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Clemson vs. Charleston Southern: After a slow start, Tigers pull away from the Bucs

Costly mistakes early keep Charleston Southern in the game, but the Tigers clean things up at halftime and pull away in the second half to win.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at Clemson
Phil Mafah scores in the 1st quarter.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson opened up their home schedule against Charleston Southern University after a disappointing start against Duke. After a slow start, with more mistakes on the offensive side, the Tigers finally started putting things together in the 2nd half and pulled away for a 66-17 victory.

Clemson got the ball first and moved down the field with a nice mix of runs and passes. Cade Klubnik hit Antonio Williams for a 10-yard TD to take a 7-0 lead. The opening series for the Tiger defense was equally effective as they forced a 3-and-out.

Clemson’s 2nd drive looked like a repeat of Monday night, with a holding penalty and a mishandled snap that the Buccaneers returned to the Tiger 1 yard line. CSU promptly ran it in, and the score was 7-7. The Bucs pulled off an onside kick and got the ball at their 45. The Clemson defense held them, but the punt was downed inside the Tiger 1 yard line.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at Clemson
Antonio Williams makes a catch.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The drive started with what appeared to be a 99-yard TD by Beaux Collins, but he had stepped out of bounds at the Tiger 18. The drive started well, with Cade completing 7 passes in a row but on a 3rd and long he mysteriously threw a floater under pressure and CSU took it to the house. The Bucs led 14-7.

The following Tiger drive was a lot better, with some good running by Will Shipley and Phil Mafah. They got to the Buc 1 yard line and I was nervous to see what would happen after Monday night. But, Mafah walked in to tie the game up. CSU couldn’t get anything going on offense and Xavier Thomas had a beautiful sack.

After a nice punt return by Tyler Brown to the Buc 39, the Tiger offense looked dominant and Klubnik hit Antonio Brown from 5 yards out for his 2nd touchdown. Clemson led 21-14. On the ensuing drive, the Bucs’ offense finally got something going and drove into Clemson territory. Nate Wiggins got a sack and the drive stalled at the Tiger 28. CSU got the FG to make the score 21-17.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at Clemson
Tyler Davis and Justin Mascoll sack CSU quarterback Tony Bartalo.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson got the ball back with 7 minutes left in the half and did essentially nothing. Klubnik threw another wild pass under pressure and was called for intentional grounding. The punt put CSU at their 44. The Tiger defense made some great plays and forced a punt. The Tiger offense took over at their 35 with about 4 minutes left.

Clemson’s offense drove down the field, aided by a horse-collar tackle on Klubnik. But, in the red zone they couldn’t make anything happen and settled for a 23-yard FG from Robert Gunn III. At halftime, it was 24-17 Clemson. At this point in the game, statistically they should have been well ahead of the Bucs but, like the Duke game, the Tigers were continually digging themselves into holes.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at Clemson
CSU defensive back Kylen Webb scores on a pick six.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

CSU took the opening kickoff but the Tiger defense seemed to pick up their aggressiveness and forced a punt. The Tiger offense started at their own 46. On the legs of Shipley and Klubnik, the Tigers powered their way down the field and Mafah punched it in from 5 yards out. That was the dominant offense that Tiger fans had been waiting to see.

The defense responded with a pick six by Wade Woodaz on a lucky bounce off a CSU receiver. Technically I think it was a catch and fumble caught mid-air, but whatever, Clemson finally had a turnover go their way. The Tigers were beginning to pull away with a 38-17 lead.

The Tiger defense throttled the Bucs on their next possession, and the offense started on their own 30. After what looked like a busted play on 1st down and a short gain on 2nd, Beaux Collins took a Klubnik pass 69 yards to the house on a crossing route. Clemson led 45-17.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at Clemson
Phil Mafah breaks free.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Backups were now in on the Tiger defense, but the result was the same. After a good punt by the Bucs put the Tigers at their 8, the Tigers moved methodically down the field with some good running by Domonique Thomas. Klubnik hit Josh Sapp for a 25-yard TD. The Tiger mascot was starting to get a workout with the score 52-17.

With a comfortable lead, the Tiger offense began playing backups and they looked pretty good. Hamp Greene made a sweet one-handed catch to move the sticks. Keith Adams Jr. also came to play, with some one-cut power runs on the drive. Jay Haynes ran it in untouched from 8 yards out and the Tigers led 59-17 with a little over 8 minutes left.

The Tigers got the ball again after a good series by the defense and moved down the field to score again when Haynes took in a 6-yard pass from Paul Tyson. That made the score 66-17 and that’s how it would end, but the 3rd stringers were close to getting into the end zone again as the clock expired.

After a slow start in the 1st half, the Tigers finally got their legs under them and pulled away comfortably in the 2nd half. There was a lot of handwringing about Cade during the week, but I reminded people that he only had two starts coming into this game and to relax and give him some time. No, he’s not Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence but I see a lot of promise in him. Two big things I see the Tigers need are reducing mental mistakes (especially on offense) and developing that killer instinct on defense. Part of the latter is on the coaches. Brent Venables was a relentless attacker. I think we need more of that. What about you? Let’s discuss it in the comments section below. And check back with us over the next few days for the best analysis of today’s game you’ll find anywhere, and previews of next week’s game against Florida Atlantic.