Clemson, SC – Somewhere between the glossy pages of summer preview magazines and the cold fall days of championship football, the opening game full of excitement and mistakes occurs on Labor Day weekend.
Whatever images fans had of Clemson dominating Furman from the start were quickly erased as Clemson’s opening drive only gained 31 yards on 11 plays before the turnover on downs.
With no time to dwell on the disappointment, Memorial Stadium cheered for Clemson’s defense that returned nine starters – and the defense delivered by sending Furman’s offense off the field after three plays.
Just a few plays later, Kelly Bryant tossed a 40-yard touchdown on a deep route to Amari Rodgers to put the Tigers up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Furman’s redshirt freshman quarterback JeMar Lincoln ran for a 20 yard gain on third down, and that plus a pass interference call on Tanner Muse was enough to put the Paladins in position to score.
Major underdogs can’t make mistakes and expect to win – and Furman’s botched snap (-28 yards) ruined their momentum.
When the underdogs make a mistake, it is the job of the favored team to capitalize – and the electric Amari Rodgers answered the call by returning Atkins’ punt 62 yards to the red zone. If big plays on special teams continue with regularity, Coach Swinney’s hope that special teams becomes the identity of the 2018 Tigers will be fulfilled.
After a drive ending in a Greg Huegel field goal, Furman again marched close to field goal range before a fourth and one run was smothered by Clemson’s defensive tackles.
Enter Trevor Lawrence – the best recruit in Clemson’s history stepped on the field with all the expectations and hype that entail the title. Lawrence simultaneously showed his talent and his inexperience – “freshman-ness” if you will.
The first drive with Lawrence at quarterback ended in Greg Huegel kicking a 49-yard field goal to tie his career high – showing that Clemson’s offensive struggles were not all a result of quarterback play.
Clemson took control of the game and never looked back after going up 13-0 midway through the second quarter. Clemson’s next two drives of 95 and 38 yards ended in touchdowns and gave Clemson a comfortable 27-0 lead entering halftime.
Despite the comfortable lead, the opening drive of the second half was crucial to Clemson’s season. How would he respond after struggling in the opening half? True to his personality and leadership praised by his teammates – he got back to work and “[kept] being Kelly B.”
A solid 56-yard drive ended in a turnover on downs. He didn’t have to wait long to score again – highlighted by his deep pass to freshman Derion Kendrick and capped off by his 35-yard scramble for a touchdown.
The rest of the game was highlighted by younger players showcasing their talents. Lyn-J Dixon ran twice for 16 and 61 yards before Lawrence threw a 15 yard scoring strike to Justyn Ross at the end of the third quarter – all three players are true freshman.
Coach Venables described the benefit of playing younger players throughout games by elaborating that “It builds their confidence and gets their jitters out. This is a developmental game, and the more they play, the better they are going to get, even through failure. As we continue to develop our depth across the board, this will be a great start for some of those guys in their careers.”
Freshman tight end Braden Galloway from Seneca caught his first career score from fellow freshman Trevor Lawrence in the fourth quarter for Clemson’s final points of the day.
Furman kept fighting with true freshman third string quarterback Darren Grainger – and their persistence paid off as he threw a beautiful strike to receiver Ryan DeLuca with just a minute left in the game to make the score 48-7.
Both teams were stressed in different ways throughout the game. Christian Wilkins remarked that playing Furman’s offense is more stressful than Georgia Tech due their versatility. On the other hand, Furman head coach Clay Hendrix said that Clemson is “as advertised”,adding that We certainly won’t see another group like this for the rest of the year. At least, I hope we don’t.”