With hurricane Florence on everyone’s minds, Clemson returned to Death Valley to take on Sun Belt powerhouse Georgia Southern and their option offense attack. Option teams can always be a bit tricky to handle, but the Tiger defense has seen it enough to understand the discipline necessary to keep it in check, and that is what happened today as they held the Eagles to under 100 yards rushing.
Clemson took the ball at the 25 after the kickoff sailed out of the end zone. Travis Etienne gave the Tigers 7 yards on first down and Hunter Renfrow converted the first down with a catch. The Tigers were clearly intent on running plays quickly as they pressed the tempo early. Kelly Bryant underthrew a wide open Amari Rodgers but later hit Braden Galloway on 3rd and 10 for a first down. On the next play, however, The Tigers ran a wide receiver screen and a GSU corner jumped it for an interception. That play used to be a reliable yard gainer for Clemson, but lately it is clear that teams have scouted it and adjusted, reducing its effectiveness. Time for a go route off that look?
The Eagles took over at their 24 yard line. They started with a nice run by the Eagle QB on an option. But, running against the Tiger defense is a plan with a low probability of success and the numbers didn’t work out for GSU. They did get a nice punt off, putting the Tiger offense on the field at the 15 yard line. Bryant started off with a 17-yard run on first down. Tavien Feaster came in at RB on this series and had a run and then a nice catch and run on a flare pass to move the chains. A couple more good runs by Feaster moved the chains and Etienne came back in and kept the yardage coming. John Simpson was called for a chop block and pushed the Tigers back 15 yards. Bryant faked the WR screen and took off up the middle to give the Tigers 3rd and 10. Bryant couldn’t find a receiver and the offensive line couldn’t keep a 4-man rush off him. Huegel’s FG attempt was unsuccessful and the Tigers had a second good drive result in no points.
GSU started at their 22 yard line but had a false start penalty, and getting behind the chains is something an option team definitely doesn’t want to do. The Eagles were at 3rd and 10, but Clelin Ferrell jumped offside. But on 3rd and 5, Austin Bryant got a sack to force the punt. Trevor Lawrence came in at QB for the Tigers. The drive got some momentum started but Adam Choice fumbled on a run up the middle and GSU recovered it at their 48. The Tiger offense had given up two turnovers and the score was 0-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Eagles couldn’t move the ball much and punted it away. The punt took an Eagle bounce and put the Tigers on their own 7.
Lawrence hit Milan Richard for 9 yards on first down. Etienne had a good run despite poor blocking to get the first down. Lawrence hit Richard again for a 17-yard gain. It was good to see the TE position making an appearance. The Tigers moved down the field and Renfrow almost had a TD, but the Turf Monster got him as he tried to elude an Eagle defender. Lawrence had a nice run to get a first down inside the 10. Feaster couldn’t punch it in on 2nd down and Etienne couldn’t get to the end zone on 3rd down. Short yardage blocking did not look good at all. But on 4th down Etienne walked in and with the Huegel extra point, the Tigers were finally up 7-0.
B.J. Potter put the ensuing kickoff into Lake Hartwell and the Eagles started at the 25. After a delay of game penalty, an incomplete pass, and a short run, GSU found themselves at 3rd and 11. Freshman DE Xavier Thomas sacked the Eagle QB and GSU punted it. Rodgers had a nice return but a holding penalty brought it back to the Tiger 30. Bryant was back in at QB and hit Diondre Overton for a nice gain on first down. Bryant was then tackled on a wide run and went out of the game with what appeared to be a minor injury. Lawrence came back in and promptly hit freshman Justyn Ross who made some nice moves after the catch and got to the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown. The Tigers were up 14-0. with a little over 5 minutes left in the first half.
The Eagles came out running, with predictable results, but did try a deep throw down the middle on 2nd down that didn’t find the target with good coverage by Isaiah Simmons. Failing to convert on 3rd down, the Eagles punted and I wasn’t impressed at all with the blocking on the return by the Tigers. Etienne had a 35-yard run on 1st down. Seeing that working, the coaches said “Hey, let’s keep doing that!” With Etienne needing a breather, Feaster came in and moved the ball down to the 1-yard line, setting up 1st and goal. It only took one down for Feaster to punch it in. Huegel’s PAT made it 21-0 Clemson with 53 seconds left in the half. The Tiger offense finally seemed to be firing on all cylinders. The Eagles ran two plays and let the clock run out.
Clemson kicked off to start the second half, and Kelly Bryant did not come out of the locker room. His injury status was unknown at this point. The Eagles didn’t do much with their drive and a short punt put the Tiger offense at the Eagle 44. Freshman Lyn-J Dixon had a 10-yard run on 1st down and got another 4 yards on the next play. A nice fake pitch by Lawrence and pass to TE Cannon Smith down the middle moved the ball down into the red zone. An unnecessary roughness penalty by guard Matt Bockhorst pushed the Tigers back 15 yards and they had to settle for a 37-yard Huegel FG. The score was 24-0.
GSU started their drive by getting a first down but later couldn’t convert a 3rd and 9 when Mark Fields came close to having a pick-six. The punt put the Tigers on their own 21. Lawrence brought the offense out and hit Ross again down the middle for a 29-yard gain, but a false start penalty brought it back. Later, the Turf Monster reappeared and got Adam Choice and then the Tigers couldn’t convert a 3rd and 6 as Lawrence rolled left to avoid a middle blitz but couldn’t connect with Ross on the sideline. Huegel couldn’t hit the 47-yard FG and the score remained 24-0.
The Eagles started a decent drive and got a couple of first downs to move into Tiger territory for the first time. They were achieving success using their 290-pound nose tackle C.J. Wright at running back. At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Eagles were on the Clemson 37. On the first play of the 4th quarter though, the magic ran out and Wright fumbled. Clemson took over and tried to hit Higgins deep but couldn’t connect. On the next play, the pass was tipped and the Eagles intercepted it at the Tiger 46. The Eagles executed a nice halfback pass down to the Tiger 6. GSU then ran it in and the score was 24-7.
Kelly Bryant returned to the Tiger sideline, but Lawrence stayed on the field. The Tigers couldn’t keep the drive alive on a 3rd down pass to Renfrow, however, and punted it down to the GSU 42. The Eagles had a good drive, making several first downs. The Tiger defense got tired of it and Austin Bryant got his second sack to force a 4th and 22 with 6:38 left in the game. The Eagles went for it, but Ferrell would have nothing of it and got a sack.
Etienne got a couple of touches and that was all it took to get to the end zone. From 40 yards out, he put the Tigers up 31-7. The Eagles weren’t able to do anything and punted again. Chase Brice came out at QB on the Tiger possession with about four minutes left. Choice bounced outside for 32 yards. Brice hit Ross with a nice throw down to the 10. Choice then ran it in and the Tigers were up 38-7 with just over two minutes left. GSU ran the clock out to give the Tigers the win.
Clemson now gets into the ACC part of their schedule traveling down I-85 to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets next week. As always, we’ll have the best in-depth coverage of today’s game and previews of what the Tiger face next week in Atlanta. Until then, let’s hear your thoughts on how the Tigers did today in the comments section below.