The bye week comes just two weeks into the season, and the Tigers will look to get guys healthy (particular several underclassmen) and put in extra prep for NC State for a showdown in Raleigh in 10 days. On Saturday, Clemson did what we expected them to do. They rolled SC State and were still able to get in significant reps for a ton of guys (who likely otherwise wouldn't get it). If this is truly the national title run type year that Dabo has been building towards, this program will need all hands on deck to accomplish that. Getting players extra time on Saturday could potentially prove invaluable later in the season.
Clemson's defense, criticized for giving up 545 yards in the Georgia win, then showed its big-play ability with a pair of interception return touchdowns -- 52 yards by Martin Jenkins and 35 yards by Darius Robinson -- for the first time in program history. "We kind of set the tone," Jenkins said. "As a defense, we kind of have to."
The offense on Saturday (despite sputtering and looking out of sync at times in the first half) put up another 500 yard, 50+ point performance, but it was the defense that proved to be a nice surprise with their play. With years of Kevin Steele defenses that seemed to only have success against vanilla pro-style offenses (cough Virginia Tech), it was refreshing to see takeaways, good tackling, and relatively few blown assignments. Sure its South Carolina State, but it's also progress. We know the offense is going to score points on just about every defense we face from here on out, but if the defense can do just enough to continue to put the Morris attack in position to do what they do, this season will be incredibly successful.
From the opening kick, the body language was clear. Coach Dabo Swinney wanted some answers before Clemson ventured much deeper in the season. "Last week, that was a big stage. We had guys that thought they were ready, but when they got on that sideline there was a few of them that just being on the sideline was a good experience," Swinney said. On a picture perfect day before a not-quite packed Death Valley, and with a nice break immediately ahead before the Thursday night game at N.C. State on Sept. 19, this was an opportunity to probe the roster’s potential.
Let's take a peak at NC State. The Dave Doeren era has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. The good news is the Pack are sitting at 2-0. The bad news is Doeren's club is playing without it's game one starter in Brandon Mitchell (broken foot) and they had to kick a field goal with under a minute left to beat FCS team Richmond. Woof. Doeren is a good coach, in both his seasons at Northern Illinois he won MAC Championships. He'll eventually put that program in the right direction, but it may take some time. Tom O'Brien was a good fit for Boston College, but NC State was never the proper place to utilize his skill set. He struggled to recruit even averagely in-state and he never could take NC State to the next step and win a conference title. I think Doeren will be better than the 40-35 record O'Brien posted in Raleigh, but until then Clemson and FSU will be kings of the Atlantic.
Doeren will take over an N.C. State program that stands in far better shape today than in 2007, when O'Brien inherited a 3-9 team from Chuck Amato. The Wolfpack have reached bowl play in each of the last three years and in four of the last five, so Doeren will step into a somewhat enviable position. But if there's a question about his ability to live up to Yow's promise, it would be over Doeren's ability to recruit at an "Alabama" level – or even at a level higher than O'Brien, who struggled keeping pace with his ACC and SEC regional rivals on the recruiting trail.
All of Doeren's coaching experience has come outside the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, where N.C. State has historically made recruiting inroads. Since graduating from Drake University in 1993, Doeren has served at his alma mater (1995-97), as a graduate assistant at Southern California (1998-99) and as a defensive assistant at Montana (2000-01), Kansas (2002-05) and Wisconsin (2006-10).
This is not to say Clemson should take the Wolfpack lightly. Everyone remembers the beatdown in Raleigh two seasons ago, and we certainly can't allow that to happen again if we have big aspirations for this season. At this point though I'm confident this is a more mature program and can handle the pressure that comes with a Thursday night road game. Dabo will be hammering home what occurred two seasons ago, and I think the offense will come out strong after a sort of lackluster performance by the first string last weekend.
2. If the N.C. State defense plays like it has the first two weeks, Clemson will put up a ton of points on Sept. 19 in Raleigh Penalties weren't the only problem for the defense this week, but an issue nonetheless. Last week against Louisiana Tech, it was bad tackling. This time, it was more halftime adjustments, simplifying the schemes and just calming down. In the first half, Richmond had 237 yards on 36 plays, scoring three touchdowns on six drives (one drive was a kneel down at the end of the half). In the second half, N.C. State held Richmond to 85 yards on 34 plays, forcing two turnovers and allowing no points on seven drives.
It's hard to get a great read on this NC State team at this point, because both of their wins came against non-ACC caliber opponents. Pete Thomas, the Colorado State transfer, is the new QB, and has been okay in action, but certainly hasn't wow'd anybody. It will take some time before he's truly comfortable in his new role, a position he wasn't expected to have at this point in the season. The Wolfpack have been salty against the run so far, but still this team's very much of a mystery heading into next Thursday's game. It's hard to know how much Doeren has really shown thus far (I would guess a lot though because of how much they struggled on Saturday).
The Wolfpack outgained Richmond 444-322, but had four turnovers in Spiders territory. Three of the turnovers came in the second half, after the defense had seemingly clamped down and taken control of the game. And all but one of the turnovers came in field goal range, so the Wolfpack arguably cost themselves nine points. N.C. State cut the Richmond lead to 21-13 at half, and a touchdown midway through the third made it 21-20. Why go for two when there was plenty of time left? Well, how was anyone to know N.C. State would turn it over on two of its final four possessions after that?
As for Clemson, the season is going along incredibly well at this point. The Tigers sit #3 in the AP standings, they have a top five victory under their belt, and South Carolina just lost to Georgia this past weekend which just added to the enormity of the week one victory. Still, there's a ton left to be accomplished. ACC play is about to start, and the Tigers have ten days to prepare for the long quest towards Charlotte.