CLEMSON, S.C. — Two weeks ago, Clemson’s defense made Sam Hartman look like the next coming of Joe Montana.
Don’t get it wrong, Hartman is a great college quarterback. But he has no business throwing six touchdown passes against a Clemson defense. But that is what happened in the Tigers’ double overtime victory at Wake Forest on Sept. 24.
Last week, fifth-ranked Clemson bounced back and made ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Devin Leary, look average.
“We will see if we have grown up some this week,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Swinney is of course talking about his secondary, which has had an up-and-down season to this point. Two weeks ago, the Tigers struggled to contain A.T. Perry, Donavon Greene, Jahmal Banks and anyone else Hartman threw the football too.
Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) allowed Hartman to complete 20-of-29 passes for 337 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions and five pass interference penalties. The Tigers’ secondary also got called for a personal foul as well.
It was a bad, bad afternoon in Winston-Salem.
Clemson will not have to worry about a set of receivers like it saw at Wake Forest when it travels north to play Boston College on Saturday, but the Tigers do have to worry about BC’s Zay Flowers.
The Eagles (2-3, 1-2 ACC) do everything they can to get Flowers the football. Swinney said it is like trying to find “Where is Waldo?” because of all the different bunch sets, screens, bootlegs, crosses, and motions they use to create mismatches.
“(Flowers) is going all over the place,” Swinney said. “He is corner routes. He is cross routes. He is corner post. He is post. He is screens. He is motion, hand it to him. They are doing a little bit of everything.”
Flowers leads the ACC in all but one receiving category. He heads into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kick leading the league in receptions (34), yards (481), catches per game (6.8), yards per game (96.2) and is tied for first in touchdown receptions (5).
“We have to be very disciplined with our eyes on the back end,” Swinney said. “Because if you start peaking, you are in trouble. So, I am excited to see us play because I think this is the type of game we need to grow up a little bit on that backend.”
It looked like the Tigers grew up some against the Wolfpack last week. Leary was forced to throw the football 47 times, while completing just 28 of them for 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Wolfpack did target their star receiver, Thayer Thomas, 15 times, while completing nine of those passes. However, he managed just 84 yards and did not catch a touchdown pass.
Despite last week’s improvement, Clemson still ranks last in the ACC in passing defense, giving up 263.2 yards per game through the air. It has also given up 10 touchdown passes, which ranks 12th in the conference.
The Tigers are also allowing the opposition to complete 63.8 percent of their pass attempts, 11th in the league.
“It is easy to watch the tape from the first two or three games of our season and say, ‘We need to exploit this.’ That’s called professional courtesy, right? ‘Let’s see if these boys have fixed it?’
“So, we are going to get our chance to show if we have grown a little bit.”