Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
For the second week in a row, the offense has sputtered and stalled, confounding and frustrating Clemson fans to no end and making my score predictions look bad. On paper, neither the Auburn game nor the Troy game should have been close. Perhaps now that the Tigers are finally facing a team outside the state of Alabama, we will return to normality. The crowd on Saturday was great, but after a three-and-out to start the game and a disappointing 13-10 halftime lead, the crowd became pensive to say the least. Just as we saw at Auburn, the offense hadn’t been impotent or ineffective, but they just couldn’t get in a rhythm and string enough plays together to put points on the board—at least not as many as they should have. Let’s be honest. 30 points is not an atrocious total, but Troy is not a strong defensive team, and Austin Peay was able to muster 17 points against them in their preceding game. So what’s the answer to the quandary that is this Clemson offense—one that just about everyone pre-ordained the #1 offense in the nation but is currently 69th in total offense and 92nd in scoring offense? Dabo has said repeatedly this week that the hobgoblin has been dropped balls, and it’s not more complicated than that. When you look at the numbers, there is merit to what Dabo says. Against Troy, the Tigers lost 178 yards on 7 drops, and that doesn’t even include the inevitable yards after the catch. If you just add the 178 yards to the Tigers’ total, they would have racked up 592 yards, which would be 6th in the nation based on average yards per game. There were two dropped touchdown passes by Mike Williams against Auburn, and who knows how many more points the Tigers would have scored against Troy if drives had been kept alive. Deshaun overthrew a wide-open Mike Williams at one point against Troy, and that would have undoubtedly led to a touchdown, as he had at least two steps on the DB. So it does put things in perspective because I don’t think anyone would be questioning the Clemson offense, and perhaps the Tigers wouldn’t have even dropped in the polls if they had accounted for 600 yards of offense and 45 or 50 points on Saturday. In fact, if you couple that with an impressive road win at Auburn, which looks to be much improved on defense, a lot of the people who were projecting Clemson to win the National Championship would probably have felt validated by the Tigers. Just as we saw at Auburn, the defense was dominant until late in the game, when it either ran out of gas or lost intensity because of a lead. We saw this happen often last season, so that could be a cause for some concern, but it is still very encouraging to see how capable this defense is when it is at its best. Like last season, there was concern about the youth and inexperience on that side of the ball—particularly at defensive end and in the secondary. Special teams have been a pleasant surprise so far—especially in kickoff coverage, where the Tigers ranked 115th out of 127 teams last season. Greg Huegel has been consistently putting his kickoffs in the end zone, and to this point the coverage unit has not revealed the chronic gaps we saw last season. In fact, the Tigers are currently #6 in kickoff return defense with an 11.2-yard average!
For a more comprehensive analysis of last week’s Troy game, please click HERE.
Before I begin my preview for SC State, I just want to remind you to check our Recruiting Radar Screen forum for the latest updates on the Clemson recruiting front, as well as Gary’s weekly Recruiting Radar articles. We will also have photos of the visiting recruits attending the game, and check out the LIVE feed we will have on game day during the Tiger Walk and the pre-game warmups! Like last week, you will be able to find both feeds on The Valley forum, and you can view them both in their entirety even after they have ended. The Tiger Walk will be approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, at 9:50 a.m. Also, Clemson great Woody Dantzler will be on campus to sign autographs before the game on Saturday. Woody is a native of Orangeburg, where SC State is located. On to this week's game....
Players of the Game against Troy were Ray-Ray McCloud on offense, Kendall Joseph on defense and Greg Huegel on special teams....Clemson holds the active record for consecutive weeks in the top-5 of the AP Poll at 11 weeks. Alabama is second at 9 weeks, followed by Florida State at 3 weeks…..Clemson has the second-longest active streak for consecutive weeks in the top-10 of the AP Poll at 14 weeks. Only Ohio State has a longer streak with 24 weeks….Clemson has won a school-record 17 consecutive home games. That is the second-longest active streak, behind 22 games by Florida State. Clemson may have an opportunity to end that streak and become the new active leader on October 29…..Clemson has won 41 consecutive games against unranked opponents, dating back to 2011. The only school with more is Alabama (61), and the next closest are Ohio State (21) and Navy (18)…..Clemson is 2-0 for the 6th time in Dabo’s 8 seasons. Before Swinney’s tenure began, Clemson started 2-0 just 13 times in the last 48 years. Danny Ford started 2-0 just 5 times out of 11 seasons and just twice in his first eight seasons…..Clemson won its first two games by 6 points each. It’s only the second time since 1958 the Tigers have won its first two games by less than a touchdown. The other time was in 2005 when they opened with wins over Texas A&M and Maryland….The Tigers are now 13-2 in games decided by 7 points or less since 2011. One loss was to Alabama in the National Championship Game, and the other was an overtime loss in Tallahassee to a Florida State team that made the College Football Playoff….SC State was established in 1896, the same year Clemson began its football program. Clemson’s first football coach, Walter Riggs was an electrical engineer and designed the first water and electrical system of the SC State campus in Orangeburg….Bud Pough, son of SC State Head Coach Buddy Pough, works in the Clemson Athletic Department Compliance Office….Clemson Co-Offensive Coordinator and RB Coach Tony Elliott got his coaching start at SC State as WR Coach in 2006 and 2007….
It’s been a strange week from a media standpoint. On top of the lackluster performance against Troy, there was the apology by Deshaun on Monday (watch video HERE) followed by Dabo’s response to the Kaepernick question (watch video HERE) and all the reverberations that ensued, including Tajh Boyd publicly defending Dabo (HERE) and Dabo responding to that (HERE). I think it’s safe to say that no one is ready to get back on the football field this Saturday more than the Clemson coaches and players. Between those lines, life becomes a lot simpler, and outsiders can’t penetrate the bonds of brotherhood and comradery that this team feels. Between the lines, it’s about your teammates and it’s about running, blocking, tackling, throwing, catching and kicking. All the other noise and nonsense is relegated to the background where it belongs.
That being said, I do think that the statement by Deshaun on Monday was perfectly timed and delivered. I was somewhat taken aback by it because Deshaun is so polished and rehearsed at this point when it comes to interviews that you rarely hear him speak on a personal or emotional level. You could kind of sense that the pressure and the demands on Deshaun were getting to him a little bit, and he missed some passes in the first two games that he usually doesn’t miss. In fact, his QBR on Saturday was 35—his lowest ever—and he had 2 interceptions for just the 4th time in his career. Deshaun is the unquestioned leader of this team, and when he is not having fun or pressing too hard, I think that has a way of trickling down to everyone else. When he is loose and having fun, the rest of the team will be as well. I am looking forward to Saturday and seeing if Deshaun resembles the care-free guy in the photo below who lit up the Canes in Miami last season en route to a historic 58-0 ACC road win.
Of course, it will help immensely to that end if Deshaun’s receivers are catching the balls that he puts on the numbers. Dabo told me yesterday that there haven’t been any drops at practice this week, and he has every confidence in this WR group that is very prideful in its performance. They don’t call Clemson WRU for nothing, so I fully expect this group to redeem themselves very soon. There were 4 drops against Auburn and 8 against Troy. By comparison, there were only 8 drops in the first 5 games last season, and that included 4 in a hurricane against Notre Dame! And that was a younger, less experienced group of wide receivers that didn’t include Mike Williams. When you think about it from that perspective, it almost seems comical that the Tigers would drop in the polls and be doubted so much by the media. If the defense is overachieving, and the only major difficulty the offense is having is what it normally does best—catching the football—isn’t that a reason for optimism? Time will answer that question, but I think it’s a better dilemma than having a porous defense that can’t stop the run or the pass. The biggest news this week, of course, was the loss of Hunter Renfrow for 4-6 weeks due to a fracture below his thumb suffered after his sensational touchdown catch against Troy. Renfrow had caught a touchdown in 4 consecutive games, including two in the National Championship Game and one against Oklahoma, and he has probably been the most sure-handed receiver of the group. With Renfrow out, Artavis Scott will slide over to his spot, and Ray-Ray McCloud will get his second career start. The first came against Georgia Tech last season. Ray-Ray had his best game as a wideout against Troy, leading the team with 7 receptions for 86 yards. Hopefully he will be able to follow that performance up with another good game. Dabo is hoping Trevion Thompson and true freshman Cornell Powell will also fill the void left by Renfrow’s absence. Trevion Thompson impressed the coaches throughout the spring and August camp, but he hasn’t been able to carry that play over to his game opportunities. He had one big sideline catch last year in Columbia on 3rd and long with the game still in doubt, but didn’t do much other than that. This season, he has already dropped an easy catch on a big 3rd and 4 at Auburn late in the game, and he dropped a couple of balls on Saturday against Troy. Thompson has great size and speed, so if he can find a way to get over whatever mental obstacles have been impeding his execution in games, it will go a long way to keeping the offense on track during Renfrow’s convalescence. Cornell Powell is obviously young, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. He already has all the physical tools, and it will be interesting to see if he can make a splash over the course of the next few games. The Tigers burned a red shirt in favor of WR Diondre Overton, so that lets you know what Dabo thinks of the young freshman’s talent. He is a little on the lean side, but he has a tremendous skill set, and he will provide even more depth at receiver as the season continues.
Another thing to be watching for on Saturday will be the offensive line play and production in the running game. The Tigers rushed for just 122 yards on 3.8 yards per carry last week, and Gallman rushed for just 34 yards! The Tigers did, however, play a number of backups both on the line and at running back, so it was good to get those guys some game experience. Still, I’d like to see the starting five and the Wayne Train in the game a little longer and establish a rhythm in the run game. Hopefully, we’ll also see Tavien Feaster get a few touches out of the backfield on Saturday. He made his debut on a kick return last week that he took for 22 yards, but he didn’t have any rushes. I’m excited to see what #28 can do!
Defensively, the Christian Wilkins project at defensive end has succeeded with flying colors. He has a sack and 3 tackles-for-loss so far, and the move enabled Dexter Lawrence to work his way into the starting lineup after just one game. It also might enable Dabo to redshirt true freshman DE Xavier Kelly. Dabo said he is very excited about Kelly, but they would like to hold him this season, if possible, just like they did last year with Clelin Ferrell. Shaq Smith has yet to see game action, so keep an eye on whether he sees the field on Saturday. He might be headed for a red shirt. Ben Boulware, of course, injured his ankle last week, and despite his pleas and attempts to persuade the coaches otherwise, he will be on the sideline Saturday just to be on the safe side. He will be suited up, but Dabo said he will not play unless they need him desperately. Venables said he feels confident in Jalen Williams stepping up to start in Boulware's place, but he said you never feel as good when the quarterback of your defense isn’t out there. Dabo and Venables said Boulware was doing sprints and shuffle drills for them in a futile attempt to convince them of his readiness. Speaking of linebackers, the Clemson LB corps already has interceptions by 4 different players in the first two games: Boulware against Auburn, and Kendall Joseph, Dorian O'Daniel and Jalen Williams against Troy. When I asked Venables about that, he laughingly told me that it was all a result of good coaching and that he wasn't sure if it has ever happened before. He said that for the past couple years they have begun each practice with a ball skills drill, so that might have contributed to it, but it's certainly a rare statistical anomaly. We'll see if true freshman LB Tre Lamar can join the party and come up with one on Saturday! Corner Marcus Edmond made his return from injury last week and will start on Saturday, so the secondary is in pretty good shape.
Incidentally, since Renfrow was still listed as the backup punter as of this week, I asked Dabo who would fill in for Teasdall should they need it, and he said it would be Carson King. Dabo said all three—King, Spiers and Batson—have been solid, but he said they would like to red shirt Spiers if they can. Dabo is really excited about Spiers (son of Clemson baseball great Bill Spiers), saying he has really come on in the last couple weeks and could be special.
SC STATE SYNOPSIS
Amazingly, this is just the third meeting between the two Palmetto State schools that did not play each other until 2008. All three meetings were Clemson blowouts: 54-0 in 2008, 52-13 in 2013 and 73-7 in 2014. The Tigers have played three consecutive games against teams from the state of Alabama, and they have faced their last two defensive coordinators, so there will be a little less familiarity for Dabo when he looks across to the opposite sideline, but he knows and respects Head Coach Buddy Pough very much.
Although there will be a significant disparity in talent on Saturday, the Bulldogs do have an NFL prospect in senior left tackle Javarius Leamon. He is a monster at 6’7, 310 pounds, and the Tigers recruited him out of high school, but his academics were an issue. They also have an impressive tandem of linebackers in Dayshawn Taylor (#34) and Darius Leonard (#10), who is the brother of former Clemson linebacker great Anthony Waters.
SC State lost at Louisiana Tech 53-24 last week. The Bulldogs rushed for 156 yards and passed for 137. They allowed 209 yards on the ground and a whopping 518 through the air, so if there were ever a game for Watson and the Tigers’ wide receivers to get back on track, this would be it! They did, however, come up with two interceptions in the loss. They were shut out 38-0 at UCF in the season opener, allowing 197 yards rushing and 265 yards passing in that one. The Bulldogs were only able to amass 223 yards of total offense against the UCF defense. SC State’s QB, Caleb York, is 29-66 for just 271 yards on the season with 2 TD’s and one INT. He’s run 16 times for 85 yards.
This is Clemson’s lone FCS opponent on the schedule and easiest game by far. As mentioned, there is disparate talent across the board, and with a quick turnaround for a Thursday night date in Atlanta with Georgia Tech for the ACC opener, the Tigers have run out of time for refinement. They need to figure some things out and build some momentum and confidence before they head to Atlanta, and this will be the perfect opportunity to do just that. I expected the Tigers’ offense to pick up where they left off and light up the scoreboard at Auburn. I expected them to redeem themselves and pad their stats in the home opener against Troy. Call me stubborn, but I’m keeping the faith in this high-powered, loaded offense for one more week. Even without Hunter Renfrow, I think we see a focused WR corps and Deshaun Watson on Saturday, but they will play with a looseness and joy that we haven’t seen this season. I think the defense will start as strongly as they have in the last two games, but this time they will answer Venables’s challenge to finish just as strong. And you can bet that 34 rushing yards last week left a bad taste in the mouths of the Wayne Train and the O-Line.
The Tigers finally get this offense out of third gear and light up the scoreboard in Death Valley. Final audition before the ACC slate is passed, and the talking heads start to fall in love with Clemson again.
The Tigers extend their school-record Death Valley win streak to 18 games, and the prowl toward a 16th ACC Title in ’16, a return to the College Football Playoff and a second National Title continues….
CLEMSON 62 SC State 10