CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Cade Klubnik was 23 of 34 for 205 yards and four touchdowns and Clemson’s defense held one of the best offenses in the country to 250 yards and picked off four passes as the Tigers beat Georgia Tech 42-21 on Saturday.
There will be no playoff bid or Atlantic Coast Conference title for Clemson (5-4 3-4 ACC). But in a season that started off dreadfully compared to the Tigers recent success, Saturday was a day to celebrate appearing to finally find their stride.
Klubnik, who came into the game with six interceptions and four fumbles lost threw just one pick. which was his team’s only turnover.
“It’s fun to see him grow just before our eyes,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
It was all pleasant questions for once in the postgame interview for the up-and-down sophomore.
“It’s always fun to talk about positive things, especially after a win,” Klubnik said, smiling.
Will Shipley returned from a missed game in the concussion protocol to run for 77 yards on 11 carries and catch three passes for 30 yards for Clemson. His understudy Phil Mafah led the team with 96 yards, just missing his second 100-yard game in a row.
The win made the Tigers bowl eligible much later than they are used to, but Clemson played as complete a game as they have in 2023.
The offense for Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-3) came into this one second in the ACC averaging 465 yards a game. But Clemson’s aggressive defense was everywhere.
The Yellow Jackets had just five first downs and 100 yards in the first three quarters. Quarterback King Haynes had by far his worst game of the season completing 13 of his 31 passes for 129 yards and rushing 11 times for minus-3 yards.
And when Klubnik made his one mistake — his one interception up 28-7 in the third quarter — the defense got the ball back five plays later on a pick by Avieon Terrell.
Terrell credited Clemson defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin with a scheme that had Georgia Tech constantly guessing what was coming and usually picking wrong.
“They were totally confused,” Terrell said. “Coach Wes dropped a good defense.”
The Tigers have won nine straight over the Yellow Jackets and Georgia Techs last win in Clemson was in 2008 — the first game for then interim Tigers coach Dabo Swinney.
Each of Clemson’s four interceptions were made by freshmen, including Shelton Lewis’ 46-yard pick for a touchdown that put Clemson up 42-7.
Terrell said the teams that have beaten Clemson this year better enjoy their wins because their young defense is just going to get better each game
“It’s going to be lit the next couple of years,” Terrell said.
Klubnik said that goes for this side of the ball too, where Clemson is quietly gaining experience out of the national spotlight.
“It’s not the year that we wanted,” Klubnik said. “But you look at the team we have right now. We’re learning.”
GO FOR IT
Clemson was 4 for 6 on fourth downs, Saturday missing only on a botched fake punt and late in garbage time. The four successful attempts, all inside Georgia Tech territory, helped touchdown drives as the Tigers scored three TDs in a row in the first half.
“I felt confident about our defense. I thought we were efficient and Cabe was in a good rhythm.” Swinney said. “We had to get some dirty yards today and we did it.”
Georgia Tech: It was a bad game all around for the Yellow Jackets, but four interceptions would have been almost impossible to overcome in any context. Georgia Tech will have to shake this one off quickly to get the one more win needed to go to a bowl. Next week is Syracuse, then looming the Saturday after Thanksgiving is No. 1 Georgia.
Clemson: No playoff bid or ACC title for the Tigers after their 4-4 start, but they have had their best two games in victories over Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Clemson might be back in the AP Top 25 before this season ends.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets host Syracuse next Saturday night.
Clemson: The Tigers host No. 24 North Carolina next Saturday.