Clemson has only played Troy once in its history. If you’re reading this, you might have forgotten it, but it shouldn’t take you long to remember.
In the much-anticipated debut of brand new offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Troy led Clemson by a field goal at halftime. A cascade of boos rained down upon the Tigers as they left the field, no doubt stemming more from the disappointment of a 6-7 finish in 2010 than a singular subpar half of football.
Eventually, the Tigers—led by new starting quarterback Tajh Boyd—took the game over and rolled to a 43-19 victory. Clemson 2.0 under Dabo Swinney was off and running, as his team would become the champions of the ACC.
The second meeting between the Tigers and the Trojans isn’t an unveiling of something new, but an opportunity to reestablish something familiar. Clemson’s offense executed its gameplan fairly well in Saturday’s win over Auburn, but the Tigers only found the end zone twice. The world-beating attack most expected to see never emerged.
Now Clemson’s offense gets a second chance to prove it can build on what was a record-breaking season in 2015. It will likely need all the help it can get on the scoreboard considering the kinds of challenges Troy will present when it gets the ball.
Five years ago, the Trojans entered Memorial Stadium with spread offense that utilized short, quick throws to minimize the opposing pass rush and featured the mobility of their quarterback. It proved tough to tame for Clemson’s defense, then coordinated by Kevin Steele.
This time around, Brent Venables will face, as he called it, “a much different animal” with Troy. Its head coach is Neal Brown, a disciple of Mike Leach’s air raid offense who spent time as a coordinator at both Texas Tech and Kentucky before taking the head job with the Trojans at 35 years old. That means they will look to chuck the ball around a bunch, mostly with quick throws within five or so yards of the line of scrimmage.
Having coached at Oklahoma for many years, Venables is all too familiar with the offensive philosophy Brown will employ. He faced off against Leach many times in Big 12 games, and he told the media on Tuesday that he revisited some old film from the last time the two teams met—in 2011—to prepare to face Troy on Saturday.
Saturday will largely be a day about Clemson’s offense, though, regardless of what happens when Troy has the ball. After sputtering in unexpected ways on the Plains in its opener, what Clemson does when it has possession will solidify the stances of onlookers in one of two ways. Either the Tigers will continue to leave points and yards on the table as they did in various ways at Auburn, or they will flourish offensively and put to rest any doubts about sustainability or overconfidence or too much hype.
Five years have passed since an offense was unleashed that has changed the course of Clemson football’s history. With new questions swirling from anxious observers and the same opponent traveling to upstate South Carolina, Saturday represents a chance to remind people how good it can be.