Two more chances to make a statement

Before the season, there were three marquee games on the Clemson schedule.

Three games that really stood out and looked like they would have a huge impact on the Tigers and any chances they had to have a special year. Sure, North Carolina and Louisville are nice games, but they don’t come close to the big three.

One of those chances has come and gone – with a loss, an ugly loss that featured domination by the Georgia Bulldogs in the fourth quarter (that’s even uglier after watching South Carolina beat Georgia on Saturday). But truthfully if Clemson fans had been asked which of the big three games they would lose if they had their choice, that would be the one.

Losing to Georgia hurts, especially the way it happened – a complete fourth-quarter meltdown on national TV. But that game isn’t nearly as important as the two other parts of the big three – at Florida State and at home to South Carolina (and we all know why that one is even more important than usual these days).

The reasons are simple. Georgia is a big rival, for sure, but Florida State is a conference game and has become Clemson’s biggest hurdle in the ACC, while South Carolina is the rival, especially with Steve Spurrier running the Gamecocks’ program. Plus, the Georgia game was in the season opener, so that gives the Tigers plenty of chances to bounce back and have a terrific season.

That starts Saturday in Tallahassee as the Tigers get their latest shot at the Seminoles, who are ranked No. 1 in the country. It should be a tremendously difficult test against the defending national champions with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

But if the Clemson team that played the first half against Georgia shows up (and the not the one that played the second half), it has a chance.

STAY AGGRESSIVE: During the entire preseason, the talk coming from the coaches and players was that the Tigers would do what they do and be who they are on offense even without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

And Clemson did just that in the first half of the game against Georgia. But then something happened. The Tigers were tentative after halftime, and at times, the offense even looked conservative.

It was a stunning change after a first half that saw the Tigers run up and down the field against the Georgia defense. It was almost like the Clemson offense lost its nerve, and that was a big surprise, considering all the question marks Georgia’s defense has, especially on the back end. The biggest surprise was that Clemson didn’t challenge the Bulldogs down the field in the second half as the play calls seemed to limit what the offense was trying to do.

None of that can happen Saturday if Clemson has a chance to pull the upset. The Tigers – on both sides of the ball – need to play like they have nothing to lose because, really, they don’t. Not many people are going to expect them to win this game, although that’s a strange situation for a team that has had as much success as Clemson has had in recent years.

Some of that stems from Clemson’s performance in this game last year when it made all the mistakes it doesn’t usually make. Turnovers, penalties and blown assignments led to an embarrassing game Clemson fans would love to forget.

If Clemson plays like it did in the second half against Georgia (or like it did last year against Florida State), this one could fall in that same category.

YOUNG MAN'S GAME: Clemson has a solid veteran core, but there is a talented group of young, dynamic players on the roster, as well. A few of those players made their mark on the opener, but there were even more who played well last week against South Carolina State. It’s likely time to let them loose and see what they can do in a big-time environment.

This isn’t a plea to bench Cole Stoudt because he can be a solid quarterback this season (and really has done nothing to deserve to be benched), but let’s see a lot more of Deshaun Watson.

DJ Howard is a nice back, and Adam Humphries is a solid receiver, but let’s see Wayne Gallman, Adam Choice, Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt and let them showcase their talent on a big stage. In this offense, there are enough chances to go around – veterans or youngsters – so it’s time to let those young guys have their shot and see if they can make a bigger impact on this year’s team and especially this game.

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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