After an opening month of missed assignments, overthrows, dropped passes and interceptions, Clemson’s offense finally showed the college football world and itself what it is capable of doing when the offense is in sync.
In the second quarter of last Saturday’s win over Louisville, the third-ranked Tigers clicked better than they had at any point in the season. They scored 28 points and racked up 250 total yards.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson completed 11 of 12 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns in those 15 minutes.
“We were able to go in there and tell the guys, ‘Now you see what we are capable off,’” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said on Monday.
They also saw what they are capable of if they don’t pay attention and stayed focused.
The third quarter was a disaster for Clemson. They turned the ball over two times, once near their own goal line when wide receiver Ray Ray McCloud took his eyes off the ball and tipped it in the air where the Cardinals were there to intercept the pass. Then later in the quarter, with Clemson driving for a touchdown that could have put it up by 16 points, Jordan Leggett was stripped of the football at the five yard line and Louisville recovered it, returning it 18 yards to the 23.
However, the Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) did finish strong. Watson threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams with 7:05 to play, and then led his team on an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive that was capped with the game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to Leggett.
“Obviously we have some areas we have to improve. There are definitely things in every aspect, from the run game, to the passing game, timing, pass protection was good overall, but there are still some things to clean up,” Elliott said. “It is a big shot of confidence, but also it is a humbling experience too because we did make some mistakes that could have cost us the game.”
In all, Clemson turned the football over five times. Watson threw three interceptions and fumbled once. But the good definitely outweighed the bad because the Tigers overcame their mistakes and found a way to win the game.
Clemson finished the night with 507 total yards despite running just 62 plays in the game. The Tigers averaged 8.2 yards per play, did not allow a sack and gave up just two tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus-4 yards against what was a top-15 defensive unit.
“For us, offensively, we feel like we have an opportunity to be one of the best offenses in the country. We got off to an up-and-down start the first couple of games, but hopefully our rhythm is starting to really kick in with both the run game and the pass game,” Elliott said. “I think the guys are excited to get back to work, and they know, too, that Boston College … It is going to be very, very good on defense.”
The Tigers visit BC this Friday in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m. Last year, the Eagles led the nation in total defense, and this year they are right back on top, yielding just 202.0 yards per game in four games.
Last year Clemson could not run on them as the Eagles held them to 112 rushing yards. This year Boston College ranks seventh nationally in rushing defense at 78.0 yards per game.
“We had to throw the ball a lot to beat them last year,” Elliott said.
Watson threw for 420 yards and two touchdowns on 24 of 41 passing, but like the Louisville game he was intercepted three times. This year, says Elliott, they want to be more balanced against the Eagles’ top-ranked defense.
“We want to get back to being able to running and throwing the ball. I think they are focused on the challenge of playing another top ranked defense in Boston College,” Elliott said.
One thing Elliott says the Tigers will not do is overlook BC because of their big win over Louisville. When ranked, Clemson has won 42 straight games against non-ranked opponents.
“It goes back to what is the foundation of our program. The most important game on the schedule is the game that you are playing,” Elliott said. “So yes, we celebrated that win in the locker room, but it was a quick turnaround and we were right back on the practice fields (on Sunday). I really liked our demeanor. It looked like the guys had flushed it and are focused on getting back to work.”