Clemson coach Dabo Swinney started at the top with South Carolina State.
In talking up the Tigers’ next opponent, Swinney hit on his respect for South Carolina State’s veteran coach, Buddy Pough, who’s compiled a 133-75 record in 19 seasons at his alma mater while leading the Bulldogs to at least a share of seven Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles. Swinney then complimented South Carolina State’s offense, particularly receiver Shaquan Davis, Wake Forest running back transfer Kendrell Flowers and dual-threat quarterback Corey Fields Jr., who accounted for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina State’s 42-41 loss to Alabama A&M last week.
“He’s going to be a great challenge for us in being able to handle a very mobile quarterback,” Swinney said. “We’re going to obviously see a lot of those guys as we go through the year, so I think that’s a good challenge for our defense.”
Swinney then started on the defense, noting the experience of the Bulldogs’ linebackers and secondary in particular. That includes cornerback Decobie Durant, the MEAC’s preseason defensive player of the year.
“And probably the biggest thing about South Carolina State is I think 73 of their 79 guys are from South Carolina,” he said. “So these kids will be excited to play, and we’re looking forward to competing against these guys.”
Truth is, though, things aren’t likely to be competitive for long when the teams meet at 5 p.m. today inside Memorial Stadium for Clemson’s home opener. The sixth-ranked Tigers (0-1) have played 35 games against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision level since it was formed by the NCAA in 1978 and won them all, and they haven’t faced much resistance from South Carolina State (0-1) in particular.
Clemson is 4-0 all-time against the Bulldogs with all of those games being played since 2008. The Tigers have racked up 238 points in those meetings. South Carolina State? 20.
So as much respect as Swinney has for Pough’s program, the in-state FCS Bulldogs won’t be able to match Clemson’s level of talent. But that doesn’t mean Swinney is thinking the Tigers can’t benefit from the game.
In exchange for the hefty paycheck South Carolina State will receive for making the 170-mile trip from Orangeburg, Swinney said he’d like to get improvement in execution from his team against an inferior opponent. Whether it was missed assignments, miscommunication or lack of cohesion at times, there were too many breakdowns in that department for the Tigers in their 10-3 loss to Georgia last week, particularly on offense.
While the defense held Georgia to just 4.2 yards per play and without a touchdown, the offense sputtered. The Tigers couldn’t run (2 net rushing yards) and struggled to keep Georgia’s pass rush at bay (seven sacks). The timing between quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who had his lowest completion percentage of his young career, and some of his receivers was off, particularly with Justyn Ross, who had just four catches for 26 yards in his first game action in a year and a half.
Saturday is a chance to get some of those kinks ironed out while simultaneously building the offense’s confidence back up.
“Improve upon the mistakes,” Swinney said.
If that happens, Clemson could have the game in hand by early in the second half if not sooner, which would allow the Tigers to empty their bench and get meaningful reps for some of their reserves. It would be an ideal scenario for Swinney and his team heading into ACC play next week, particularly along an offensive line that only rotated one other player, guard Paul Tchio, in during last week’s game.
“Hopefully we can get some guys some experience and have a chance to create some chemistry, rhythm and just develop our team from a depth standpoint,” Swinney said. “We didn’t get a chance to play a lot of guys last week in that type of game and the way it was, so hopefully we can play a lot of guys and be able to have a little better rotation.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!