WHAT: S.C. State (1-0) at No. 23 Clemson (0-1)
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (81,500)
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 6 (12:30 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 40
TV: ACC Network
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE RUN GAME VS CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Clemson should be able to perform much better in this category Saturday than it did in the opener when Todd Gurley and Georgia’s talented and deep backfield dominated the game, especially in the second half. South Carolina State rushed for 381 yards and eight touchdowns in its opener, albeit against an NCAA Division II team in Benedict. Jalen Simmons led the way with 12 carries for 77 yards, while Dondre Lewis-Freeman had five for 60 as eight players finished with at least 20 yards. Still, this is an area in which Clemson should have the upperhand with its strong defensive front and linebacker corps. But those groups need to tackle better and take better angles to the runners to have a better showing than last week.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PASS ATTACK VS CLEMSON PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Adrian Kollock had a clean game in his team’s opener, completing 15-of-18 passes for 160 yards with no interceptions against Benedict. But he will face a much tougher defense and a more dynamic pass rush against the Tigers. Clemson, however, needs to get that pass rush going, and this week offers the perfect opportunity. The Tigers had only one sack against Georgia, although the secondary played pretty well. Senior cornerback Martin Jenkins is questionable for the game, so the Tigers likely will have a new starter there, and it could mean a chance for Cordrea Tankersley to get some significant playing time. Still, it should all start up front with the Tigers’ pass rush.
CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE FRONT SEVEN
This is an area in which the Tigers need to make some major improvements from their season opener (there were a lot of those areas, especially in the second half). Clemson managed just 88 yards rushing on 43 carries, and that’s just not good enough. The line has to be stronger, and it should be helped by the return of David Beasley, while the backs have to be better. Is there a game-breaker in this group of backs? That isn’t clear, but if there is one, it’s probably Wayne Gallman, and he’ll likely get more than the one carry he had in the opener. South Carolina State wasn’t challenged much in its opener, but Clemson needs to show it can be more physical up front to get something going on the ground.
CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Clemson’s passing attack was impressive in the first half against Georgia with Cole Stoudt looking solid and Deshaun Watson looking spectacular in his one drive before halftime. But then things changed. Georgia adjusted its pass rush, and the Clemson linemen couldn’t keep the Bulldogs off their quarterbacks. That’s a problem that must be fixed, especially with Florida State, coming up in a few weeks. The downfield passing game that was so effective in the first half against Georgia was non-existent in the second half because the quarterbacks had no time to throw the ball. But the Tigers need to get the ball downfield to Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Charone Peake, etc., to open up the rest of the offense. And the Tigers need to include the tight ends, who combined for two catches for 2 yards.
Take away a kickoff return for a touchdown by Georgia and Ammon Lakip’s terrible field goal attempt near the end of the first half, and Clemson’s special teams were OK against Georgia. But you can’t take away those plays. In fact, they changed the tone of the entire game. And that has to be fixed. Plus, Clemson has to get something, anything, out of its punt return team.
Everything in this game screams blowout, but the Tigers need to get the second half from Sanford Stadium out of their system and turn their focus to the rest of the season. And there’s a long way to go to write this season’s story line. You would think Watson would get more snaps in this game based on his dynamic touchdown drive in Athens, and fans could see larger roles for many other young players, as well.
PREDICTION: Clemson 45, South Carolina State 13
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.
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