South Carolina State is probably tired of seeing Jadar Johnson, but the Clemson safety sure enjoys playing against his hometown team.
Johnson, a native of Orangeburg, S.C. — the home of the Bulldogs — faced S.C. State for the third time in his Clemson career on Saturday, when the third-ranked Tigers won 59-0, and intercepted a pass for the second straight game against the school he grew up admiring.
“It felt great, especially being against the home team,” Johnson said of the game. “My family was here — my girlfriend, my grandma and granddaddy. Everybody was down, so it felt good.”
Johnson picked off S.C. State quarterback Caleb York late in the first quarter with Clemson already ahead 28-0. Johnson returned it 41 yards and nearly scored, but was dragged down at the 2-yard line.
“I was really just reading the quarterback’s intentions,” Johnson said. “His eyes took me there. I didn’t think he was going to let the ball go, but he probably didn’t see me. He let it go, and I just grabbed it.”
Had Johnson reached the end zone against S.C. State, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
In September 2014 against the Bulldogs, Johnson grabbed his first career interception and took it 60 yards for a pick-six.
“When I got to the 5, I was like, ‘I’m about to score again,’” Johnson said with a smile. “I got tackled, but it’s all good.”
S.C. State was Johnson’s favorite team as a kid growing up. Johnson attended his first college game at S.C. State’s Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, and said that was where he first started working out at.
“It feels good because I really grew up on that football field,” Johnson said. ““When I was little, I didn’t really know no better, but that was the school that I wanted to go to.”
Johnson said he wasn’t any more motivated than normal on Saturday despite the circumstances. He just felt like he was in his comfort zone.
“I wouldn’t say more fired up, but it definitely feels good, especially with my family coming down,” Johnson said. “That’s really the big thing. This is really the game that my family likes to come to, and a lot of my friends, and it feels comfortable for me.”
Johnson certainly seems comfortable in his first season as Clemson’s starting safety.
The senior owns two of Clemson’s six interceptions this season to lead the team. His other one occurred in the season-opening 19-13 win at Auburn, when Johnson also broke up two Hail Mary attempts at the end of the game to seal the victory.
Johnson credits his play thus far to preparation.
“It just comes from a lot of preparation, getting in that film room and knowing what’s coming,” Johnson said.
Johnson is a key piece of Clemson’s defense that currently ranks eighth nationally in yards allowed (250 yards per game), 11th in scoring defense (12.3 points per game) and 17th in passing defense (158 yards per game).
Clemson’s defense will be tested again against Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack in Atlanta on Thursday night.
Though the Tigers don’t have much time to get ready for the game, Clemson began preparation for the Yellow Jackets in fall camp, and Johnson feels good about his unit heading into the matchup.
“We’ve already been working on Georgia Tech, so it shouldn’t be much of a challenge,” Johnson said of the short turnaround. “We already got some work in with them. It will just be going off some things we already did, so I don’t think it will be too hard.
“The quick turnaround, we’re ready to play some more football.”