Tigers pass lastest test before SC

For the first time in quite some time, the Clemson football team faced some real adversity in its game with N.C. State on Saturday.

And the Tigers – at least on offense – responded quite well.

The defense? Well, we'll get to that in a bit. But first, let's focus on the offense and how it answered the bell when N.C. State landed a couple of haymakers to take a 24-13 lead early in the second quarter.

Clemson's offense looked good early, but it settled for field goals twice and led 13-0 with 7:31 left in the first quarter. It felt like it should have been a much larger margin, but it still looked like the Tigers were on their way to a seventh straight rout.

But then the defense forgot how to rush the quarterback or cover on the back end, and Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon is too good to not take advantage of that combination. After three touchdown passes, all on terrible coverage by the Tigers, and a field goal, the Wolfpack had an 11-point lead and looked like they were on their way to embarrassing the Tigers for the second straight year.

That's when Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense rediscovered their rhythm as they obliterated the N.C. State defense to the tune of 62 points – all in the first three quarters – and 754 yards. Boyd had possibly his best game yet – other than two shaky interceptions – with 426 yards and five touchdowns passing to go with 103 yards and three touchdowns rushing.

Andre Ellington had 124 yards on the ground, while Roderick McDowell added 83 as the Tigers rolled up 328 yards on 58 attempts.

Seven different receivers caught passes, led by Sammy Watkins with 11 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Ford had two touchdowns and 101 yards on five catches, while DeAndre Hopkins had 75 yards and a touchdown on two catches and Martavis Bryant had 62 yards and a touchdown on two catches.

The numbers, while impressive, were dwarfed by the determination the offense showed. Trailing by 11, the Tigers scored four unanswered touchdowns to end the half and led 41-24. They added two more touchdowns coming out of the half for a 55-24 lead and were in control the rest of the way, outside of some shaky defense and kickoff coverage.

That had to be good for Clemson fans to see after the strange stretch late in the first quarter that carried over into the second quarter. It looked a lot like the Tigers team that fell apart against N.C. State last year and struggled in the second half of last season overall.

This team, however, responded to N.C. State's big plays and came out of the corner fighting. That was the big positive that the Tigers should take out of this game. This team, while still relatively young in a lot of places, has plenty of fight in it when things don't go its way.

NOW TO THE BAD PART: The defense reverted to its early season problems Saturday and looked a lot like the unit that fell apart in the second half against Florida State.

The numbers are just ugly. There is no other way to put it. Glennon, who granted is going to be a good NFL quarterback, made the Clemson secondary look clueless throughout the game, completing 29-of-53 passes for 493 yards and five, count them, five touchdowns.

The defense against the run was better than that as N.C. State had 104 yards on 35 carries, but the Wolfpack have a pass-first offense, and Glennon showed why Saturday.

With not a lot of pressure surrounding him, Glennon was on point, and he was the main reason the Wolfpack finished with 597 yards of total offense and converted 9-of-21 third-down tries and 3-of-5 fourth-down tries. Glennon spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, led by Tobais Palmer, who had seven catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns and brought back memories of Torry Holt running wild through the Clemson secondary.

But Glennon is not that good right? Nope, he got plenty of help.

The Tigers did have four sacks, including three by Vic Beasley, and caused a couple of turnovers, but those were about the only positives for the defensive unit. The pressure on the front end wasn't sustained, and that gave Glennon too much time to find large holes in the Tigers' secondary.

We'd have to go over the film with the coaches to know who was at fault for all of the blunders in the secondary, but it was easy to see watching the game on TV that there were enough mistakes to be shared.

The cornerbacks looked lost at times with Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland giving up long touchdown passes. The safeties looked like they made their share of mistakes, as well, even though the N.C. State offense wasn't really doing any terribly elaborate with its passing game. And the linebackers couldn't cover the Wolfpack tight ends or running backs, especially on third and fourth downs.

When you see play after play with players looking at each other with their hands raised, almost as if to say, "What are you doing?" you know there are problems. And there were enough problems to go around.

NOT SO SPECIAL: Clemson didn't help the defense's cause with a couple of gift touchdowns in the third quarter after a long kickoff return and an interception by Boyd deep in Tigers territory.

But the special teams play throughout the game was a struggle.

Palmer had eight kickoff returns for 277 yards, an average of 34.6 yards per return, as the Tigers had trouble both with getting their kicks deep enough and with coverage. Palmer finished with a staggering 496 all-purpose yards as the Tigers couldn't cover or tackle him throughout the game either as a receiver or a returner. Bradley Pinion had seven kickoffs, and three went for touchbacks, while Spencer Benton didn't have a touchback on his four kickoff tries. Benton also struggled punting with three punts for a 30.7-yard average, while Pinion had one punt for 41 yards.

Other than the ultra-steady Chandler Catanzaro making field goals of 43 and 46 yards and all of his extra-point tries, it was a shaky night for the special teams.

UP NEXT: I think we all know what's next. The South Carolina game is always big, but that might be especially true this year.

The Gamecocks have won three straight in the series (for the first time in a long time), and they have had another strong year with a 9-2 record. That said, Clemson looks like a different team this year than the one the Gamecocks throttled last year, and it should be a terrific chess match to see the Tigers' dynamic, high-flying offense go against the Gamecocks' stingy, physical defense.

But outside of the rivalry, this game carries some importance nationally never seen before in this series. The winner likely will be headed to a BCS bowl and a big pay day while the loser, while still having a solid season, will have to wonder what might have been.

That will be especially true for Clemson, which really needs to end its losing streak to South Carolina before it gets out of hand. An 11-1 season with a win over the Gamecocks, even without a repeat ACC title, feels like another step forward for the program. A 10-2 season with another rivalry loss is a good season, but it's not one the fans, players or coaches will be satisfied with.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley

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