When you look at the statistics, 30 points and 414 total yards don’t seem so bad. And probably they are not.
But when a team is loaded with offensive talent and returned perhaps the best player in the country from last season, expectations are a little higher than what second-ranked Clemson showed in Saturday’s 30-24 victory over Troy.
For the second straight week, Clemson’s offense struggled. Deshaun Watson barely completed 50 percent of his passes as he over a couple of open receivers and threw two interceptions. The offensive line gave up a sack, had a holding penalty and was not as consistent as it was the week before.
The wide receivers were the worst of the bunch. In all, they dropped seven passes that were in their hands as Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Trevion Thompson and Hunter Renfrow were all guilty parties.
Ray Ray McCloud, who was the most productive of the group with seven catches for 86 yards, had the bonehead play of the day when he dropped the football short of the goal line after what appeared to be a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The play was ruled as a fumble and a touchback for Troy.
“We could not have played worse on offense,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said afterwards.
The Tigers (2-0) finally got things going in the fourth quarter when Watson tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to defensive lineman Christian Wilkins from its heavy package formation and then a 23-yard scoring toss to wide receiver Deon Cain.
Those touchdowns gave the Tigers a 27-10 lead with 10:00 to play. However, they still had to recover an onside kick with 44 seconds to play to seal the victory.
“Troy played good enough to beat us and we played bad enough to lose,” Swinney said.
For a while it looked like the Tigers might lose the game, and they nearly did because the offense was out of rhythm all afternoon. Both the players and the coaches said the slow start had little to do with the fact they were playing so many players, and more to with their failure to execute.
“It is just execution with the throw and the catch,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “There are times when we have really nice throws and then we have drops. Then we had times when guys were open and we just could not connect.
“Our offense is built off those explosive plays and we you are not hitting them then you can’t get in a rhythm.”
Clemson had just 200 yards at halftime and at the end of the third quarter it had just 301 total yards and was 3 of 14 on third-downs.
“Today’s performance is definitely unacceptable. It is not up to our standard, but I challenged them with the opportunity to get better and that is how we are going to look at it,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We are going to enjoy the win because it is hard to win, but when we come back tomorrow as coaches, and when the players come back on Monday, we will be focused on getting better.”
Watson did not find his groove until the fourth quarter when he completed 7 of 10 passes for 68 yards and two touchdown passes. Before that he was 20 of 42 for 224 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
“We are just not on the same page,” he said about he and receivers. “We just have to find our rhythm that is the only thing.
“We just have to move on to the next play and continue playing. We have to deal with the adversity and we will be just fine.”
Watson says it is too early in the season to expect them to score 50 points a game right away.
“Things are going to be messed up. Everything is not going to be perfect,” he said. “Everybody, especially you guys in the media, wants to see us score fifty and sixty points and everybody wants it now. We are not going to do that. We have to put in the work and we have to execute and we have to find our rhythm.
“It is a long season. We have ten more ball games and ten more weeks to improve. That’s what good teams do. They improve on the little things.”
The message from Watson and his coaches on Saturday was simple, they’re not panicking.
“There is no panic in us coaches and players because we know what we are capable of,” Scott said. “For whatever reason, it is not happening right now. We will come back next week and try to improve. It’s really all about us and our execution, throwing and catching and doing those little things.”
—Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports