NO.21 CLEMSON CRUISES PAST CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 66-17 IN DEATH VALLEY
- 2023-09-10 14:40:01
CLEMSON, SC - Well, maybe the season just started 6 quarters too soon for the Tigers. Saturday's home opener got off to a great start, with the offense marching 68 yards on the opening possession for a touchdown. Cade was 6-8 for 64 yards on the drive, and they converted a 4th and 4 on the drive. On the Bucs' first possession, the defense forced a three-and-out. However, the sloppy mistakes that cost the Tigers the game at Duke on Monday night reared their ugly head again. In a show of bravado and little respect for their FCS opponent, Dabo elected to go for it on 4th and one from his own 29 after the Bucs declined a holding penalty. I'm pretty sure he's never gone for a 4th down inside his own 30 before, and perhaps the football gods didn't like that decision because Cade fumbled the snap, and the Bucs returned it to the one-yard line, promptly punching it in for a TD to tie the game. Like the fumble by Mafah on first and goal at Duke, Cade showed great hustle to run down the defender and make a touchdown-saving tackle, but it was another egregious gaff at the worst possible time, giving the opponent an easy 7 points. On the ensuing kickoff, the Bucs recovered an onside kick, adding insult to injury. Fortunately, the defense stepped up again and forced another three-and-out. The bad karma continued for Cade and the offense, however. After the Bucs downed their punt at the one-yard line, Beaux Collins had a 99-yard touchdown called back because he barely stepped on the sideline at the Tigers' 18-yard line. A few plays later, after driving 65 yards, Cade made another terrible blunder. He had Briningstool wide open for a first down on 3rd and 12 and looked right at him, but instead of throwing it, he looked to the other side of the field and was pressured. He then compounded the mistake by throwing the ball up for grabs as he was falling backwards, and it was intercepted for a pick-six. So Cade gift-wrapped the Bucs' only two touchdowns of the game, and the Tigers actually trailed 14-7 in the first quarter. Fortunately, Cade would settle in and post his first career win as a starter. It's ironic that he didn't lose a single game as a starter in high school but lost his first two starts at Clemson! The Tigers played lights out for the rest of the game, particularly in the second half, which I'll get to in a moment.
This was the first-ever meeting between the two schools, and it was Dabo's 100th game as the head coach in Death Valley. It was also the 100th Tiger Walk, which he inaugurated before his very first game as the interim head coach in 2008. Before the game, he cut the ribbon and christened the new and improved Tiger Walk, and you can watch my video of that below! The Tigers also entered the field from the new west goal post tunnel for the first time.
Cade and the offense responded quickly after the pick-six put them behind 14-7. They drove 57 yards, culminating with a touchdown run by Mafah, his first of the season, to tie the game. Just before the score, Dabo called a timeout on 2nd and goal from the one with 17 seconds left in the quarter, and I think he used that to tell the offense to focus and protect the football. The defense forced another three-and-out with their first sack of the season by Xavier Thomas, who almost forced a fumble on the sack. Dabo was unhappy with the job Antonio Williams had done on punt returns so far this season, so he gave the true freshman Tyler Brown an opportunity, and he seized it. He made a couple men miss and broke a tackle for an electric 29-yard return to the Bucs' 39-yard line that provided a big spark for the team and the crowd. The offense paid it off quickly in 3 plays for a 5-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Williams, his second of the game, putting the Tigers back in front 21-14. Antonio also had a 29-yard catch on the drive.
After regaining the lead, the defense gave up the biggest drive of the game for the Bucs, resulting in a 45-yard field goal. That should have been the only 3 points of the game for the Bucs, but it made the score 21-17. On the ensuing possession, the Tigers went three-and-out for the first time, and Cade made another mental error that could have resulted in another pick-six. Instead of taking a sack, he floated the ball up for grabs again as he was falling, but luckily, it fell harmlessly to the ground, and he was called for intentional grounding. He needs to learn that it's okay to take a sack and get those mistakes out of his system before the Seminoles come to town in a couple weeks!
The defense forced their fourth three-and-out of the half--they forced 8 in the game--and the offense went back to work. They drove all the way to the Bucs' 6-yard line but had to settle for a field goal with 4 seconds left in the half. That wasn't such a bad thing, though, because Robert Gunn finally made his first career field goal after two low kicks were blocked at Duke. That gave the Tigers a 24-17 lead at halftime, and they were all business in the second half.
The defense forced another three-and-out--their 4th in 5 possessions, not counting the one-play touchdown--and the offense went 54 yards, capped by another Mafah touchdown run. That's complimentary football, as Dabo likes to say. On the ensuing possession, Wade Woodaz scored on a pick-six after a big hit by Jeadyn Lukus jarred a completion loose into his waiting hands. Woodaz seems to be Johnny on the spot. He recovered the muffed punt at Duke, and he had a fumble recovery in his first game as a freshman last season against Georgia Tech. That really got the crowd going, and the Tigers were suddenly up 38-17 in a blink of the eye, less than 5 minutes into the second half. The defense forced yet another three-and-out, and the offense scored again on just 3 plays with a 69-yard touchdown completion to Beaux Collins. He almost made a big blunder and started jogging at about the 10-yard line, and he was almost tackled short of the end zone. I'm sure Dabo said something to him about that! However, the Tigers led 45-17 and never looked back.
The subs came into the game, and there was no drop off at all. Helms, Tyson and Vizzina all got to play at quarterback, and all played at a high level. Running backs Dominique Thomas and Keith Adams had some nice runs, as did true freshman Jay Haynes, including a pair of touchdowns in his first game--one run and one catch. Even the walk-ons were getting in on the fun. Hamp Greene made a spectacular one-handed catch that got a huge roar from the crowd and sent the starters on the sideline into a frenzy. Tristan Rigby had a 35-yard run, and Clay Swinney made a nice 24-yard catch that set up a score. The Tigers played a record 117 players, including every offensive lineman but one, and 16 different players caught a pass. Redshirt freshman tight end Josh Sapp, who had a great camp, made his first career touchdown catch, and true freshman TE Olsen Patt-Henry had a 12-yard catch. True freshman defensive end TJ Parker followed up his great debut at Duke with another good game, leading the team with 4 solo tackles, including 3 tackles-for-loss and a quarterback hurry. Nate Wiggins provided the other sack to go along with that of Xavier Thomas.
We also finally got to see WR Troy Stellato in action after injuries have kept him sidelined for the past two seasons. Dabo has been telling us all that time how talented he is, and it was on display on Saturday with Cole Turner out with a minor injury. He is day to day, as is Mukuba, who also missed the game. Stellato had 5 catches for 51 yards, which was third most in the game behind Collins and Williams.
The Tigers rolled to a 66-17 win and, after a few early gaffs, finally looked like the team I was expecting. I said after the Duke game that I still believed the Tigers would beat FSU in a few weeks, and no one else in the media seemed to believe that, nor did many fans. Many scoffed at Dabo when he told me on Wednesday night that he felt even better about his team after watching the Duke film. He said that if the offense rushed and passed for over 200 yards in every game this season, they wouldn't lose again. Well, they've done that in consecutive games for the first time since the ACC Championship in 2019 and the first time to start the season since 2000! That shows what kind of balance this offense has and how good the offensive line is. Sure, this was an FCS team, and the Tigers were supposed to blow them out, but as I said before, they would have beaten a very good Duke team on the road if not for the stupid, self-inflicted mistakes. It was a fluke loss, and flukes don't happen often. That's why they're called flukes. The Tigers played lights out and mistake-free for 3 quarters, and let's hope that continues next week and the following week when the Noles come to town for a huge showdown. The Tigers outgained the Bucs 679-73. It's just a shame that the offense gave them 14 points because that will skew the defense's points allowed ranking. It also messed up my 55-0 score prediction. The offense scored 59 points, and the defense really only allowed 3 points, so I was right on it if you take away the blunders.
I'll have more in a bit after I watch the tape. Don't forget to go to The Valley forum for our Sunday evening teleconference with Dabo. In the meantime, our post-game interviews, highlights and notes are below!
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