Good, but it has to be better

Saturday was supposed to be about building confidence and momentum for the season finale next week.

For a half, it looked like that was going to happen. But then came the second half, and the struggles that have shackled the Clemson offense for most of this season returned.

The Tigers rolled up 28 points in the first half against an overmatched Georgia State team. And there was even some momentum going into the half as Cole Stoudt hit Mike Williams with a nice throw for a touchdown with about a minute left to go in the half. There had to be some optimism that this offense was going to keep rolling and build some confidence for next week.

But everything changed in the second half.

The Tigers’ offense was scoreless in the final two quarters as it just couldn’t get anything going. After running 38 plays for 219 yards in the first half, Clemson had 38 plays for 138 yards in the second half.

By scoring 28 points, Clemson became the first team to fail to score 30 against Georgia State this season. That’s not momentum, and it certainly shouldn’t build confidence.

Stoudt was better than he was last week against Georgia Tech, but it would be hard to be worse than that performance. He had some good throws – the scoring throw to Williams was probably the best – and completed 19-of-29 passes, but those 19 completions went for only 132 yards. He also had a bad interception, missed some other open receivers and looked uncertain in the pocket. That indecisiveness led to Stoudt getting rocked on a play in the second half, and he landed hard on the left shoulder that has bothered him throughout this season. That kind of performance just won’t get the job done next week (see below).

Dye’s big day
It was pretty obvious the Clemson coaching staff went into Saturday’s game wanting to showcase redshirt freshman running back Tyshon Dye, and he stepped up to the challenge.

Dye finished with 20 carries for 124 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and he had the first two touchdowns of his career. Dye was the offensive star, scoring from 3 and 6 yards out in the first half, and his play was the one shining light for the offense Saturday (the other running backs combined for 23 carries for 85 yards).

Dye ran hard and was explosive on several carries, and he certainly didn’t look like a back who hadn’t reached double digits in carries for his career before Saturday’s game. It was the kind of performance that should give him confidence moving forward, and the Tigers are going to need him to be a bigger part of this offense. If Clemson can get Dye and Wayne Gallman, who had a 9-yard scoring run, going at the same time, it could be a big lift for this offense.

Defensive dominance
While Clemson’s offense stumbled and staggered throughout the second half, the defense made things easier on that unit by pitching its second shutout of the season.

The offense had two turnovers – the Stoudt interception and a fumble on a punt return – but the defense surpassed that with three interceptions, and it controlled the solid Georgia State passing attack throughout. The Panthers, who have a top-25 passing attack nationally, completed 13-of-33 passes for just 115 yards.

Georgia State also rushed 33 times for just 40 yards, an average of 1.2 yards per carry, as Clemson’s front controlled the action from the start. The Panthers had 155 yards on 66 plays, an average 2.3 yards per play, and never really challenged to score.

Clemson continued its season-long trend with another strong game behind the line of scrimmage, recording nine tackles for loss for minus-23 yards.

What’s next?
Everyone knows what’s next. There are two main story lines this week: the streak and if Deshaun Watson will play. And the latter could play a huge part in the former.

Clemson had gone from 1970 to 2010 without losing back-to-back games to South Carolina, but in 2010, the Gamecocks beat the Tigers for the second straight year. Now, that winning streak has reached five straight, and it looks like it could easily go to six if Clemson plays offensively the way it has the past six games.

And that could hinge on Watson. If he plays, the Tigers’ offense should be improved, although it’s hard to count on him being 100 percent after suffering his third major injury since stepping on campus in January. If Watson can’t play, Stoudt has to be better or at least protect the ball and give the team a chance. Turnovers have been pivotal in South Carolina’s winning streak in this series, and the Tigers can’t just hand the Gamecocks the game again this season.

If the Tigers can avoid the turnovers or the big mistakes, they have the defense to win this game and snap the streak. Clemson has eight wins, but the defense has been good enough to have 10. With or without Watson, the offense has to find a way to produce enough points and not have the mistakes, because the defense could be strong enough to snap the skid.

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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