CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Kelly Bryant spent two weeks wondering about himself and his team after Clemson's loss at Syracuse. Both he and seventh-ranked Tigers put the doubts to rest against Georgia Tech.
Clemson's banged-up quarterback passed for two touchdowns and 207 yards as the Tigers topped the Yellow Jackets 24-10 on Saturday night, rebounding from the team's first loss of the season and regaining momentum on the try for a second straight national championship.
"Our players were ready," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "They were locked in."
Especially Bryant, the dynamic junior who had left Clemson's past two games with injuries. He sprained his left ankle in the win over Wake Forest on Oct. 7, then suffered a concussion in the second quarter at Syracuse, where the Tigers lost 27-24 two weeks back.
"We needed this," Bryant said. "Coach challenged us in how we were going to respond and I feel like we responded in a good way."
Bryant calmed any doubters early on with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain less than three minutes into the game. Bryant finished the opening quarter as he zipped a 20-yard scoring pass to tight end Milan Richard that put the Tigers (7-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) ahead 14-3.
Clemson's defense made that held up, once again stifling Tech's confounding triple-option attack. The Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2) entered leading the ACC in rushing yardage, but left with only 198 yards on the ground — 175 fewer than they're average.
The Tigers had 11 tackles for loss.
"Great response from our team," Swinney said. "All our goals are still in front of us. And now we have the opportunity to achieve them."
TaQuon Marshall, the ACC's leading rusher with 117 yard average, managed just 23 yards that included his 22-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
KirVonte Benson led Georgia Tech with 129 yards rushing.
Bryant was Clemson's top runner with 67 yards on 12 carries, showing little hesitation or discomfort on his runs.
"That's the Kelly Bryant we all know and love," Clemson linebacker Dorian O'Daniel said.
Freshman Travis Etienne added his seventh touchdown of the season, tying Bryant for the team lead, with a 2-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman said while his team played strongly in the final quarter, it needs to find that same fire early on. "We want to win these big games and achieve goals," he said. "We have to start as well as we finish."
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets may lead the ACC in rushing at 373 per game, but coach Paul Johnson might want to find a few new wrinkles to throw at Clemson, which has limited Tech to 364 yards total on the ground the past three games. ... Georgia Tech had fewest punts in the ACC entering the game at 21 through six games. The Yellow Jackets punted nine times at Clemson.
Clemson: The Tigers are now squarely back in control of their ACC and championship destiny. A win at North Carolina State next week would put Clemson in control of the ACC Atlantic Division and a favorite to win its third straight league crown.
With first College Football Playoff rankings due Tuesday, Clemson should see its fortunes rise between its victory and losses by previous undefeateds Penn State and TCU who were in front of Tigers the past two weeks. Clemson's three victories over top-15 opponents (at the time) in September should still carry weight with CFP voters.
Clemson tight end Milan Richard had his first career TD catch, a 20-yarder from Kelly Bryant to put Clemson ahead 14-3. He did it in front of his uncle, Georgia great and College Football Hall of Fame member Herschel Walker.
After throwing open the kicking competition, Clemson's Alex Spence buckled down against Georgia Tech. He made all three extra points and a 29-yard field goal after missing two field goals in the loss at Syracuse.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
The victory meant Swinney had tied the school's other national championship football coach for second all-time with 96 wins. Frank Howard tops the Tigers list with 165 wins, but just 96 of those came with Clemson in the ACC.
Georgia Tech plays at Virginia next Saturday.
Clemson travels to North Carolina State on Saturday for a game likely to decide the ACC Atlantic division.
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