There were many reasons for emotions to run high against Duke Saturday night.
It was the first night game of the season, it was Senior Night, and the grandest of all, it was Military Appreciation Day.
Clemson is deeply rooted and closely connected with its military heritage. The university has done a tremendous job of honoring our past and present heroes. I’m certainly thankful for all of the Armed Forces and growing up with my dad serving active dude in the Navy, I’m appreciative of all the opportunities it granted us as a family.
The night as a whole is a celebration, one giant party for the support base. For the players this night is somewhat bittersweet. Throughout the course of each players journey you get accustomed to running down the hill before battle with your brothers.
On this night each senior gets to stand on that hill by his lonesome in front of the Clemson family and for the first time really see what playing for this team is all about. While this senior class will go down as the winningest group in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the people in those stands got to see the players grow into men right before their eyes. That is special and as a player this night was particularly my favorite.
To sit atop that mountain and reflect on your journey and realize that you were a part of these people’s lives and stories is something you can’t describe. Despite all of the emotions and waterworks on display when each player runs down, there is still a game to be played.
The Tigers looked flat in the first half Saturday night, there’s really no way to sugarcoat it. The offense was out of sync for much of the first and second quarter. There were missed assignments, dropped balls, bad calls, overthrown passes, let downs on the offensive line, and Hunter Renfrow got knocked out of the game.
To have those different variations of pitfalls and still be winning at the half, well that’s something to be said for. When the defense is playing at the level that they are it gives you time to catch your breath.
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones may very well get a restraining order put out against the Clemson defensive line. They harassed him all night leaving his jersey the color of The Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Power Rangers—Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence—pieced together a memorable performance on their night. We have all seen talent step on that field, but I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a collective group of guys have as much fun as they do.
The secondary was up for the task at hand as well. The unit only gave up 158 yards on 43 passing attempts against arguably one of the better quarterback prospects in this draft class. Tanner Muse was his usual self and played with energy and enthusiasm that rivals Brent Venables.
K’von Wallace, A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen all played lights out and continued to add to the solid resume they’ve been building. We finally got to see Shaq Smith play to a level that he’s capable of, his athleticism is rare and this game at the least should build his confidence as Clemson will need his presence in postseason play.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has continued to progress and impress this season, he threw some gorgeous long passes in this game and showed of his mobility. He’s already a ridiculous talent and at this rate will be a No. 1 draft pick one day.
In this game, as mentioned earlier, there was nothing going in those first few drives. It could have been a laundry list of things, but at the end of the day only Clemson can stop Clemson. There was never any doubt the Tigers were not going to win this game, never a doubt that they were going to pull away. At this point in the season it’s not about what the other team is bringing more than it is about you executing.
As we’ve all seen Clemson has been better than everybody they’ve played the season. They may continue to be that way too, but you can’t self-destruct especially if you play some guys down the road that can run step for step with you.
The Tigers are 11-0. It’s been a long season for these players and coaches, but the only way to address some of the issues that we saw Saturday night is to get back to the basics. The little things carry you to the big game.
This week, I imagine, there will be more time spent on the jug machines, more catching in traffic drills and more after practice work getting the timing down from quarterback to receiver.
As we saw in the second half when this team locks in and gets laser focused there is no one that can play with them.
Well, maybe one other team and even then, if the Tigers carry Coach Dabo Swinney’s mantra “Nameless, Faceless Opponents” it would be hard to stop them for four quarters.
This upcoming game is big and not just because it’s against South Carolina. Its big because it’s the next one and gives them another opportunity to put together a complete game.
It also affords us as spectators a chance to see Travis Etienne run it again, let’s hope he gets 20 touches this time around.