For Clemson and its fanbase, the season couldn't have begun any better. They accomplished their first goal of winning game one, they escaped the game relatively injury free, and most importantly they solidified themselves as an early national title contender that has the ability of slaying SEC giants.
But the win over Georgia before 83,830 on a muggy Saturday night in Pickens County made history. Clemson became the first non-SEC team to beat two top-10 teams from the SEC in consecutive games. Given the fact that the SEC has won seven straight BCS national championships and is favored to win an eighth, this was a big deal to Clemson and to the ACC.
The win on Saturday, in front of virtually the entire college football viewing world, could potentially serve as a program changer. Expectations for this program are the highest they've been in 20+ years, and for at least the first game, Clemson was able to live up to those expectations. For years Clemson has been labeled as a notorious underachiever, a team that will collapse when hit in the mouth, a team that is known for Clemson-ing (which I still don't understand. You could make a case that every team in the country, outside of Alabama, loses a game they shouldn't every year. Are we going to start saying FSU FSU'd or Georgia Georgia'd?). On Saturday this program didn't fold. When Georgia threw haymaker after haymaker at this team (with arguably the best running back in the country and one of the best pure backs I've seen in a long time), Clemson continued to respond with touchdowns, big yards, and big plays.
An entire stadium waited on Saturday to sigh and bemoan the inevitable Georgia comeback, but that comeback never happened. A walk-on who has learned to be a winner over the past few years made a play. That's why Swinney wishes everyone would stop talking about disappointments past. "People always want to bring up something from five years ago," he said. "We need to move on. We need a different storyline."
What they need is a different definition for one of the most humiliating slang terms in the college football lexicon. With a few more nights like Saturday, the Tigers might make "Clemsoning" mean something entirely different.
Georgia was a juggernaut and arguably the toughest and most balanced test Clemson has faced in a long time. The two-headed monster of Gurley and Marshall, coupled with Murray and their WR unit, presented difficulties all over the field for a Clemson defense that struggled badly at times last year. I think it's fair to say the defense more than held their own on Saturday night, providing the offense with just enough stops, three and outs, and opportunities, to solidify a second straight top 10 win against an SEC team.
But the headliner from the off season through Saturday night was Clemson-Georgia, and the game was as good as advertised. Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins played to their sterling credentials, while tailback Roderick McDowell had a starting debut to savor. A fifth-year senior and former back-up to Andre Ellington, McDowell rushed for 132 yards on 22 carries, a 6.0 average. His 36-yard run to Georgia’s 6 early in the fourth quarter set up the touchdown that gave the Tigers their largest lead at 38-28. Off a riveting bowl victory over No. 9 LSU, Clemson could absolutely remain in the national title discussion.
If the Tigers survive a visit from defending ACC champion Florida State in mid-October — Clemson has won five straight at home over the Seminoles — they should be 8-0 headed to Virginia in early November and perhaps 11-0 entering the regular-season finale at South Carolina.
It's still extremely early, and as the old adage goes "championships aren't won in September." Still, this was precisely the start Clemson needed to begin the season. This program now has the confidence and self-assurance that they can ultimately go head-to-head with virtually every team in the country, and if they are on their game, can leave victorious.
Clemson (14). The Tigers won the big game of the weekend, setting themselves up for what could be their best season since winning the national title in 1982. This should be a program that is now mature enough not to sleepwalk through what should be five straight games as a major favorite before hosting Florida State on Oct. 19. (Toughest test in that stretch: a Thursday night game at North Carolina State on Sept. 19.) After so many years of teasing and then falling short, it could be Clemson’s time.
Where do we go from here? Well, Clemson once again is back at home this weekend with SC State coming to town. With Clemson opening as massive 52.5 point favorites, this is a big weekend to get guys reps that need the experience. Players like Bryant, Hopper, Alexander, Cooper, Leggett, and Kearse, if healthy, could all use the time to build confidence, see live bullets, and get antiquated with the game, before the team faces a tough road test at NC State in game 3.
Is Clemson going to look past SC State? Absolutely not. However, it's clear that the Bulldogs will be severely overmatched on Saturday, and it plays into Clemson's favor that they don't have another juggernaut this weekend and can breathe some relief before they get into the meat of their schedule.
Meanwhile, Swinney expects freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander, junior tight end Sam Cooper and freshman tight end Jordan Leggett to play Saturday against South Carolina State. Redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Kelly will again be available, either if needed or if the opportunity to play him presents itself.
Saturday's win, while only being one game, did a lot to solidify the Clemson name as an upper level football program that can win big ballgames and compete with anyone in the country. All offseason, Clemson fans faced the backlash of an SEC community that poked fun at this program's bowl win against an LSU team that evidently didn't care about being there. Clemson now has a colossal win at home over a top 5 SEC team to start the season. As Dabo once said after a previous win against another SEC squad, what they say now?