The crowd was louder and the atmosphere was more jovial than last week as the Tigers took the field against SC State. The Clemson offense last week looked like an old Cadillac that was flashy on the outside but couldn’t even drive off of the lot.
This was not the case this week as the Tigers looked like a Lear jet in midflight with Watson commanding a ten play drive for sixty-nine yards and seven points on the board. The highlights were a 22 yard catch by Mike Williams as he was wide open on a deep slant and a seven-yard touchdown catch of redemption by Ray Ray McCloud on a short slant.
SC State’s momentum lasted for all couple of plays as they made it to the fifty-yard line before two sacks by Christian Wilkins with a false start penalty sandwiched between them forced the Bulldogs to punt on 4th and 34. This lead to an interesting statistic: The Bulldogs ran six plays and initially gained 25 yards, only to lose 24 of them to end up with a six play drive for one yard.
The Tigers immediately responded with another 22-yard completion to Mike Williams on a deep slant, and then true freshman Cornell Powell bobbled (but caught) a three-yard bubble screen pass. Then things began to get heated as the pile became a little feisty. Ray Ray McCloud took a jet toss (which is a jet sweep pass) for twelve yards; and then Deshaun Watson tossed the ball to Artavis Scott on a run-pass-option (RPO) for fifteen yards.
The play calling started to become strange as Watson threw two passes – one fade to Deon Cain (which he dropped) and the other to Jordan Leggett on a corner route. Then Clemson ran one of their favorite plays, HB toss out of the shotgun and Wayne Gallman pranced into the end zone.
On the ensuing kickoff, another rare play happened – SC State’s kickoff returner fumbled the ball in the end zone, only for redshirt freshman Denzel Johnson to recover the fumble for an unusual score to put the Tigers up 21-0. For the first time in Clemson history, the Tigers scored two touchdowns in the same second of the game clock.
The SC State returner had to return to the spot of his humiliation as he fumbled the ball again, but this time wisely decided to kneel it in the end zone for a touchback. The Bulldogs then had a two yard run, an illegal formation penalty, and a dropped short pass to punt the ball back to the Tigers at the 36-yard line.
The coaches showed mercy and decided to put in career backup and redshirt senior Nick Schuessler along with other backups in on the next drive. This didn’t stop the Tigers from humiliating the Bulldogs even more – the senior quarterback engineered a four play drive capped by a 45-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Diondre Overton for the wide receiver’s first career score.
At this point it became clear that the Tigers focus problems seemed to be fixed and the fans kept enjoying the beat down with the anticipation of another Tiger break. This didn’t take long as Jadar Johnson picked off SC State’s xx and returned it for 41 yards. He almost made it to the pylon for six points, instead giving the Tigers first and goal on the two.
Kelly Bryant was then tackled on a quarterback power play for negative five yards and scrambled out of bounds on second and goal for another negative three yards. Watson entered the game on third and goal throwing a fade to Mike Williams in the end zone only for him to be pushed out of bounds.
This was the first negative situation for Clemson all day, but the Greg Huegel gave the Tigers three points to put the Tigers up 31-0 with 1:39 left in the first quarter. SC State’s misery continued as two plays for no gain combined with a Scott Pagano sack on third down ended the first quarter. This was the highest scoring first quarter in Clemson history (breaking the old record of 28 at Duke in 2012) and the fourth highest scoring quarter overall in Clemson history.
If this didn’t make the fans happy, then the surprise coming home of Ensign William Sears, (whom appeared out of a coke vending machine) to his family certainly did.
The misery didn’t end for the Bulldogs though as Ray Ray McCloud returned the punt for 30 yards, putting the Tigers on the plus thirty-nine to start their drive. Two quick screens to Scott and Williams only netted three yards, but on third down Watson rolled out to his left to find Ray Ray McCloud on the corner route for a 36-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 38-0.
SC State had another three and out and the freshman Tigers took advantage of their opportunity. Tavien Feaster had a fifteen and a two yard carry, and Kelly Bryant threw a ten yard pass to freshman Cornell Powell. After two Bryant runs for zero yards, SC State shot themselves in the foot as they jumped offside to give Clemson third and five. Watson entered the game to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain to put the Tigers up 45-0 with 9:56 left in the second quarter.
Facing a mixture of Clemson’s starters and backups, SC State finally managed to gain a first down for the first time since their opening drive. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs they only managed one first down and 14 yards. Little known walk on Adrien Dunn then showed off his skills as he returned yet another SC state punt for 30 yards.
Schuessler (also known as Dr. Suess) entered the game at quarterback as Coach Swinney played quarterback musical chairs to keep himself entertained, but it doesn’t really matter when you are up by 45 points. Underrated tight end Garrett Williams (known more for his blocking) caught his first career pass for thirteen yards as the Tigers sputtered back and forth for six plays totaling eighteen yards for the first weak drive of the day. To continue the bad omen, Greg Huegel’s second field goal attempt of the day was blocked to give the Tigers their first scoreless drive of the game.
With one iota of momentum the Bulldogs took the field at the 25-yard line and took the field against the Tigers’ backups. It appeared that the Bulldogs would put some points on the board as they marched down the field, but in typical SC State fashion, they dug themselves into a hole culminating with a failed fourth and nine attempt on the plus 33-yard line to give the ball back to the Tigers.
The Tigers then ran one play for six yards, and then ran fifty yards back to the home locker room for halftime. This half was the most points scored in one half since the Ball State game of 2012.
The negatives are few and far between, so sit back and enjoy watching the Tigers (especially the freshman) cruise to a win in this second half.