Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill (5) makes a catch as Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson (21) defends in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA -- The Georgia Tech offense had struggled over the past three weeks, leading many to believe the Yellow Jackets were headed for a third consecutive loss against Clemson on Saturday in Atlanta. Instead, the hosts used a national television audience and the first home sellout of the season to show that the offense is doing just fine.
Tevin Washington rushed for 176 yards, a school record for a quarterback, part of a 383-yard ground effort as Georgia Tech upset previously-unbeaten Clemson 31-17 Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Tech (7-2, 4-2 ACC) moved into sole possession of second place in the Coastal Division behind 4-1 Virginia Tech. The teams have next weekend off before meeting in a primetime game in Atlanta on Nov. 10. Clemson, which came in ranked No. 6 in the BCS standings and 6-0 in league play, was trying to start 9-0 for the first time since the 1981 unbeaten national championship team, but instead joined the 2000 team in winning the first eight games but losing to Tech in game nine.
"Really proud of our guys, thought they played hard, it was a great team win," said Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak after a 6-0 start. "Great win. "I know a lot of people are disappointed that wrote us off. Let us finish the season before you do our tombstone."
It was Washington, the redshirt-junior quarterback, who helped Tech pull away early in the third quarter. On third-and-six, he took a designed quarterback draw and galloped 56 yards (the longest run of his career) to the Clemson 17, and two plays later, David Sims fought hard for an 11-yard touchdown run to put the Yellow Jackets up 31-10.
Clemson got a break and took advantage to briefly climb back in the game. Tech looked poised to add at least three points to an already commanding lead, but Washington fumbled and Rennie Moore recovered for the Tigers. Though it appeared Moore was offsides on the play, Clemson took over and in less than four minutes cut the deficit to 31-17 when a 97-yard drive ended on Boyd's one-yard scoring run.
"I thought we had the game pretty much in hand. I can't wait to see the film, I'm pretty sure (Moore) was offsides," said Tech coach Paul Johnson.
With 10:39 left in the game, Clemson safety Rashard Hall picked off a Washington pass and returned it to the Tech 9. But Tajh Boyd returned the favor on the next play, mis-communicating with receiver Sammy Watkins as the ill-advised pass was intercepted in the end zone by Jemea Thomas, the first of two interceptions by the Yellow Jackets' defensive back. That helped Tech shave off nine of the final 10 minutes of the game on the ensuing drive and preserve the upset.
"Jemea Thomas made some huge plays," Johnson said.
Clemson looked the part of an unbeaten, top-10 team on its first offensive possession of the game. The Tigers got deep into Tech territory, reaching the 23 on an 11-yard completion from Tajh Boyd to Jaron Brown. But thanks to a Boyd pass that was broken up in the end zone, the drive stalled and the visitors had to settle for Chandler Catanzaro's 34-yard field goal to go up 3-0.
The host Yellow Jackets took control after that.
Tech got the first big break of the game late in the first quarter when on third-and-goal, a Boyd pass to D.J. Howard was fumbled and Rod Sweeting recovered inside the Clemson 20. Orwin Smith made sure the turnover hurt as the junior took a pitch on fourth-and-one and scored untouched to give Tech its first lead at 7-3 with 2:59 left.
A long punt by Clemson didn't faze the rejuvenated Tech offense as the hosts marched down the field on a 10-play, 80-yard drive and Smith barreled in from three yards to push the margin to 17-3.
Washington did it nearly all himself on the Yellow Jackets final possession of the first half. The redshirt-junior quarterback was a perfect, 4-for-4 passing, including a beautiful hook up with Stephen Hill for 44 yards to set up first and goal, and Washington, who carried five times for 20 yards on the nine play march, capped the scoring drive with a three-yard plunge to send Tech to the locker room up 24-3.
"I can't give enough credit to the offensive line," Washington said.
Whatever was said in the Clemson locker room at halftime, it sunk in quickly. The Tigers wasted no time scoring their first touchdown of the game to get to within 24-10. A four-play drive was capped when Boyd found Sammy Watkins (10 catches, 159 yards) and the electric freshman receiver extended for the catch, then accelerated past a number of Tech defenders for a 49-yard touchdown. The teams traded fumbles, the Clemson miscue by Mike Bellamy, which preceded an 11-play Tech drive and the Washington fumble.
"They have a really good football team, we just executed better," Johnson said. "It makes the next game that much bigger."