Last week, Troy brought a pass-heavy attack into Death Valley (though apparently no more pass-heavy than Clemson’s own). Clemson’s defense, even with that green secondary many were concerned about, held them in check for three and a half quarters. Meanwhile, Clemson’s defensive line dominated like we’d expect.
More surprisingly though, Clemson’s rushing attack was stymied while Deshaun Watson and the receivers struggled to get their acts together at the same time. WRs dropped sure catches (e.g., Deon Cain with a jaw-dropping drop on a deep shot), there was a lack of focus (e.g., Ray-Ray McCloud dropping the ball before crossing the goal line so he could showboat), and a lack of execution (e.g., the offensive line failing to create running lanes).
This makes what would normally be a uninteresting game against SC State much more interesting and worth preview and discussion. Although not originally planned, we scoured the web and found a Clemson season ticket holder who also happens to be oddly knowledgeable about SC State football. It’s our last tune-up before Georgia Tech and Louisville and Bill Mooneyhan (Twitter) helps us preview.
Bold indicates my question, regular text is his response.
Clemson’s defense has been the bright spot while the offense and special teams are still trying to figure some things out. The defense played valiantly against Auburn, though helped by a bad QB situation. Until two late TD drives, the defense was great against Troy too (even with Troy having far more possessions than usual due to Clemson’s pace and lack of sustained drives). What type of offense will they face this week with the SC State Bulldogs in town?
South Carolina State is trying to run a pro-style offense (with some spread elements), but to be honest the Bulldogs are struggling heavily on offense after being shut out by UCF and scoring 14 of their 24 points against Louisiana Tech once the game was out of reach. South Carolina State’s offensive line has struggled this season and has hampered the running game tremendously. Unlike their last trip to Death Valley, the Bulldogs know who their QB is this time and it’s the promising sophomore Caleb York. York hasn’t put up great numbers, but if you watch him play you can see the lack of playmakers and a weak offensive line are holding him back from putting up more points. I think Clemson fans will see an offense that lacks identity and is overwhelmed by Clemson’s defensive line.
Against Auburn’s front-seven, Clemson struggled to run the ball consistently. We figured that would change against Troy, but it seemed to get even worse. Now playing an FCS opponent, can we glean any optimism if Clemson is finally able to open up some running lanes? How worried should we be if they are not?
SC State led the FCS in sacks last year. They lost their best defensive lineman Javon Hargrave (3rd round pick), but the Bulldogs have still looked impressive up front. The SC State linebackers and secondary have looked decent but haven’t impressed me too much. I think Clemson overwhelms the SC State defense when passing and running outside the tackles but running up the middle may still be a struggle unless the Tigers’ offensive line plays better.
What one Clemson player would you most like to see have a big game and get back on track in this one? Why them?
There are a few Clemson players that I would like to see get back on track but most of all I really would like to see Deon Cain absolutely dominate a game like he is capable of doing. I think he has the potential to be the best overall receiver on this team, but I don't think we have seen him get even close to playing his best game.
After a concerning close-shave against Troy what type of progress and improvement are you hoping to see against SC State?
Clemson has a perfect opportunity to make a lot of corrections against SC State. The Bulldogs will have a good season in FCS play but they are the weakest team Clemson plays this season. SC State will provide the Clemson offensive line a quality challenge and hopefully help the Tigers work out some issues there.
The Clemson defense should be able to keep South Carolina state to some short drives and give the Tigers’ offense plenty of opportunities to get into the rhythm they need. I think the Tigers get win handily.