By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
The shopping list for Saturday’s game with S.C. State isn’t as exotic or extensive as it was the first week, but Dabo Swinney believes there will always be a need for the staples.
Blocking, tackling, throwing and catching are the milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper.
While the early betting line listed Clemson as a 52½-point favorite for Saturday’s game with S.C. State, and it’s apt to climb, Swinney needs to see substantial improvement from a team that beat nationally ranked Georgia and jumped to No. 4 in the AP poll.
First on Swinney’s list is shoring up pitching and catching.
Considering the outcome, it might seem like nitpicking. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was named ACC offensive back of the week and Sammy Watkins the league’s receiver of the week, but Boyd missed a couple easy targets and six passes were dropped, drive killers that might have buried Georgia sooner.
“We were very average last week finishing some play that could have made a huge impact on the game,” Swinney said.
Sophomore tight end Stanton Seckinger showed he was ready for prime time, scoring the final, critical touchdown. And Charone Peake snagged five key passes including a 25-yarder that set up a touchdown. If Clemson intends to expand the influence of its passing game, junior Martavis Bryant needs to emerge as a big-play alternative.
Though Bryant dropped two passes, Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris weren’t prepared to push a panic button. Swinney recalled how after tight end Brandon Ford dropped three passes in the Auburn game last year, they stuck with him. Ford finished the season with 40 receptions for 480 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Martavis had a rough night catching the ball. Just like we weren’t going to fire Brandon Ford after having a poor night in the opener against Auburn last year, we’re not ready to fire Martavis Bryant yet either,” Swinney said. “Martavis has been consistently – not good – but great all of spring and fall camp, and we aren’t going to let that one bad night in a big environment and his first time on a stage like that change what we do.”
Considering where he began the year, Bryant came a good distance just to be on the field Saturday. He was sent home in December and did not play in the bowl game because of academic discipline. Once he returned in January, it was clear he turned the corner. Bryant began the season hoping to emerge as that viable alternative to take the pressure off Watkins after averaging 30.5 yards on 10 catches last season.
Obviously there were no indications that this could be a problem or they may have pushed the learning curve on freshman Mike Williams. Morris said there was no reason to push that envelope, though there may be opportunities for Williams and classmate T.J. Green to play.
“You’re going to have drops, we understand that,” Morris said. “But we can’t have six drops, particularly in critical third-down situations that could’ve led to more points.
“Martavis is a special talent. We’ve all seen him make big catches,” he said. “He’s going to get better. He’s going to be fine. I’m not worried about him at all.”
In the end, Bryant’s hands were more than milk and eggs when he snared the onside kick to preserve and the three-point lead for what Swinney characterized as, “the biggest catch of the night.”