A coach will always say the biggest improvement their team will make comes from Week 1 to Week 2. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will like to see that when his second-ranked Tigers host Troy on Saturday (12:30 p.m.) in Death Valley.
Though Clemson won a tough road game at Auburn in Week 1, it left a lot of points on the field. Wide receiver Mike Williams dropped two touchdown passes that were in his hands and had lost a fumble. Quarterback Deshaun Watson missed on a couple of throws where he had open receivers, tight end Jordan Leggett did not play well, and kicker Greg Huegel missed an extra point that nearly came back to bite them.
“We just have to finish on a few plays,” Swinney said.
Though there were fewer issues, the defense has to clean up on a few things, too. The Tigers gave up a 42-yard pass because Jadar Johnson was peeking in the backfield, and then was called for pass interference a few plays later. In the fourth quarter, Ben Boulware was charged with a late hit out of bounds that set up Auburn’s only touchdown on the very next play.
But the main issues that need to be fixed, or so it seems, are on the offensive side of the ball where a veteran offense with one of the best players in the country averaged just 5.1 yards per play against a young defense in Auburn.
“We have to clean up some things. Obviously the ball security, we had two turnovers, we had a couple of tipped balls that cost us possessions where we didn’t get the lineman’s hands down, so just some little things,” Swinney said.
Obviously, it wasn’t all bad. Swinney was pleased with his offensive line. The Tigers did not allow a sack all night against a veteran defensive line and of the three tackles Auburn had for loss, only one was charged to the guys up front. No one jumped offside, there were no holding penalties and running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 123 yards.
“It was incredible discipline by those guys,” Swinney said.
Swinney was glad to see Williams perform the way he did—nine catches for 174 yards—but he also knows his star wide receiver can play a lot better. Williams graded just 78 percent.
“He probably should have had about 260 (yards),” Swinney said. “He had three big drops and a fumble, and so three of those drops were touchdowns. So we just missed on a few plays that we’re going to make.
“Mike Williams makes those plays. He made a lot of great three-pointers as I told him, but he missed some slam dunks, and they all count when people are playing you that way.”
After gaining 399 yards against Auburn, Clemson knows there is plenty of room for improvement in the weeks to come. There were times against Auburn when the Tigers showed how good they can be offensively.
The 10-play 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter, which Watson capped with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow, was a great example. It came after Auburn pulled within seven points and had momentum. The offense did the same in the second quarter after an Auburn field goal when Gallman capped a 13-play, 84-yard drive with his one-yard run that gave Clemson a 7-3 lead at the time.
Later in the fourth quarter, following Auburn’s only touchdown, Watson led the Tigers on a 10-play, 62 yard drive that ended at the Auburn 13-yard line, but more importantly took 2:42 off the clock.
“It’s a tight game, you get the ball backed up and you march down the field when you had to have it,” Swinney said. “I think that was a real positive. The biggest thing is just the turnovers and just finishing on some of those plays that are there to be made. I think that’s the biggest thing we have to get better at.”