No. 6 Clemson will look to bounce back from its season-opening loss to Georgia when the Tigers host South Carolina State in their home opener Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
So what do the Tigers need to do to ensure themselves of a win? Here are three keys:
The I-AA division in college football was formed by the NCAA prior to the 1978 season. It’s since been renamed the Football Championship Subdivision. Whatever you want to call it, Clemson’s rarely been tested against the lower level of the sport. The Tigers are 35-0 all-time against FCS teams with their average margin of victory north of 35 points in those games.
In other words, it would be easy for the Tigers to overlook this game, especially with it sandwiched between that bitter loss to Georgia and their ACC opener against Georgia Tech looming next week. Even if Clemson was looking ahead, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Tigers lose to a team they’re far superior to in terms of sheer talent and will be able to physically overwhelm.
But Clemson has plenty it needs to work on following that slugfest with Georgia, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, so taking care of business Saturday while simultaneously building as much momentum as possible to take into the conference slate will be important for the Tigers.
Clemson’s offense will likely be able to name its score whether it leans on the run or the pass. It would behoove the Tigers, at least in this writer’s opinion, to rep the running game over and over (particularly between the tackles) given how poorly things went against Georgia in that facet of the game. After netting just 2 yards on the ground, establishing the line of scrimmage and building cohesion and confidence among the offensive line and running backs heading into ACC play would be ideal.
But regardless of how the Tigers decide to go about moving the ball, the execution needs to be better. Whether it was missed blocks up front, miscommunication between D.J. Uiagalelei and his receivers or timing issues in the passing game, there were far too many operational breakdowns within the offense last week. While a defense the caliber of Georgia’s will make life difficult for a lot of offenses, Clemson didn’t do itself any favors by botching some of the details that it can control.
Again, the Tigers likely won’t have much problem winning this game, but how they look doing it — at least the first- and second-teamers — will be just as important. A much cleaner performance would go a long way in helping the Tigers’ offense feel better about itself heading into the meat of the schedule.
Don’t be sloppy
Speaking of cleanliness, there’s only one way South Carolina State becomes a national story for a monumental upset come the end of the weekend, and that’s if Clemson beats itself. No offense to Buddy Pough’s program, whose coaches and players put just as much time and effort into their preparation as anybody else, but the Bulldogs simply don’t come close to matching Clemson’s skill level.
But sloppiness from superior teams is a surefire way to help inferior ones hang around, particularly turnovers that turn into immediate points like Georgia’s pick-six last week. Granted, it would likely take a lot of turnovers by Clemson for this game to still be even remotely competitive come the fourth quarter, but, again, this is about finding rhythm and confidence if you’re Clemson. Throwing interceptions, fumbling the ball all over the place and racking up a bunch of penalties wouldn’t exactly inspire that heading into next week.
The good news for Clemson is that hasn’t been much of a problem of late. Clemson finished 22nd nationally in turnover margin last season and turned it over just once against a much bigger, faster Georgia defense than what it will see Saturday. It was only the sixth time in 174 games of the Swinney era the Tigers have lost when winning the turnover battle.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!