It felt great to sit back and soak in college football last weekend, even if some of the product wasn’t great and the lack of fans made it a bit weird. Clemson was, of course for me, the highlight of the evening, and did not disappoint. Even though the backups were not able to produce points and push the score out more, the starters and primary reserves looked much sharper than what I saw in other games. Trevor Lawrence looked every bit the polished assassin we would hope to expect from a third year starter with that skill set. Although Travis Etienne didn’t have one of his super explosive runs, he was an eyelash away on several occasions and still eclipsed 100 yards with a score on the ground. As Alex Craft has noted in his film reviews, Wake did a great job of finding a way to trip Travis up to save themselves, and the Deacons played with tremendous effort.
Now the Tigers open their home season in front of just under 20,000 fans. I guess you will call these games sellouts but I’m not sure how that is going to work. Still, that should feel a lot better than the empty bleachers in Winston-Salem last week. I thought Notre Dame probably had the best setup with their fans of the games I watched last week. They prioritized students and it gave the stadium about as much life as you can expect under these circumstances. Clemson’s students will have to fire it up from the upper deck, but hopefully they will embrace the challenge from there. Still, at least there is a game!
Obviously, this is a major mismatch and should be an easy win for the Tigers. The Citadel will need Clemson to show an uncustomary lack of focus and effort to hang around for a bit. Each player on this year’s team knows that every game could literally be the last one because of the pandemic, so the chances of a lack of focus are slimmer than ever. It should be another chance for the reserve players to get more experience and hopefully improve from last week’s performance.
Clemson offense vs. Citadel defense: Citadel’s defense kept them hanging around last week against Jeff Scott’s South Florida team. You expect toughness and effort from any military school and the Bulldogs certainly deliver that. They had a lot of challenges with the roster before the season and it is a little fortunate they are able to play. It’s also fortunate that Clemson could get this game after South Carolina was taken off by the SEC’s choice to play conference games only. This experience will be one of the top highlights of the Citadel players’ careers. They can always say they played against Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and the top ranked Clemson Tigers. When I was coaching basketball at Christ School earlier in my career, we played Oak Hill Academy. We were a good team, but Oak Hill was an elite power and we got beat pretty badly. However, those guys can always say they played against future college and NBA stars.
The first team offense looked very good at Wake, all things considered. The passing game looked a lot more diverse and we saw the tight end position make the biggest impact since 2016. All three tight ends had big moments, led by Braden Galloway, and that should present a scary film study for future opponents. Good tight end play makes life miserable for linebackers and safeties who already have to sell out to deal with Etienne. The first team rolled off 50 plays in the first half, which shows much improved tempo. This game is all about building on that and, as noted earlier, getting those backups more reps and another opportunity to try to move the ball and put up points.
We saw D.J. Uiagalelei roll out second, which wasn’t a huge surprise, but he did not get much opportunity to push the ball downfield. The arm talent was clearly evident though, and it is crazy to think he’s a freshman at that size. He should get even more action this week than last. Taisun Phommachanh threw a pick but definitely has a pretty big arm of his own as we saw on his one deep ball attempt that was a pretty throw. Both of those guys had to play behind the developing second- and third-team OL guys, and that was uneven as we expected it would be.
The team didn’t take Mikey Dukes or Chez Mellusi to Wake, and Lyn-J Dixon was held out as a precaution, so that meant extended action for Darien Rencher and our first look at true freshmen Kobe Pace and Demarckus Bowman. I had thought Bowman might be used for kick return, but Joseph Ngata got the nod for that. Rencher certainly benefited more from having the first team OL in front of him for the majority of his carries. It will be very interesting to see how Tony Elliott handles the reps if all the backs are available this weekend. I suspect Etienne will need to do his damage with around 7-8 carries before his day is done.
The Citadel has a pretty veteran unit, but they are bringing a butter knife to a gun fight. They have little choice but to load the box against the run and play off coverage. We saw Clemson attack with the slants against that look last week a little more than the usual quick hitch routes we saw a lot of last year. Trevor seemed very content to work the intermediate areas rather than trying to push a deep ball on the sidelines. The time will come to really take the top off a defense, but it is nice to see him smoothly taking what is there to take.
Citadel offense vs. Clemson defense: There was a lot of hype about the freshman class, particularly on the defensive line, and we got a glimpse of the massive potential of Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy. It is pretty scary when Murphy racks up the numbers he did and know that he didn’t grade a winner (none of the DE’s did, apparently). I know many, like me, were worried to see Tyler Davis go down, but thankfully it appears he will be back in October. There is more depth up front this year than last, but there is no question that Davis is a difference maker up front and needed to really make a push for a title. I picked Baylon Spector as my “where did he come from?” award winner of the year, and he was the player of the game on defense by the staff, but how about Regan Upshaw? I saw that #53 blow that screen play up and was like, “Who the heck is that?” Opponents have to think it just isn’t fair that a guy like Upshaw comes in and makes plays who Clemson didn’t even recruit out of high school.
The secondary was unexpectedly depleted last week, and Andrew Booth had a shaky start in his first major action, but they got steadily better as the game went along and were helped out by a dominant front seven. The Citadel brings the old triple option attack to town and so the secondary will be working on avoiding cut blocks and getting burned over the top out of a play action. Brent Venables has made destroying option football an art form, so it could be ugly on this side of the ball. Perhaps inexperience will lead to a few plays busting loose, but I don’t expect the Bulldogs to reach double figure scoring.
Special Teams: How about B.T. Potter? Dude made a 52-yarder look like an extra point. He looks like he may very well have put it all together and could be the best placekicker we have had in a very long time. Cat Man was great but didn’t have this kind of leg this early in his career. Will Spiers was solid, though you’d like to see him not hit it so well when we are trying to pin a team back. We didn’t get much opportunity to see anything in the return game. A lot of teams experienced disaster on special teams over the weekend, including The Citadel in hilarious fashion, so kudos to the Tigers for being sound in the kicking game. Bresee added a blocked FG to help keep Wake scoreless in the first half.
Overall: Clemson gets this tune up game and a bye week before the schedule really gets going. We are looking for growth for the backups and newcomers and NO INJURIES. Not having tailgating and all the other awesome things that come with home football games is a bummer, but we can still cherish that the team is playing and that some will get to see it in person.
Tigers find more points this time: CLEMSON 53, THE CITADEL 6