CLEMSON — After 20 minutes and 20 or so questions, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ media session this week appeared wrapped up.
Beat writers closed up their notebooks and shut off their recorders – videographers shut off their cameras until one reporter piped up.
“What about South Carolina State, your opponent this week?”
Indeed, this week’s matchup didn’t make the cut in the conversation. Morris smiled, took a sip of water and proceeded with what he had ready to go on the FCS-level Bulldogs:
“They are very well coached. They will give us a lot of looks upfront,” Morris said. “They do a really good job of disguising their secondary. They’re very athletic. They disguise their fronts and do some movements and give us different looks.
“Again, we’ll worry about the Clemson Tigers.”
Saturday’s 12:30 kickoff between the No. 4 Tigers (1-0) and S.C. State (0-1) certainly doesn’t have the punch to it of last week’s primetime showdown, but similar to last week, it is indeed a sellout – just the second sellout of an FCS/Division I-AA game in the school’s history (Furman, 2012 the other).
Tigers face tempo-led SC State team
That can only help the energy level that senior Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd says has to be maintained week-to-week.
“It has to be the same and even that much more. Every game is an important game,” Boyd said. “You start to understand how important they are the older you get in your career. There are situations where you go into certain situations where some games are bigger than others, but if you gauge your games based on your opponent, you’re not becoming that consistent team that you want to be.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on is being a consistent winner at every level.”
Entering as an over seven touchdown favorite, a letdown-turned-shocker isn’t exactly in the cards, but the seniors on this Dabo Swinney team haven’t suffered a loss as a home double-digit favorite yet (16-0; last time was 2008 versus Maryland, 20-17).
“Playing to a standard” is the phrase that echoes through the halls of the WestZone each game week – and the players have bought in.
“When you start to look at who you play against – regardless of the team – you let yourself down,” Boyd said. “You start to put things in measure that you shouldn’t. There’s an expectation for us out there to perform to our abilities and to perform to our standards. You expect that from everybody on our team.”
Clemson senior running back Rod McDowell, who rushed for a career-high 132 yards last week against Georgia, says that expectation is to come out of each week with the “W.”
“I feel like when you are Clemson and the things we have done in the last couple years and you’re used to winning – you don’t get a big head,” McDowell said of a program that’s won nine of its last 10 games. “You stay level-headed and you stay humble. It’s nothing but a start. The LSU game is the past. The Georgia game is the past. It’s a whole ‘nother week. When you got seniors and everybody on the same page, you don’t get a big head.”
S.C. State comes to town after a gut-wrenching home opener versus Coastal Carolina. The Bulldogs led 20-12 in the third quarter and were looking to make it a two-possession game, but a Nick Belcher field goal was blocked and returned 56 yards for a touchdown to tie it up and swing momentum in a 27-20 loss.
The Bulldogs run a hurry-up, spread option scheme, which kept the ball on the ground for 58 of its 82 plays last week. Senior quarterback Richard Cue’s top target is fellow senior Tyler McDonald – connecting four times for 108 yards and a touchdown versus Coastal.
“They’ll use a variety of personnel and shifts and motions,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “It will be a very mentally challenging game as much as physically. Gap integrity issues, they’ll find (issues) as an inside zone team.”
Last week, Clemson surrendered six carries of 10-yards or more and four of 20-plus including the 75-yard score from Georgia’s Todd Gurley. In the passing game however, Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray was shutout on touchdown passes for the first time in nine games.
Tigers head coach Swinney liked what he saw from an upperclassmen cornerback group in week one.
“I thought Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland competed their tails off,” he said. “Darius (Robinson) was solid but we want him to challenge a little more. Martin Jenkins was solid when he was in there and competed.
“We have a lot of room for improvement but for playing a top-5 team and a guy like Aaron Murray, I thought it was a good start.”
McDowell impressed by Brooks' improvement
Venables saw good and bad, but most importantly, the issues are fixable.
“If we weren’t able to rush the quarterback, if we weren’t physical, if we didn’t have intelligence, if we didn’t have ability – I’d be incredibly concerned,” he said. “I feel like I know our guys and I know how they’ll work to fix the mistakes that were made.”
On the offensive end and overall, Clemson is looking for a “clean” game, but that will likely come with a quite a few more substitutions.
Versus Georgia, 14 Tigers played 85 percent of the snaps on offense, but scheduled to return this week are tight ends Sam Cooper (knee) and Jordan Leggett (knee). With enough of a lead, junior quarterback Cole Stoudt and redshirt freshman Chad Kelly could give Tajh Boyd a breather in the second half. Some of the backup lineman figure to get some action in as well.
This one also figures to be a stat-stuffer. Through week one, Clemson ranks No. 35 in scoring offense (38) and No. 42 nationally in total offense (467), after a top-10 finish in both last season. The Tigers look to continue their run atop the NCAA red zone offense measure – having scored in 17-straight trips inside the opposition’s 20.
“We have to throw and catch better,” Swinney said. “We were very average last week in throwing and catching and just finishing some plays that could have made a huge impact on the game. We have to be better there and we will be.”
Check out our S.C. State breakdown and predictions here