I got married in the summer of 2001, so I’m blessed to be 20 years in and that is significant. Of course, that year took a very dark and sharp turn in September when 9/11 happened and everything changed forever. I know all of us who were around then can say where we were, what we were doing, etc. It is surreal to think that was 20 years ago now. We should never forget that day and the sacrifices of so many brave people. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Tiger Band and the Marching 101 plan to pay tribute on Saturday. God Bless America.
On the football front, Clemson hero and current running backs coach C.J. Spiller is going to be recognized for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. It is well deserved and should serve as another reminder of the travesty of his omission from the Heisman Trophy finalists in 2009. Any time we can stand and cheer the great #28 is awesome in my book. I’ve told him personally that he should be the next guy in the Ring of Honor and this is just another step in that (hopefully) inevitable direction.
Last week was a bitter pill to swallow, as any loss is. The game was even more of a defensive battle than I had anticipated, and I had a pretty low total of 43 going in myself. Clemson’s defense performed admirably, especially considering Tyler Davis and Nolan Turner couldn’t play. Those two things usually meant disaster last year, but this defense flexed its improved depth and discipline very well. Special teams were also very solid, but the offense did next to nothing to contribute and actually provided the only touchdown in the game via a pick six. However, in a strictly football sense, I take more positives than negatives from this game, and it should serve the team well later in the games that will matter most during the season. This week’s game is about as cupcake as it gets and everyone knows it. SC State needs a paycheck and Clemson needs a low stress home game. If things go as they should, the Tigers will look like a completely different team on offense while cementing themselves as one of the top 2 or 3 defenses in the country. We will get to enjoy a full tailgating scene and nearly full stadium as well.
Clemson offense vs. SC State defense: I will certainly be watching for vast improvement on this side of the ball. Clemson will enjoy a lofty talent advantage and SHOULD be able to establish a run game well beyond the paltry production from last week. Any continued struggles here will really begin to sound the warning bells for me and probably everyone else who pulls for the Tigers. I remember how it felt early in 2011 when Tajh Boyd and the new Tiger offense had struggled for the first half against Troy, but that offense exploded by the second quarter against Auburn in game 2 and a new era of offense for Clemson was born. Now, SC State is a far cry from that Auburn team, but I would certainly expect a much, much sharper performance from the Tigers here. These Bulldogs are much better on offense than defense, and not putting this game to bed by halftime would be a major disappointment.
I’m still looking closely at the battle for RB 1. Kobe Pace got the nod last week, but it was only after the game that we learned that Lyn-J Dixon was suspended for a half (and maybe longer because he didn’t enter the game until the 4th quarter). They are still listed as either/or starters. Pace was banged up in the UGA game and Dixon looked good in his limited time in the game, both on his 10 yard run and in pass protection. Will Shipley got his first action as well and had a nice moment on a pass he turned into a first down, though he learned a hard lesson about trying to bounce a run when he suffered a TFL. Otherwise the backs did well enough at least getting upfield and not getting behind the chains on their very limited opportunities (just 9 total carries!). Shipley was running stark free on a wheel route early but unfortunately didn’t get the look on that play that was eventually batted at the LOS. RB by committee isn’t really how the staff would prefer to go, so eventually the team needs one of these guys to seize command of the position and the roles to be clearly defined.
DJ Uiagalelei garners a lot of attention as any starting QB does, and I certainly think he will be light years better and more comfortable this week vs. last. He just wasn’t trusting things early in the game and the Tigers had gotten totally one dimensional by the time he started playing better later on. The Clemson OL seems to be set on the starting 5 from last week, so now it comes down to improving cohesion and functional depth. I expect to see guys like Deitric Pennington and Mitchell Mays get looks after the Tigers played just 6 OL in the UGA game. Pennington in particular is a guy I’m looking to see bring a different level of size and power to the guard position to hopefully unlock the running game.
The Clemson WR and TE units were not able to dominate the matchup last week which was a major key to Clemson winning the game. I don’t think anyone thought the Tigers would do a ton in the running game (though 2 net yards was truly pathetic) and would need to throw it to win. The timing was off, routes were screwed up, and only Joseph Ngata seemed capable of making consistent contested plays. When they did get open, DJ wasn’t finding them or the protection broke down before he could get the ball out. Only Ngata got a passing grade from me, and that shouldn’t be happening with veterans like Ross, Allen, Galloway, and Ladson out there. The perimeter screen game was abandoned early after some pathetic blocking doomed the early looks at those plays. Galloway had a critical drop on what was the final drive of the game. I doubt “Mental Monday” was fun for those guys. I expect a bounce back game this week with some explosive plays on display. Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell were missed last week, but Clemson has the talent in house to replace them if they can step it up.
Clemson defense vs. SC State offense: The Tiger defense was as advertised. UGA wanted no part of trying to run longer developing plays and their efforts to run sugar huddles and tempo did not reap nearly the rewards that they had hoped from seeing last year’s Sugar Bowl. UGA sports 4 and 5 stars across the board on the OL, something only Alabama can also say, as well as a stable of stud RB. They made very few critical mistakes and still couldn’t break 300 yards despite having advantages in field position nearly all game long. The secondary’s physicality was so much better than what we saw a lot of the time last season. I was really worried about James Cook out of the backfield on passes but he was eliminated. Bryan Bresee was great despite having to deal with a shoulder stinger, and Xavier Thomas showed he is going to be a real factor this year. Tyler Davis and Nolan Turner getting added back will only help take this unit to an even higher level.
SC State is coming off a 41 point performance and feels pretty good about its offense. They will probably try to attack the Clemson secondary more than UGA tried to do, but you never know in games like this. We’ve seen “wide open” teams like Charlotte come to Death Valley and go super conservative as to not get the starters killed and just get out alive. I’ll never forget how Kent State tried to play offense in 2017. They were content to run the ball into the teeth of the Power Rangers and punt until the clock ran out. I hope SC State is a little more bold than that so the Tigers can see how they defend multiple things, especially with what should be a heavier rotation of players in the two and three deep. We’ve heard about the little to no drop off but now is the time to put that to the test.
Special Teams: The Tigers were good here last week and even created a turnover that could have been a game changer had the offense not blown it. UGA came after Spiers with a vengeance and he was unphased. Potter’s kickoffs weren’t all touchbacks but the coverage was solid when they weren’t. Potter nailed his one kick attempt, but unfortunately the team couldn’t get in realistic range any other time. The return game wasn’t a factor, however, as UGA consistently punted the Tigers down deep and stopped Shipley inside the 25 on his one kick return opportunity. We are all still waiting for an explosive kick return. Will Taylor got the nod at punt return and didn’t screw up, though he made a couple of catches look shakier than you’d like. You figure he’s the guy since they put him out there against UGA. Hopefully he will get better return opportunities after seeing the rain makers the UGA punter launched last week.
Overall: This game should be over at halftime, if not the first quarter. It all comes down to how crisply the Tigers can execute. If anyone across the front is having issues one on one, there should be a lot of worry, so most problems that happen would be because of a missed assignment or communication problems. If nothing else, Clemson needs to feel good about itself on offense and re-establish itself as the explosive unit fans have been accustomed to seeing the vast majority of the time since 2011. You hope for good health as well.
Clemson 51-SC State 6