By Lee Lance.
That was the way Dabo Swinney started his press conference after the 35-10 victory over the Mean Green of North Texas. And rightfully so, really. The Tigers did indeed get the victory, but it wasn’t pretty and wasn’t really impressive statistically, especially on the defensive side. There were some positives, but more-so then that, there are some remaining questions.
Perhaps the Tigers opening drive was just too quick for it’s own good? Maybe it would have been better if they hadn’t scored so quickly to open the game? Perhaps these type things could be the reason that the rest of the game would appear to be so, how should I say this, lack-luster? The Tigers rolled up some pretty impressive offensive numbers today against the Mean Green, including the final score in the victory, 35-10. But I can’t help but feel like we still didn’t learn much from this team, or did we?
First off, the facts.
It didn’t take the Clemson Tigers long to dent the scoreboard, just 16 seconds to be exact. The Tigers received the ball first in Saturday’s season opening game versus the Mean Green of North Texas, and after an incomplete pass attempt to Dye, quarterback Kyle Parker handed the ball to sophomore running back Andre Ellington, and Andre did the rest. 60 yards later, the Tigers held a 7-0 lead, with 14:44 still showing on the first quarter clock.
That would be the end of the offense for the Tigers in the quarter though, and neither team did much damage the rest of the quarter. After fifteen minutes of play, the Tigers led the Mean Green by a score of 7-0.
The second quarter didn’t really fare much better for the Tigers, despite scoring two more touchdowns, they continued to struggle putting together sustained drives, and struggled even more on defense.
After two punts from each team, one being the second longest in Clemson history -measured at 79 yards- by Dawson Zimmerman, the Tigers struck on another quick drive. One play is all it took this time, and this time it was a pass play from Kyle Parker to Brandon Clear, who took it 70 yards to the house for his first career touchdown in a Tigers uniform.
The Mean Green stormed right back though as the Tigers defense continued to struggle stopping the mixed attack being thrown at it, and they scored a touchdown on a six play, 66 yard drive that took just one minute and 30 seconds.
After North Texas was penalized for over celebration, Marcus Gilchrest took their kickoff back from the Clemson 26 yard line, 25 yards, to the North Texas 49 yard line, where Parker and the offense would go to work again. On what was Clemson’s overall best looking drive of the first half, Parker then threw a 24 yard pass to Dwayne Allen over the middle, then handed off to Harper who went off tackle for 17 yards, moving the Tigers to the eight yard line. On the next play, Parker hit Harper on the left side for the eight yard touchdown, capping off the three play, 49 yard drive that took just 29 seconds.
The first half would end with the Tigers on top 21-7, but the Tigers and Mean Green were statistically deadlocked, each one having just over 100 yards total rushing and right at 125 yards total passing.
Needless to say, I think the Tiger players and coaches were heading into the locker room looking for answers to some pretty big questions. What would it take to stop the Mean Green offense? Would the Tigers find a big play receiver in the second half? Would Kyle Parker look sharper than he did in the first half, among a couple of others.
The third quarter didn’t really offer up any answers either. It took the Tigers until their third possession of the quarter to get any second half points, and those came after another nice return of 25 yards by Gilchrist, giving the Tigers the ball in the North Texas 49 yard line. After Jaron Brown ran a reverse around the right side for a gain of 18 yards, Ellington handled the next 30 yards of the drive on three running plays, one being a 14 yard touchdown run to the right side of the end zone.
The third quarter then came to the end with the Tigers holding a 28-7 lead.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the very next series for North Texas, the Tiger defense still couldn’t seem to get off the field when it needed to, and the Mean Green put points on the board for the second time of the afternoon, this time on a field goal by Dean.
With the score now 28-10 Tigers, North Texas kicked off for the third time of the day, and once again Marcus Gilchrist showed that he is perfectly capable of being “the” return guy at Clemson this season. He took this return from Clemson’s 16 yard line and raced it 33 yards to the Tiger’s 49 yard line. With the help of a 15 yard pass interference call against the Mean Green the Tigers had their longest, time wise, series of the day. The Tigers went 51 yards on seven plays, 17 yards of which Ellington gained, and scored their final touchdown on an off tackle run to the left side by Jaime Harper.
The Tigers then went three and out in it’s final two possessions, both led by Tajh Boyd, and the game ended with a final score of 35-10 Clemson.
The Tigers ended the night with 423 yards of total offense, 246 of which was rushing the ball, with two 100+ yard running backs in the game for the first time in three years, and with Marcus Gilchrist gaining 99 yards in kick returns.
Those numbers sound nice, but here are some not-so-nice numbers. The Tigers were 2-9 on third down conversions, yet the Tiger defense allowed the Mean Green to manage 11-22 on third downs, 50% exactly, and also allowed the Mean Green to convert on their only fourth down attempt.
Want a little more information that will have the coaches, players, and fans scratching their heads this week? The Tiger defense gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense, 462 to be exact, including 193 on the ground. Sound familiar?
So while it appears that the Tigers have found answers to questions about the return game, the running game, and the offensive line, I think several questions still remain. When will a receiver finally step up and stand out? Who will it be? When will the defense show that it can get off the field more consistently on third downs? When will the defense show that they can stop a team from running wild? Will we see any linebackers stand out this season?
One thing I will say in defense of the defense is this: It doesn’t help when the offense scores in less than one minute on several occasions. And is sure doesn’t help when they go three and out either.
Having said that though, we still have another week now to wait for more answers, answers that we hope will start to show themselves next Saturday because we all know what lies ahead in week three.