We've all been beating the horse about how bad last weekend was. I generally regret not being able to attend games in person, but this time I was pretty thankful as that Troy game crawled into the fourth hour and the heat was August worthy. I sat on my couch in some kind of haze of disbelief watching what should be a juggernaut offense sputter. Coach Steele and Coach Koenning have come off looking like genius coordinators. While they had sound plans and their guys played very inspired football, Clemson provided a boat load of help via dropped balls, errant passes, and poorly timed screw ups from the offensive line to make things much tighter than they should have been. The book on defending Clemson in 2016 is out and it is up to Watson and his mates to burn it.
Clemson offense versus S.C. State defense: I've looked like a total idiot so far this year after mentioning this year's offense in the realm of juggernauts like 2005 Southern California and 2013 FSU. While Auburn has a defense that is going to prove to be stout this year, there is no excuse for allowing Troy to do what it did to the Tigers last week. Both games have featured an all out attempt to stop the basic run game of the Tigers. As a result, there have been plenty of big plays ripe for the taking which the Tigers just haven't been able to execute. The Boston College game last year felt this way early on as they loaded up on the run and Watson was off on his deep shots. However, that didn't last all game and the Tigers put up 400+ yards through the air, punishing a very good BC defense. Clemson had, by my count, five dead to right deep shots that were either dropped or overthrown last week. Teams are going to continue to test Clemson this way until Watson and the WR's get locked in. South Carolina State is overmatched in every way imaginable in this game, but that won't stop them from throwing the sink at the Tiger offense looking to have their own moral victory celebration like Troy had last week. Watson showed signs of taking this by the reigns this week, not by calling out teammates but by looking at his own approach. I'd like to think that fearless gunslinger we saw in 2014 and down the stretch last year will be back this week.
Hopefully the supporting cast will have been humbled enough to find that laser focus required to be great. At the same time, I expect more of the heavy substitutions we saw last week which could hinder things a bit. The staff isn't interested in being off the charts great at the moment at the expense of developing much needed depth. It is a delicate balance.
The most important thing to me is not as much getting the passing game clicking, though that is important, but getting the run game established. The offensive line has been pretty terrible in the run game all year long, especially so last week. The culprit has been one, if not two, guys giving up immediate penetration. Last year's line was very effective in getting a hat on a hat if nothing else, which allowed Gallman and Watson to do their thing. This year's group is just missing targets and turning guys loose way too often. I'm sure it hasn't been a pleasant week in that meeting room with Coach Caldwell and only Guillermo and Hyatt should feel remotely safe in their starting jobs in my opinion. Let's see if there really is competitive depth along the OL. Several readers here have pointed out something I have wondered as well: how much of the zone read game is really zone read? It really has looked pre-determined rather than a true read play and it just isn't nearly as effective that way. The staff needs to find something in the run game to hang its hat on no matter what front the defense is presenting. Throwing for 500 yards would be fun to watch, but the hard lessons of 2011-2013 have taught us that the run game has to emerge for this team to challenge for a title.
Clemson defense vs. SC State offense: The silver lining this season has been that the defense, especially the front seven, has been just about as disruptive as the previous two units were. Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins, and Dexter Lawrence have been dominant at the point of attack. Good things have also come from new starters Clelin Ferrell and Kendall Joseph. One major red flag emerged last week when Van Smith was targeted and exposed in coverage several times by Troy. While Smith has been solid in the run game, he hasn't been able to match up in coverage nearly to the degree that T.J. Green did (when T.J. was on task, that is). Hopefully Smith's deal is more technique than ability, but it is something to watch going forward. This game SHOULD be a great chance for guys like K'Von Wallace and Trayvon Mullen to get some action and show what they can do.
I'm also looking for more out of Tanner Muse and Denzel Johnson behind Smith and Jadar Johnson (who has played pretty well, save a couple of plays). The battle continues on the other side of Tankersley this week between Ryan Carter, Mark Fields, and Marcus Edmond. Can the defense find sustained dominance for four quarters and avoid the let downs that plagued last year's group and this unit last week? It will be interesting to see former Tiger signee (and non qualifier) Javarius Leamon at left tackle for the Bulldogs. Dabo touted him as an NFL prospect this week and he certainly has great size and length. In the end this should be a complete mismatch up front.
Special Teams: I just have to laugh at this point. Even when this unit is great, it finds a way to NOT be by dropping the ball going in for a touchdown. I'm still very concerned about the punt game as Teasdall has been very underwhelming. Unless the offense really gets rolling, the team HAS to get better play out of him. Let's hope the former happens so we don't have to sweat it.
Overall/Prediction: There isn't much drama for a game like this, but its importance has grown a great deal thanks to the offense not playing nearly like it should. Now this game looms large as the last chance to find it against a team it can afford to make mistakes against. Watson promised a better attitude from him and I look forward to seeing it in person. At the risk of looking foolish once again, I'm going to say this team will score early and often and run away with a 52-10 win.