Welcome back everyone. As off-seasons go, spending it celebrating a national championship is not bad, but now it’s time to move on and chase another one. The Tigers opened up the 2017 season against the Kent State University Golden Flashes today, and no one expected KSU to be a serious threat to win the game. But, this is college football and as Appalachian State proved ten years ago beating Michigan in Ann Arbor, anything can happen.
It was not to be a day for historic upsets. KSU kicked off to start the game and the ball went out of bounds. It didn’t get much better for the Golden Flashes as the day progressed. The big question surrounding Clemson football was how the offense would be without Deshaun Watson. The first Tiger possession showed that Kelly Bryant is ready to lead this offense. He ran well, as expected, and the coaches brought the passing game in gradually. The expected strength of the offense, the run game powered by an experienced offensive line, showed up early as C.J. Fuller ran it in pretty much unmolested from 26 yards out to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. Granted, the athletic level of the competition is not what the Tigers will see the rest of the season, but the execution looked good. I saw more than just physically superior athletes dominating their opponents.
The Tiger defense made the game a little boring to watch as they thoroughly dominated the Golden Flashes in the trenches. Later in the first half Dexter Lawrence literally threw a sizable KSU lineman about 4 yards down the field. That pretty much sums up what the starting defense brought to Death Valley today. With the usual cautions about how injuries can change things as a season evolves, this defense is going to be historically good, and Clemson has had some dominant defenses in the past. We didn’t get to see much out of the Tiger corners today, reportedly because KSU offensive coaching staff had read an article on The Onion site that the forward pass had been banned for 2017. During halftime someone explained The Onion to them, and they seemed to half-heartedly believe it for a few minutes in the second half, throwing five times on the day. I think I saw the Tiger corners working on homework assignments while the KSU offense was on the field.
On the second Tiger possession, we saw that Bryant can do more than run and throw short-medium passes. He hit Deon Cain with a 61-yard touchdown strike, dropping the ball beautifully into Cain’s hands at full stride. This is one throw, so let’s not be too quick to conclude too much, but he can clearly make the deep throws that keep secondaries on their heels and allow a run game to control the pace of a game. If that throw was not a fluke, it bodes well for the Tigers. Adam Choice later ran the ball in from 3 yards out to put the Tigers up 21-0.
At the start of the second quarter, KSU put up a decent drive and finished it with a field goal to make the score 21-3. On the ensuing drive, the Tiger offense didn’t do much but the punt was pretty good. The Tiger defense shut KSU down on their next possession. On the next Tiger possession, I saw something very encouraging from Kelly Bryant. He showed great patience and pocket awareness, made multiple reads down the field and then took off on a long run. Unfortunately the drive ended in an interception that was no fault of his on an aggressive throw on a slant into the end zone. On the next Tiger drive, some guy named Hunter Renfrow made a catch and Bryant ran it in from 8 yards out to make it 28-3 at the half.
On the opening drive of the second half, Bryant was throwing well and TE Milan Richard had a nice run after catch to move the ball 44 yards down the field. Fuller ran in from two yards out to cap the drive and make the score 35-3. The next Clemson drive saw Zerrick Cooper come in at QB and Tavien Feaster showed his home run speed on a 47-yard touchdown run. Cornell Powell later had a 14-yard touchdown putting the Tigers up 49-3 in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Travis Etienne showed why the Clemson coaching staff have talked so glowingly about his skills. He got loose up the middle on a 54-yard run and probably would have gone to the house if the umpire hadn’t gotten in the way. Etienne got into the end zone later on a 4 yard run, putting the Tigers up 56-3.
So, the day went pretty much as expected. The only real highlight for KSU was their punting. Their punter is on the Ray Guy Award watch list, and I understand why. Next week the Tigers will play host to a much more athletically matched team in Auburn. I didn’t see any real concerns for Clemson today, so I expect the Auburn game to be a good one that will show us the prospects for the Tigers to successfully defend their national championship. Check back with us at STS over the next few days for full, in-depth coverage of the KSU game and previews of the Auburn game. Let’s hear your thoughts on today’s game in the comments section below.