but two explosive ACC Coastal teams looming ahead are North Carolina and Miami.
The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech has been left by the side of the road by an ACC that is turning out faster sports cars.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055