Whether it be a coach, a player or a fan, one can never read too much into a lopsided win over an inferior opponent.
The only real concern for Clemson come the end of Saturday night would’ve been if the Tigers hadn’t blown past South Carolina State, an in-state opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision level, and racked up a bunch of injuries because they had to play starters longer than anticipated. But that wasn’t the case.
Clemson’s advantage in skill, talent and depth helped the Tigers enjoy a stress-free night in front of the first capacity crowd Memorial Stadium had seen since November of 2019. The Tigers overwhelmed the Bulldogs from the start, scoring touchdowns on each of their first four possessions. When D.J. Uiagalelei scampered into the end zone again to make it a 35-0 game with 6 minutes, 43 seconds left in the second quarter, the fat lady could go ahead and start singing.
By the time it was officially over, Clemson had racked up more than 500 yards of offense, gone 7-for-7 in red-zone trips (all touchdowns) and suffocated South Carolina State’s offense (3.9 yards per play) while getting 102 players into the game, the third-most the Tigers have ever played in Dabo Swinney’s 13 years as head coach.
So Saturday went as expected for Clemson. How much of what the Tigers were able to do against an outmatched opponent will carry over to the meat of the schedule remains to be seen, but one undeniable benefit Clemson got out of its most recent performance was confidence.
And if you don’t think that’s important for the Tigers regardless of who they were lining up against after what transpired a week earlier against Georgia, you’ll have to agree to disagree with those inside Clemson’s locker room.
“It was very important to come out firing on all cylinders today,” freshman running back Will Shipley said. “From the offensive line to the quarterbacks to receivers to even us running backs, we all needed confidence.”
Speaking of quarterbacks, Uiagalelei has some fundamental things he still has to get ironed out after missing a few throws, but the sophomore was much better overall in his fourth career start, going 14 of 24 through the air for 171 yards and a score while adding two touchdowns on the ground in less than three quarters.
The offensive line helped with that. The unit began mixing things up early, including reps for Hunter Rayburn at center and Marcus Tate at left tackle, but didn’t allow a sack after Georgia got to Uiagelelei for seven of them in the opener. And there wasn’t as much pressure for the group to hold up in pass protection since it opened up some holes in the running game, which bounced back from one of the worst rushing performances in program history.
Clemson surpassed its rushing total from last week on the first play of the game and had more than 120 rushing yards before the first quarter was over. Eight different players got at least one carry, and the Tigers finished the night averaging nearly 7 yards per tote.
The Tigers didn’t take it easy on the other side of the ball, either. It was another smothering performance by what’s looking one of the top defenses in the country as Clemson worked on some things, built a big lead, started shuffling players in and out to try to build some depth and ultimately felt much better about itself heading into ACC play.
Because, contrary to popular belief, Clemson’s playoff chances aren’t shot. There are still 10 games left on the schedule plus a potential 11th for the ACC championship. If the Tigers can win them all and finish as a one-loss conference champ, they’ll be in the mix, though it would certainly help their cause to play a ranked team in the conference title game and maybe have another league opponent or two creep into the top 25 by the time they roll around on the Tigers’ slate (Clemson may have also gotten some help from Oregon knocking off Ohio State, though the Ducks now have one of the two best wins in the country).
If you’re Clemson, though, you have to take it one game at a time, most of which are going to come against opponents that may not be the same caliber as Georgia but will be better than what the Tigers faced Saturday. That starts this week when Georgia Tech visits Memorial Stadium for both teams’ league opener.
“It’s all about ACC play for us,” Swinney said. “The next goal for us to win the division, and that starts this week. We’ve been in a lot of big-time postseason games around here for a long time now, and the only reason that’s happened is we’ve been able to win this league. So everything for us is inside-out, and it’s about winning this league.”
Last week’s game may not have been the best indication of how things are going to play out over the next two months as Clemson pursues that goal, but doing what they had to do gave the Tigers a morale boost they needed, which is better than the alternative.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!