12:00 PM ET, October 18, 2008
Memorial Stadium (Clemson, SC), Clemson, SC
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Josh Nesbitt threw for one touchdown and rushed for another to lead Georgia Tech to a 21-17 victory over Clemson and new coach Dabo Swinney on Saturday.
It was an emotional day for the Tigers in their first game since Tiger coach Tommy Bowden stepped down Monday. Clemson and oft-criticized quarterback Cullen Harper rallied in the second half with two TD passes to Aaron Kelly to wipe out an 11-point deficit and lead 17-14.
• Georgia Tech ruined Dabo Swinney's debut as Clemson head coach. He's the third of Clemson's last nine head coaches to lose in their debut (Tommy Bowden, who he replaced this week, did as well).
• Playing without C.J. Spiller, who missed the game with a hamstring injury, Clemson gained just 51 yards rushing on 24 carries, an average of 2.1 yards per rush. The Tigers also turned the ball over six times in the loss.
• Georgia Tech has now won four of five vs. Clemson and is 6-1 for the first time since 1999.
-- ESPN research
But Nesbitt and the Yellow Jackets answered back. Nesbitt got Tiger cornerback Chris Chancellor to bite on a pump fake, leaving Demaryius Thomas alone for a 24-yard touchdown catch with 5:22 left to retake the lead.
Clemson drove to midfield on its next possession, but a try at a hook-and-ladder play on fourth down was well short. The Tigers got the ball back on their own 18 with 3 seconds to go. Harper's desperation pass was intercepted.
Georgia Tech (6-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its fourth straight while Clemson (3-4, 1-3), the former ACC favorites, dropped its third in a row -- its longest losing streak since 2005.
Jonathan Dwyer ran for 109 yards, his fifth game over the century mark this season.
Dinich: Bowden gets peaceBehind the closed doors of the locker room following Clemson's loss to Georgia Tech, interim head coach Dabo Swinney said a prayer that included blessings for Tommy Bowden, writes Heather Dinich. Blog
Nesbitt also ran for a 5-yard score just before halftime. He had 77 yards rushing.
Despite the week's tumult, Clemson, Swinney and its fans entered this one with plenty of fire.
Swinney instituted a "Tiger Walk" about two hours before kickoff as orange-clad fans showered the coaches and players with cheers and adulation.
Swinney was the first one to Howard's Rock, embracing the Tigers' inspirational monument with both hands and kissing it. He led the way into Death Valley, pumping his fist to the screaming crowd, then urging his players down the hill.
Once the game began, though, Georgia Tech's defense smothered Clemson's attack and most of the good vibes.
Led by first-time starter in freshman Willy Korn, the Tigers didn't get a first down until their third series.
On the next play, a flea flicker pass by wide out Tyler Grisham was picked off by Dominique Reese and returned 34 yards for a touchdown -- the Yellow Jackets first such score in two years.
Georgia Tech kept the pressure on a series later, Rashaad Reid intercepting Korn as he got hit by lineman Derrick Morgan.
Georgia Tech held Clemson and its once vaunted run game to 18 yards in the first 30 minutes.
The Yellow Jackets option game finally got going late in the half. Jonathan Dwyer, the league's top rusher, broke free for a 31-yard gain on third-and-16 on Georgia Tech's 14. Josh Nesbitt hit Roddy Jones with a 35-yard pass a play later. Nesbitt capped the drive with a 5-yard scoring run for a 14-3 lead.
Korn, Clemson's heralded quarterback recruit, was knocked from the game with a shoulder injury. His replacement was Harper, the preseason favorite for ACC player of the year benched by Bowden last week.
Kelly had TD catches of 32 and 31 yards, tying the school's career mark of 18 established by tight end Glenn Smith from 1948-51. Kelly finished with 7 catches for 122 yards.
Harper completed 15 of 25 passes for 170 yards and two interceptions to go with his pair of TD throws.
The Tigers played without star runner C.J. Spiller, who injured his hamstring against Wake Forest earlier this month.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-16||3-12|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||0-1|
|TD||06:37||Dominique Reese 34 Yd Interception Return (Scott Blair Kick)||7||0|
|FG||04:49||Mark Buchholz 40 Yd||7||3|
|TD||00:30||Josh Nesbitt 5 Yd Run (Scott Blair Kick)||14||3|
|TD||09:17||Aaron Kelly 32 Yd Pass From Cullen Harper (Mark Buchholz Kick)||14||10|
|TD||02:16||Aaron Kelly 31 Yd Pass From Cullen Harper (Mark Buchholz Kick)||14||17|
|TD||05:22||Demaryius Thomas 24 Yd Pass From Josh Nesbitt (Scott Blair Kick)||21||17|