Clemson had an easy go of it Saturday in a 49-3 rout of South Carolina State. While it may have been a stress-free night for the Tigers, it wasn’t always a perfect one. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly that transpired for the home team inside Memorial Stadium.
Clemson flipped the script on the running game. After netting just 2 yards against Georgia — and rarely even giving the Bulldogs a look on the ground with just nine carries among the running backs — the Tigers made it a point to work on the ground game early and often against South Carolina State.
Not only did Clemson stick with it — 21 rushing attempts in the first half alone — but the Tigers also ripped off some chunk plays en route to 242 rushing yards. Lyn-J Dixon got it started with a 16-yard scamper on Clemson’s first offensive snap, and the Tigers ended up averaging 6.7 yards per carry (it was well over 7 until late in the second half when reserves were getting most of the reps), a sign of backs running behind an offensive line moving people at the point of attack. Freshman Will Shipley led the charge with 80 yards on eight carries and his first two career touchdowns, but eight different Tigers got at least one carry, including D.J. Uiagalelei, who had his number called on a handful of power quarterback runs and scored twice.
And while much of the attention was on how the offense would respond after last week’s poor showing, the defense quietly turned in another suffocating effort on a night when substitutions were early and often. Clemson forced seven three-and-outs. Only once did South Carolina State have a drive longer than six plays, and that was late in the third quarter against mostly reserves.
The Tigers have allowed two fields and just a hair above 4 yards per play through two games, and that includes playing a top-5 opponent. The unit certainly looks like it will be among the nation’s elite again this fall.
Uiagalelei played a little more than a half in the blowout win, completing 14 passes for 171 yards and a score in a much better showing than Week 1. But there was still some inconsistency against an inferior opponent.
Uiagalelei completed less than 60% of his passes (58.3) for the second straight week despite not being under nearly as much duress (no sacks) as he was against Georgia (seven sacks). He threw high of a wide-open Justyn Ross in the end zone while rolling to his right, and he missed the same way with his accuracy later in the first half when Ajou Ajou had to extend to try to catch a screen pass, which was intercepted.
Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said those are fundamental fixes that don’t concern him long-term with the young quarterback.
“I think some of those were the throws on the run, which are hard to make, especially when the receiver is moving away from the quarterback and he’s moving off the launch point,” Elliott said. “So nothing to worry about. But you’ve got to go out there and continue to play. And, through experience, those things will sharpen up.”
There’s also the curious case of Dixon, the Tigers’ most experienced running back. The senior figured to have his biggest role yet in Clemson’s offense following Travis Etienne’s departure, but Dixon was held out of the first half against Georgia for what Swinney called team rules and then disappeared for long stretches after that long opening run Saturday.
He had just four touches the rest of the way, one of which was a 14-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney referred afterward to Dixon being in running backs coach C.J. Spiller’s doghouse and said Dixon “just needs to grow up,” which drew a response from Dixon on social media Sunday morning.
Elliott said Spiller has autonomy on deciding which running backs get in the game and for how long, so it’s clear something’s up. But Clemson could use a lot more of Dixon, who’s averaging 8.5 yards so far this season when he does touch the ball.
There wasn’t a lot that didn’t go right for Clemson on Saturday — the Tigers even cut down on their penalties (seven to five) — but turnovers were a glaring issue. Clemson coughed it up three times, and had Joseph Ngata not been able to recover his own fumble on the Tigers’ opening possession of the second half, it could’ve been four.
Clemson finished minus-2 in the turnover battle. It was an uncharacteristically sloppy night for a team that averaged just 1.2 turnovers a game last season, though the Tigers are breaking in a new quarterback and some new running backs. Uiagalelei’s errant interception was also the only turnover committed by the first-team offense as Clemson got more than 100 players into the game.
Chalk it up to a bad night in the department for now, but the Tigers don’t need it to become a trend.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!