By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Kelly Bryant threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns and No. 7 Clemson bounced back from its first loss of the season with a dominating 24-10 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday night.
Bryant showed few negative effects from injuries that knocked him out early of the Tigers’ past two games — a sprained left ankle in the third quarter of a win over Wake Forest on Oct. 7 and a concussion in the second quarter of a loss at Syracuse on Oct. 13. It was an unsettling two weeks — Clemson was off last Saturday — with plenty of questions, introspection and worries about Bryant’s health.
The Clemson junior put all the worrying to rest early on. He connected on a 38-yard TD pass to Deon Cain less than three minutes into the game. Bryant zipped a 20-yard pass to tight end Milan Richard to put the Tigers (7-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) ahead 14-3 and cruise to their third straight win over Georgia Tech.
“Great response from our team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “All our goals are still in front of us. And now we have the opportunity to achieve them.”
The Tigers’ defense made sure that was more than enough to hold off the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2). Clemson had 11 tackles for loss and held Georgia Tech’s league-leading — and often confounding — triple-option run game to 198 yards, 175 fewer than their average. 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.
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: 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.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
The victory meant Clemson coach Dabo 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.