CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Tajh Boyd #10 of the Clemson Tigers throws a pass against the Auburn Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Just over halfway through the first quarter on Saturday, Barrett Trotter hooked up with Emory Blake for a 36 yard touchdown pass. It's probably fair to say most Clemson fans were saying to themselves "here we go again" myself included. Boy was I glad to be proven wrong. In what was one of the best offensive performances by a Clemson offense in a long time, Dabo's squad fought back from a two touchdown hole, dominating the defending National Champions over the second half in yards, and outscoring them 17-3. For a program that has lost more than its fair share of close games, credit is certainly due for a team that ended up controlling the line of scrimmage against an SEC team that hadn't lost a game in a long time. Auburn was a big hurdle, but the stakes get higher pretty quickly.
After snapping Auburn’s 17-game winning streak, Clemson entered the Associated Press poll today at No. 21 and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was asked if he has to guard against his team becoming overconfident.
"I don’t think it’s hard when you have Florida State and looking at (their talent)," Swinney said. "Maybe if you are playing a nonconference team or something like that … but Florida State is a big rivalry game for us, a big game for our players. I don’t think it will be hard at all."
Clemson's eye-possing offensive output on Saturday was no doubt impressive, but Dabo's squad will most likely not be putting up such video game numbers against a much stronger Florida State defense that ranks 5th in the country through three games. Speaking of Florida State, Jimbo Fisher's squad rides in Death Valley five days from now, coming off an emotional loss at home to the powerful Sooners.
The turnaround will be difficult coming off such an emotional game that had a Doak Campbell Stadium record crowd of 84,392 rocking the entire night. But the experience can be beneficial for a young team that started seven seniors Saturday when it enters Memorial Stadium, otherwise known as Death Valley. A crowd in excess of 80,000 should greet the Seminoles. Fisher only needs to cite the history of this series to prove how difficult a place to play Clemson can be. The Seminoles have not won at Clemson in a decade, losing four straight by an average of just more than two touchdowns a game.
There will be many storylines to track in the days that follow, including what the betting public makes of a Florida State team that opened as a three point favorite, whether EJ Manuel will be ready to go after suffering a shoulder injury Saturday, and how this tough Mark Stoops led defense will fair against the Chad Morris attack.
"Now that my brother Mark (FSU's defensive coordinator) coaches there, I can't hate Florida State like I used to when I was at Florida," [Bob] Stoops said and smiled after the victory.
But he can still destroy the Seminoles' dreams. Except this time, you can't really blame it on his brother's defense, which was embarrassed and humiliated last season in a 47-17 loss to the Sooners. This time, it was more FSU's inconsistent, mistake-prone offense that let down the Seminoles. Starting quarterback EJ Manuel threw two interceptions before leaving the game with a left shoulder injury in the second half. FSU's only touchdown came on a fluky, 3rd-and-28 pass from backup QB Clint Trickett to receiver Rashad Greene, who somehow caught the ball in triple coverage and sprinted in for a 56-yard, game-tying touchdown.
Among the national writers that covered the Clemson game on Saturday, very few made mention of a Kevin Steele defense that held the high-powered Auburn attack to just three points in the second half. It was a tag team effort by the Clemson coordinators. While the offense sustained drives, Steele's defense was forcing the Auburn offense off the field in critical situations in the second half.
"We made adjustments. It's not like, at halftime, we just say, 'Play harder!' " Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele joked. "We had five horrendous plays in the first half - chunk plays we've got to stop giving up."
Clemson's defense is full of inexperienced, but highly athletic, players this season. They let Wofford hang around for much of the previous week's game, but Steele said that was partially about getting those young reserves experience before an opponent of Auburn's explosiveness.
Before Saturday, we didn't really know what kind of quarterback Tajh Boyd was really capable of being. He looked good against both Troy and Wofford, but only time would tell whether he would step up, and play with poise on national television, against an SEC defense. Well he passed the first test, and boy did he look good. We won't truly know what kind of special talent he can be until he does it on the road, but until then, he certainly has no complaints here.
ACC helmet stickers: Week 3
Clemson's offense: It's impossible to choose one star from a cast that racked up 624 yards and beat the defending national champ Auburn 38-24 on Saturday. The Tigers snapped Auburn's 17-game winning streak, and started the season 3-0 for the first time since 2007. Quarterback Tajh Boyd had a stellar day, completing 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns. Sammy Watkins finished with 10 catches for 155 yards, both school records for a freshman. The Tigers had 32 first downs and was 14-of-18 on third downs. Wow.
Speaking of Sammy Watkins, Clemson fans haven't see a dominant freshman at wide receiver like this in perhaps forever. We aren't the only ones singing his praise after his performance on Saturday, and today he was named National Freshman of the Week. His ability to get into open space and force missed tackles creates a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Until teams find a way to stop him, or at least contain him, Morris is going to continue to attack defenses with his freak at wideout.
Ted Roof’s Auburn defense crumbled like a cheap card table as Clemson’s Tajh Boyd came perilously close to a 400-yard passing day, and the home Tigers rallied back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to the away Tigers. But the name to take away from today is true freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
After respectable outings of 81 and 56 yards against Troy and Wofford, Watkins made a scintillating case for national relevance with 10 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns against the champs. That’s an average, an AVERAGE, of 15.5 yards per catch. Add in 44 yards on the ground just to make him appear well-rounded, and yeah, this kid’s in the conversation. Remember his name, and what he meant in these Tigers’ first victory over those Tigers in 50 years.
In terms of getting guys back this week it will be critical that Ellington is ready to go by Saturday. He is too critical to this team to lose him for a game of this magnitude, and it sounds like Dabo is optimistic he'll be suited up on Saturday. Joe Craig could be an added wrinkle to the Chad Morris attack this weekend as he comes back from suspension, and his quickness will be welcomed to a lineup that is already full of speedsters.
Swinney said he is hopeful starting left guard David Smith (shoulder) and starting running back Andre Ellington (hamstring) will be able to play against Florida State. Swinney said Smith remains "more questionable" after undergoing shoulder surgery Thursday ... Ellington tweaked his hamstring in the second half versus Auburn … Freshman WR Charone Peake suffered an ACL sprain and is questionable ... WR/KR Joe Craig returns from his three-game suspension this week but Swinney said he will not practice Tuesday and Wednesday due to a family-related matter.
As Clemson moves on from an emotional and big win at home this past weekend, it must turn all attention to Florida State. While the Auburn win helped Clemson's reputation on a national scale and could help create momentum moving forward, beating the Seminoles this weekend would be even bigger. If Clemson wants its first ACC Championship in 20 years, it has to get through Florida State, and to do that, it will have to put on a similar performance to the one on display Saturday.