By Will Vandervort.
The 2014 football season will come to a close next Monday in the Russell Athletic Bowl when 17th-ranked Clemson takes on No. 24 Oklahoma in Orlando, Fla. But, before we put a lid on the 2014 season let’s take a look back at the regular season and how the Tigers got on the road to Orlando in the first place.
Week 1: Georgia 45, Clemson 21
While Georgia’s Todd Gurley was warming up in the second half, Clemson’s offense went cold. After racking up 276 yards on 54 plays in the first half, the Tigers managed just 15 yards in the second half while Gurley and the Georgia running game steamrolled a tired Clemson defense that was on the field every four plays. The Tigers had just one first down and six three-and-outs in the last 30 minutes of the game. Clemson had minus-24 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter. Gurley rushed for 198 yards on 15 carries and scored four touchdowns, one on a 100-yard kickoff return. The junior also scored on runs of 23, 18 and 51 yards. At one point in the fourth quarter, Georgia scored three touchdowns on consecutive offensive plays from scrimmage. Gurley went 18 yards to give the Bulldogs a 31-21 lead with 10:26 to play in the game. After the Clemson offense went three-and-out, the Bulldogs Nick Chubb took a handoff around right end, broke a tackle and then scooted down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown. On the next offensive play, Gurley broke free again and took it 47 yards for a touchdown. Georgia rushed for 283 of its 328 rushing yards in the second half.
Clemson 73, S.C. State 7
S.C. State died in Death Valley. South Carolina State head coach Buddy Pough now knows why the late Lonnie McMillan of Presbyterian College gave Clemson Memorial Stadium the moniker “Death Valley.” After his Blue Hose were beaten by 76 points by the Tigers in 1945, McMillan told his players and the media the following year that he was taking his team to Death Valley. Well, Pough might start telling the press the same thing the next time he comes to Clemson. His Bulldogs had no chance as the 23rd-ranked Tigers won 73-7 on Saturday. It was the largest margin of victory by a Clemson team since that 1945 game against Presbyterian. The 73 points were the most points scored by any Clemson team since the 1981 squad scored 82 against Wake Forest. In three games against Clemson, Pough and S.C. State has been outscored 179-20. Everyone figured Clemson might be mad this week after what happened at Georgia last week, but no one knew they were this mad. Clemson finished the game with 735 yards, while holding SC State to 44 yards. Clemson gained 735 yards on 93 plays, marking the first time since 2009 Boston College game where the Tigers had more plays than its opponent had yards. The Tigers had 78 plays that year and held the Eagles to 54. The 735 yards marked only the third time in school history the Tigers went over 700 yards. It was the second time since Chad Morris became the offensive coordinator in 2012. Quarterback Cole Stoudt threw for 302 yards and one touchdown, while backup Deshaun Watson threw for 154 yards and three touchdowns to pace an offense that had 467 passing yards – a new Clemson record.
Florida State 23, Clemson 17
Clemson got inside the red zone four times and four times they came away with no points. The end result – top-ranked Florida State beat the 22nd-ranked Tigers 23-17 in overtime. FSU running back Carlos Williams rumbled 12 yards around the left side to end the game and broke the Tigers hearts. The game should have never come down to Williams run. Clemson outplayed, outhustled and outcoached the Seminoles all night, but when it mattered most the Tigers did not execute and it cost them what could have been a momentous victory. With the score tied at 17, Clemson had the game won when safety Jadar Johnson intercepted quarterback Sean Maguire at midfield and returned it 24 yards to the FSU 26-yard line with 2:14 to play in the game. All the Tigers had to do was hang on to the ball and the game was theirs, but defensive tackle Eddie Goldman stripped running back C.J. Davidson of the ball and safety Nate Andrews recovered it at his own 14 with 1:36 to play. The Seminoles were content to play overtime from there and it paid off. Clemson got the ball first in overtime, but quarterback Deshaun Watson, who came in on the first series and did not leave the game the rest of the night, was sacked on second down at the 30 and on third down Adam Choice grabbed a screen pass and rumbled 14 yards to the 16. On fourth-and-one, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney elected to go for it instead of kicking it primarily due to the fact kicker Ammon Lakip had missed two earlier field goals of 23 and 40 yards. On fourth down, Choice was stopped for no gain by Chris Casher and Reggie Northrup to turn the ball over on downs. Williams then ran 13 yards on the Seminoles first play of overtime and finally rumbled 12 yards around the left side for the winning touchdown.
Clemson 50, North Carolina 35
In his first career start, Deshaun Watson did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, he amazed. The true freshman set an all-time record for touchdown passes with six and he would have set the all-time passing record for a single-game had head coach Dabo Swinney not put Cole Stoudt in the game with 5:03 to play in the game. Watson finished the game with 436 yards on 27 of 36 passing – 21 yards shy of breaking Tajh Boyd’s single-game record for passing yards. Regardless, Clemson won the game and Watson was the reason why. With the running game doing nothing, Watson threw two touchdown passes to Mike Williams, two to Germone Hopper, one to Artavis Scott and one to Jordan Leggett as the Tigers beat North Carolina 50-35 in Death Valley.
Clemson 41, NC State 0
In case you didn’t know, that Deshaun Watson guy is pretty good. And oh by the way, the defense isn’t too bad either as Clemson pitched its first shutout since 2008 and its first against an ACC opponent since 1998. After throwing for six touchdowns in last week’s victory over North Carolina, Watson’s encore was a four-touchdown performance in the first half against NC State Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. The freshman threw two touchdown passes to Mike Williams and ran for two more as Clemson beat the Wolfpack, 41-0. Watson finished his day after the third quarter. He ended it 17 of 29 for 267 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
Clemson 23, Louisville 17
Once again DeShawn won the game for Clemson, except it was not the Deshaun everyone that it was going to be. With quarterback Deshaun Watson knocked out of the game with a broken finger in the first quarter, defensive tackle DeShawn Williams knocked down Will Gardner’s fourth-and-goal pass from the two-yard line in the final seconds to preserve the Tigers’ 23-17 victory over Louisville. Williams knocked down the pass after James Quick took a slant pass 73 yards to the Clemson 8-yard line. Safety Jayron Kearse chased him down from behind to prevent the touchdown. After a first-down pass gained seven yards to the two, the Tigers stoned the running back on the next play which forced the Cardinals to have to clock the ball and loose a down. On fourth down, Gardner rolled right, stopped a fired across his body, which Williams knocked down for an incomplete pass. That started a massive celebration on the Clemson sideline.
Clemson 17, Boston College 13
Sometimes you need a little luck and Clemson got lucky in its 17-13 victory at Boston College. The Tigers were lucky because Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy had running back Tyler Rouse wide open down the near sideline on a wheel route that earlier worked for a 26-yard touchdown pass to Sherman Alston in the second quarter. This one should have worked, too. But Rouse dropped the ball with 1:07 to play. Clemson was fortunate a few plays later, too. On fourth down-and-15 from the Clemson 31 after a five-yard penalty for illegal substitution, Murphy missed fired on a pass to Shakim Phillips who appeared to be running wide open down the middle of the field. The defense held Boston College’s powerful running game, which ranked fourth in the country coming in at 315.7 yards per game, to a season-low 120 yards. Murphy, who averaged 118.7 yards per game on the ground, was held to a season-low 55 yards as well. He had just four yards on 11 carries and was sacked five times. The Tigers held the Eagles to 263 total yards—the third straight week an opponent failed to get 265 yards of offense—and 2 of 14 on third down conversions. In the last 13 quarters, opponents are just 6 of 45 on third down against Clemson.
Clemson 16, Syracuse 6
With 10:41 to play in the third quarter, the 80,031 people inside Death Valley were stunned. Strong safety Darius Kelley had just intercepted Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt at the Syracuse 38 and returned it to the Clemson 42. With a three-point lead, the Orange was in position to stun the 20th-ranked Tigers. But the Clemson defense had something to say about that. On the very next play from scrimmage, linebacker Stephone Anthony dropped back in coverage and picked off A.J. Long’s pass at the 42 and returned it eight yards to midfield. Clemson finally took advantage of a ‘Cuse mistake and drove the ball 49 yards on 12 plays to the one-yard line. Though Clemson was unable to score a touchdown, Ammon Lakip’s 18-yard field goal tied the game and changed the course of the game. The Tigers then took the lead on the next drive as Lakip kicked his third field goal of the game – a 41-yard kick with 3:30 to play. After that, the defense did what it has done all year, they dominated. They held the Orange to 170 yards, including 88 rushing yards in a 16-6 victory. The defense also had four sacks in the win and forced three turnovers. It marked the fourth straight week Clemson held an opponent under its season average and the fifth time in the last six games. The Tigers put the game away in the fourth quarter when Stoudt threw his first touchdown pass in 147 pass attempts—89 completions—a 19-yarder to tight end Stanton Seckinger.
Clemson 34, Wake Forest 20
It took a bunch of questionable calls by the officials and the ejection of one of Clemson’s team leaders to finally make the Tigers mad on a Thursday night in Winston-Salem. But when they got mad, they were mad. Following a 30-yard field goal by Wake Forest’s Mike Weaver that tied the game with 11:08 to play, Artavis Scott took a jet-sweep pass from quarterback Cole Stoudt and then broke a couple of tackles on his way to 68-yard touchdown. It turned out to be the winning touchdown in the 19th-ranked Tigers 34-20 victory at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, N.C. Clemson, who has now won six straight games, got a 30-yard touchdown jaunt from running back Wayne Gallman. The freshman finished the game with 106 yards on 19 carries – his second straight 100-yard game of the season. Stoudt threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns, including another four-yard pass to Scott and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Gallman. Scott finished the night with 122 yards on eight catches to go with his two scores. Clemson’s defense, despite a bunch of penalties (8-75 yards), still held the Demon Deacons to seven yards rushing on 34 carries and 119 overall. The Deacons averaged just 1.9 yards per play. Clemson finished the game with five sacks.
Georgia Tech 28, Clemson 6
With a little less than three minutes to go in the first quarter Clemson lost the game. That’s when Deshaun Watson, who was returning for the first time since breaking his finger against Louisville on Oct. 11, went down with what appeared to be a left knee injury. Three plays later Georgia Tech free safety Jamal Golden stayed home on a Cole Stoudt screen pass attended for tight end Jordan Leggett and returned it 85 yards down the near sideline for a touchdown. After that, there was little the Tigers did right. Stunned by the sudden change of events, Clemson never fully recovered as the 22nd-ranked Yellow Jackets rolled to a 28-6 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. It was Georgia Tech’s first win against a ranked opponent since beating Clemson in 2011. Tech used a 46-yard run by Broderick Snoddy to set up a Harrison Butker field goal in the second quarter and then a 65-yard run by quarterback Justin Thomas on the first play of the third quarter set up his own five-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Smelter with 12:45 left. Stoudt then threw is his second interception of the game on Clemson’s ensuing possession that set up a 32-yard field goal by Butker.
Clemson 28, Georgia State 0
Clemson got a little bit of this and a little bit of that in Saturday’s game against Georgia State. And in the end the 22nd-ranked Tigers got a well-received victory in Death Valley. Though it wasn’t a dominating win as people might have thought, it was an efficient one – one in which the defense played like the second-best defense in the country and an offense that did just enough. Quarterback Cole Stoudt’s confidence was in question all week leading up to the game, but the senior—though not pretty at times—showed poise and enough arm strength to at least show some resemblance of a deep passing game. He threw an interception, but he also threw a touchdown and finished the game 19 of 29 for 132 yards and 108.2 quarterback efficiency rating. The Tigers also introduced Tyshon Dye to full-time status. The redshirt sophomore ran for two scores and rushed for 124 yards on 20 carries in the first real work of his career. For the defense, it was its second shutout of the season and the third time it did not allow an offense to score.
Clemson 35, South Carolina 17
Order was restored in the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. With the return of Watson and a dominating performance by the defense, Clemson ended its five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks with a 35-17 victory in Death Valley. Watson threw for 269 yards and ran for two scores, while the offense totaled 491 yards. Wide receiver Artavis Scott recorded 185 of those yards on seven catches, most coming on the jet-sweep pass plays, including two that went for touchdowns of 53 and 70 yards. Running back Wayne Gallman rushed for a season-high 191 yards and one touchdown as well. With the offense having its best game since the Tigers’ 41-0 win over NC State on Oct. 4, the defense harassed and frustrated USC quarterback Dylan Thompson. Clemson’s defense sacked Thompson four times as he threw for 249 yards on 21 of 39 passing. One of the sacks led to a fumble that turned the tide in the football game. The Tigers finished the game with 13 tackles for loss.