Player of the Game: Nick Schuessler
It might have been the best performance of the season for the offense in the first half on Saturday. They left some points off the board but still managed to score 30 points, including 20 in the second quarter. The Tigers racked up an incredible 396 yards of total offense in the first half on a blistering 48 plays. They converted on both 4th down attempts in the first half and only punted once. They were 4-4 in the red zone as well.
Watson obviously left the game late in the first half, but he was on his game before landing badly on his shoulder. He was 13-16 for 169 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 39 yards and a touchdown on just 7 carries. Watson was very close to perfect in the passing game. Of his 3 incompletions, one was dropped by Mike Williams in the end zone, one was a throw-away and the third was on the play right after he hurt his shoulder in which he was a little off target for Choice.
After Watson left the game, the offense didn’t miss a beat with Schuessler at the helm. He completed the drive with a big completion to Leggett and another completion to Scott for a touchdown. He also threw a nice pass in the corner of the endzone to Cain that looked to be a touchdown, but the officials ruled that his foot was on the line. To me, it looked like it should have been Cain’s third touchdown of the half, and he told me that he thought his toe was in as well. Nevertheless, Schuessler showed good poise to shake that off and follow it up with the touchdown pass to Scott. Schuessler also showed a lot of poise in leading a 33-second drive down to the 23-yard line just before halftime. Unfortunately, Huegel’s 40-yard kick went off the post, so they got no points out of it, but it was an impressive drive nonetheless and demonstrated Schuessler’s ability to lead the offense. Schuessler was 11-17 for 177 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the first time in Clemson history that two quarterbacks threw for over 160 yards.
The running game also looked good, and all 5 backs got some playing time. In fact, we saw Feaster get some carries in the first half for the first time all season. He finished with 28 yards on 9 carries. Fuller was in the game before Choice was, which might indicate a change in the pecking order. Fuller averaged 4.8 yards per carry and Choice averaged 3.7 yards per carry. We also saw Dye in the game for the first time since his goal line fumble against NC State. He had a 12-yard run in the second half. Gallman played very little but ran for 63 yards on 10 carries and also scored a touchdown. He needs just one more 100-yard game to break the Clemson career tie with Raymond Priester. That has eluded him for several weeks now.
As for the wideouts, Deon had another big game with his third 2-touchdown game of the season, and as I alluded to, he probably should have had 3. He leads the team with 8 touchdowns on the season with only 22 catches! That has to be the best ratio in the nation. Cain had a career-record 125 yards on Saturday. Artavis Scott led the team with 7 catches and a touchdown but only had 45 yards. Mike Williams had 6 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line played well, once again allowing no sacks despite the absence of Fruhmorgen. Freshmen Sean Pollard and Tremayne Anchrum have played really well at right tackle since he has been out of the lineup.
The offense played a lot of reserves in the second half but finished the game with 565 total yards—195 rushing and 370 through the air. They were an impressive 8 of 15 on 3rd down and 6 of 6 in the red zone with 5 touchdowns and only one field goal. The only time they had to settle for a field goal in the red zone was on the opening drive when Mike Williams dropped a touchdown on 3rd down. Most importantly, the Tigers had zero turnovers.
Players of the Game: all those who had winning grades
Simply put, you cannot do better than a shutout! It’s especially impressive when the Tigers play as many reserves as they did, and they are still able to preserve the shutout. I asked some of the players if that was a point of emphasis on the sideline after the starters came out, and they said it absolutely was. They take a lot of pride in that goose egg on the scoreboard, and this was their second one of the season. Syracuse had come into the game with some confidence offensively and had a bye week to prepare, but the Tigers were able to stifle them all day long.
The Tigers allowed just 277 total yards, and 3 different players—Carter, Tankersley and Muse—recorded their first interceptions of the season. The Tigers lead the ACC in interceptions and amazingly have 12 different players who have recorded a pick. The pick-six by Tanner Muse was an impressive display of concentration and athleticism, and you can see why the staff is so excited about his future on the defense. He has made an impact on special teams this season as a redshirt freshman and has been a big part of the reason kickoff coverage has improved so drastically. The Orange were just 24-40 passing and averaged just 4.3 yards per pass attempt. After a rough night at Florida State with several pass interference penalties and big plays allowed, the secondary didn’t have a single PI call against Syracuse. The Orange were just 5 of 15 on 3rd down and 1 of 2 on 4th down. The defense had just 2 sacks and 7 tackles-for-loss—both below their average—but that had a lot to do with playing reserves in the second half.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Player of the game: Tanner Muse
After a superb game against Florida State, it was a rough outing for Huegel. He missed his second PAT of the season and bounced a 40-yard field goal attempt off the upright just before halftime. Before that, the Groza Award Semifinalist only had one miss and one blocked kick all season. Huegel did bounce back to make a 46-yarder in the 4th quarter, though, which tied his season long at FSU last week. He also hada 22-yarder in the first quarter. The Tigers’ punt coverage unit did a good job on Brisly Estime, who is one of the nation’s best punt returners, but they allowed their two longest kick returns of the season—on for 68 yards and another for 39. Andy Teasdall averaged 37.5 yards on his two punts, and Michael Batson made a case for the backup punter spot with a 46-yarder. With Ray-Ray out of the game, Artavis Scott and Amir Trapp handled the punt return duties. Scott did not make much of a difference there—he only had one return for a yard. Trapp gained 8 yards on his solitary return.
Overall, it was a great team win, and I think the team enjoyed a stress-free blowout as much as the fans did. It was unfortunate that Watson had to hurt his shoulder because he was in his best groove of the season, and he could have accumulated some more stats before leaving the game, but I think it was good to see Schuessler turn in his best game performance by far and build some confidence in himself and from his teammates in case he should be needed again. It was a very clean game on both sides of the ball, and it was important to eliminate the turnovers by the offense and the penalties by the defense. Just as the 56-10 Boston College win demonstrated, this team will blow out most of its opponents if it doesn’t turn the ball over and limits the mistakes and penalties. The Tigers are now on the positive side of the turnover ledger at plus three for the season. They need to show the ability to do that consistently now that we are entering the home stretch. They remember November! 9-0 and 6 to go….