ATLANTA — Deshaun Watson and No. 5 Clemson finally turned in the performance everyone was expecting, totally dominating Georgia Tech in the first half on the way to a 26-7 victory Thursday night.
After sluggish wins over Auburn and Troy, and a practice-like rout of FCS school South Carolina State that meant nothing, the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won atGeorgia Tech for the first time since 2003 to set up a huge showdown with No. 3 Louisville.
Watson was 32 of 48 for 304 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams and a 9-yarder to Jordan Leggett with just 4 seconds left before halftime to complete a stunningly lopsided showing that wasn't entirely reflected in the 23-0 lead. Wayne Gallman added a 1-yard TD run.
Clemson finished with a 442-124 lead in total yards.
"It's been a long time since we've won here," coach Dabo Swinney said. "We'll take it."
Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1) didn't get into positive yards until early in the second quarter and the halftime stats were almost comical: Clemson held a 347-22 lead in yards, was up 19-3 in first downs, and ran 56 plays to only 21 for the home team.
The Yellow Jackets picked up one first down on a debatable pass interference penalty, another on a meaningless 14-yard run at the end of half. Clemson looked as though it was playing a lower-division school for the second week in a row, not its ACC opener.
"We were outmanned," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "It wasn't a fair fight."
This was a virtual repeat of last year's meeting at Clemson, where the Tigers raced to a 33-10 halftime lead on the way to a 43-24 victory.
Clemson backed off over the final two quarters, and Georgia Tech managed to avoid its first home shutout since 1957 when Dedrick Mills scored on a 2-yard run with 13:21 remaining.
Even when Georgia Tech came up with a big play, it wound up costing points. Lance Austin intercepted a pass in the end zone and tried to bring it out — only to be whacked inadvertently by teammate Corey Griffin, knocking the ball loose.
Austin fell on it in the end zone, but that was a safety for Clemson. It was a far cry from a prime-time game last season, when the defensive back returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown on the final play to give Georgia Tech a stunning victory of Florida State.
There wouldn't be an upset on this night.