Welcome back everybody. After far too long, football returned to a fully populated Death Valley as the Tigers took on the South Carolina State Bulldogs. After last week’s defensive battle with Georgia, I was somewhat amused by all of the talk by SEC fans (e.g. ESPN) that the Clemson dynasty was over and the playoff would consist of multiple SEC teams. Well, it’s just a wee bit early to be making such arguments, especially when the game was decided by a pick six. Count the Tigers out at your own peril. Today’s game was expected to be a showcase of the players that provide depth to the Tiger starters.
Due to the Syracuse-Rutgers game running long, I was only able to pick up the game at the 9-minute mark of the 1st quarter and Clemson was already up by 7 on a 4-yard D.J. Uiagalelei run. On the next Tiger drive, Will Shipley took it into the end zone from 7 yards out to put the Tigers up 14-0 with 7:20 left in the 1st quarter.
The Bulldogs ended up at 3rd & 17 and couldn’t complete the pass, so they punted. Ajou Ajou picked up 8 on 1st down and Kobe Pace had a nice run for 28 yards on 3rd down to the Bulldog 20. The Tigers kept handing it to Pace, and I was having flashbacks to the Danny Ford era as the Tiger offensive line pushed defenders back and Pace kept ripping off good chunks of yardage up the middle. It would be nice to see that kind of dominance against equally talented defenses. Pace ended up in the end zone on a 2-yard run. Clemson led 21-0 with 3:32 left in the 1st quarter.
B.T. Potter’s kick was fair-caught in the end zone, putting SC State at their 25. A short run and an incomplete pass set up 3rd & 7. Pressure from the Tiger defensive line caused Bulldog QB Corey Fields Jr. to overthrow his receiver. Will Taylor had a great punt return for 51 yards, running through multiple SC State tacklers. DJ then hit Justyn Ross in the end zone to put Clemson up 21-0. The Bulldogs had some good plays on their drive, but ended up having to punt and they pinned Clemson inside the 5. Clemson didn’t do much on their drive and punted.
Starting at their 47, Bulldog RB Kendrell Flowers ripped off a 17-yard run but R.J. Mickens picked off a Bulldog pass. D.J. promptly returned the favor with a poorly thrown hitch pass. SC State had a reasonable drive but ended up having to punt. Clemson took over at their 16.
Shipley ripped off a 30-yard run and Joseph Ngata picked up 38 yards on a catch and run. A few plays later, D.J. was in the end zone after a 5-yard run. Clemson led 35-0 with 6:32 left in the half.
Flowers had another nice run for the Bulldogs, picking up 23 yards, but the Tiger defense stiffened and forced 4th & 2. The punt sailed into the end zone and the Tiger offense took over at the 20. Clemson had a couple of good plays but Michael Dukes got sloppy with his ball handling and fumbled. SC State recovered. The Bulldogs moved inside the Tiger 10 and almost scored on a well-run slant route and a well-thrown pass, but the receiver couldn’t hold onto it. The Tigers defended well on 3rd & 5, forcing a FG attempt which was good. Clemson led 35-3 with 19 seconds left in the half. A good return by Shipley and a 5-yard penalty on the Bulldogs put the Tigers at their 44 with 12 seconds left. A roughing the passer penalty moved Clemson to the Bulldog 41. Potter’s 58-yard FG attempt went wide right and ended the first half. It’s hard to get too excited about beating up on an athletically inferior team but there was definitely some improvement this week. D.J. does need to work on accuracy and timing with his receivers, though.
SC State got the ball first when play resumed. The Tigers defensive starters continued playing and shut down the Bulldog offense, forcing a 3 & out. After the punt, Clemson started at their 35. Ngata caught a quick pass and picked up 7, but nearly fumbled it away with sloppy ball handling. I suspect there will be an emphasis on “high and tight” in practice next week. Shipley had another good run and TE Davis Allen picked up 22 yards on a pass down the middle. Shipley ended the drive several plays later by scampering 13 yards to the end zone. At 9:39 in the 3rd quarter, the Tigers led 42-3.
Backups on the Tiger defense came in and got some good reps, pushing the Bulldogs back and forcing a punt. Taisun Phommachanh came in at QB for Clemson. He had some nice throws and a good run on a 3rd &1. Will Swinney almost got into the end zone but a holding penalty brought it back. It didn’t matter. Dixon took a short pass from Taisun and went 14 yards for another Tiger score. At 3:52 in the 3rd quarter, Clemson led 49-3.
The Bulldogs moved down the field, highlighted by a 39-yard pass and got inside the Tiger 25. Looking like they had stopped the Bulldogs, the Tiger defense gave up 17 yards on 4th & 10. With 1st & goal at the 9, a couple of short runs and an incomplete pass set up 4th & goal. SC State went for it but Tiger LB Keith Maquire stepped in front of the pass and knocked it down. The Tiger defense still has not allowed a TD this year.
The Tiger drive started well with a sideline catch by Dacari Collins, but a go route on the next played ended with a great effort by the Bulldog cornerback to make a diving interception. The Bulldogs couldn’t make anything of it, though, and punted. Clemson took over at their 16. Taisun had been making good throws and this interception wasn’t awful, but leading the receiver to the inside a little bit more might well have resulted up in a score instead of a pick.
The Tiger backups couldn’t move the chains and had to punt. The Bulldogs got some good plays off on their drive, but couldn’t make it to scoring position. Alternating possessions did little more than run the clock out.
So, the Tigers got the job done today, as expected. There is still much to improve upon, but they are moving in the right direction. I see that #3 Ohio State lost to #12 Oregon. Any bets on whether ESPN will be predicting doom for the OSU program this week? Texas A&M winning by a mere 3 over unranked Colorado? “Clemson only beat SC State by 46, so obviously they don’t belong in the playoffs!!!! “ Sorry, I’m just a little annoyed by the silly talk last week from the SEC/Big 12 crowd about hw everyone is so inferior to their teams. It’s a long season and we all know how chaotic college football can be. Let’s hear what you think in the comments section. Check back with us for reviews of today’s game and previews of next week as Georgia Tech comes to town. Thanks for stopping by and we hope to see you back here next week.