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Game 2 Preview: Clemson Hosts Furman

We’re back in the Valley again!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game - Clemson at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This time last year we were licking wounds after dropping game 1 to UGA in Charlotte. It feels better coming off a win, even if it took a little longer to be assured than you might have wanted. There was plenty to gripe about, and a lot of fans have done just that, but having lived through the Ford era to now, 41-10 on the road is a pretty good day at the office.

Clemson kicks off the home schedule hosting nearby Furman. Dabo Swinney has often noted how working the in-state FCS programs onto the schedule periodically is important to helping the state as a whole. Furman gets a nice payday for their program with minimal travel expenses and Clemson gets a de facto scrimmage to help fine tune things. I won’t spend as much time on this as usual because we all know the deal in this game and what it is really for.

Clemson offense vs. Furman defense: I actually felt OK about things on that first drive against GT, but then there was that snap that was too hot/mishandled followed by a costly fumble play that helped make things uncomfortable for a while. I was very disappointed in the running game not getting to 200+ the way I predicted. Blake Miller had a rough first night out, and he is going to be a guy I’m looking at closely this week in hopes of seeing the stuff that put the true freshman in the starting five. Sometimes guys just need time to adjust to putting it out there when the lights are really on. Some are like Sammy Watkins and there really is no difference to them from practice, but many have a mental adjustment to make. We sometimes forget these guys are not only learning to play at this level in front of fan numbers they’ve never seen before, but they are also aware that a national TV audience is tuning in. Hopefully Miller takes a big step forward having gotten through that last week. I feel if he’s playing up to par, the entire OL is going to look way better.

The passing game was better last week except the WR play is still where it needs to be. David Hale posted stats that just cemented my long standing belief that WR has been the biggest problem from 2021 to now.

Tee Higgins and pre-injury Ross followed by stone cold veterans Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell just made plays and got open to a degree we haven’t come close to seeing since. The perimeter blocking effort and execution was a lot better than what we were seeing last year, but the group still needs to ramp it up in the playmaking department. Antonio Williams definitely flashed and Beaux Collins was solid despite a disappointing drop in the second half. We definitely want to see improved play from this group against Furman.

Cade Klubnik looked fantastic and there is a ton to be excited about with him going forward, but he also had WRs that got open and caught the ball for him. DJ would have approached 300 yards had a few guys finished plays like they are capable of.

Furman’s defensive approach should work to attack Clemson’s right side line in any passing situation and sit on sideline routes. Clemson hasn’t proven it can consistently work the middle of the field in the passing game. I don’t expect a ton of wrinkles this week considering the opponent and figure the staff will look to just use the staples of the offense to get the job done. Lots of inside zone runs with some play action worked in. You definitely want to see the run game break out this week after a sluggish first game.

Clemson defense vs. Furman offense: This Tiger defense is pretty nasty in terms of overall athleticism. I remember how it felt like some of those FSU units in the 1990s seemed to have 12-13 guys on the field the way they covered ground. That is how last week seemed. GT dialed up a few plays that looked like they’d go for 20-30 yards or maybe more that got swallowed up well before that. Barrett Carter and Trenton Simpson make it feel like there are 2 Isaiah Simmons on the field, which is a scary proposition for the opponents.

KJ Henry was terrific last week and perhaps we are in store for a Kevin Dodd 2015 type final season from him. Myles Murphy gets the publicity, as well as XT, but Henry was dominant in a way I haven’t seen in a while from a Tiger DE. I’m sure GT was geared to help on Murphy and took their chances with Henry but it was great to see him make them pay for that. It will be interesting to see if he can follow that up this week.

Furman had an easy win over North Greenville to start the season. They run a lot of shotgun/option principles with their dual threat QB Tyler Huff. Huff was efficient throwing and running. Clemson did a pretty good job of handling Jeff Sims despite Sims playing at a very high level in my view. Huff is no doubt going to find things way tougher this week. The Tigers will just need to stay sound with their assignments against a lot of what the Paladins try to do. Dabo pointed out the need to improve tackling and I would certainly agree with him. The corners in particular struggled a bit in that department last week.

Special Teams: Standing ovation to this group! Really great kicking and those two punt blocks were really surprising and refreshing. To be honest, I’d conditioned myself to watch us let the punter be comfortable to launch bombs on us the way we’ve often seen (the Ray Guy curse). Future punting units have a lot more to think about now. This program has the depth of athletes to unleash in this phase and I’ve felt that hasn’t happened nearly enough, but last week was a great sign that could be changing. Aidan Swanson got the starting punter nod and delivered. Hopefully he doesn’t have much to do this week because the offense is finishing drives the way we want.

Overall: This is a game you hope is out of hand by the second quarter. Anything less will be very concerning. It’s all about focus and execution, then getting the second and third team guys work. I’m hoping we get a pretty long look at Cade and some Hunter Johnson as well. Folks in the stands can enjoy that new video board.

Clemson 51-Furman 7