Atlanta — The halftime stats were almost comical. Clemson looked as though it was going against the scout team, not a fellow Atlantic Coast Conference school.
Finally, the sort of performance everyone has been expecting from the No. 5 Tigers.
Deshaun Watson threw for 304 yards, including a pair of touchdowns during a dominant first half that carried Clemson to a 26-7 victory over Georgia Tech on 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 ACC) won at Georgia Tech for the first time since 2003 to set up a huge showdown with No. 3 Louisville.
“We came in focused that first half,” Watson said. “We just wanted to finish the deal.”
Watson threw 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.
At halftime, Clemson was up 347-22 in total yards and 19-3 in first downs, having run 56 plays to only 21 for the home team. Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1) was outgained 442-124 overall.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve won here,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ll take it.”
This was a virtual repeat of last year’s meeting at Clemson, when the Tigers raced to a 33-10 halftime lead on the way to a 43-24 victory. Both times, they totally dominated the line of scrimmage.
“They’ve done it to us two years in a row up front,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They kicked our butts.”
Clemson backed off over the final two quarters, and the Yellow Jackets avoided their 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 over Florida State.
There wouldn’t be an upset on this night.