The first Clemson game saw plenty of excitement, optimism, and apprehension as to what kind of team we shall see. Dabo Swinney heads into his second year as the full time coach. He looks to head back to Charlotte for another shot at the ACC title. Clemson has taken its first step forward by winning the opener against North Texas, 35-10.
The Tigers come back on the field with less rust for an opener but this wasn't necessarily the case for the entire unit. Everyone in Death Valley took away a little something from playing a smaller team like North Texas. Looking back we can take several things from this game.
First, we see Clemson hit the ground running. Both Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper exceeded 100 rushing yards. The offensive line looked strong and loses only one starter from last year. They were solid in both run blocking and pass protection.
Kyle Parker started right where he left off last season as a big-time play maker on the offense. Boyd came in the game late in the fourth quarter for relief in his first action as a collegiate quarterback. While he completed only one pass, he showed arm strength and will hopefully acquire more time against Presbyterian College.
The only stain on the offense was the production of the young receivers early on. This picked up with Brandon Clear's long touchdown reception in the second quarter. Hopkins shows a bright future with good hands and speed as a true freshman.
Bryce McNeal also saw time. His key receptions late in the game set the Tigers in the red zone. Jaron Brown also showed hands with two good receptions. One of them set up a Harper' touchdown.
Special teams performed admirably. Zimmerman had an amazing day, topped off by a 79 yard punt from Clemson's 11 yard line. Benton had a few touch backs on kick- off duty as well. Gilchrist took over punt and kick return duties and showed he has the speed to do so.
The defense was the bigger story. They held the Mean Green to a mere ten points. North Texas managed a whopping 462 yards with a possession time of 42 minutes. They ran the ball frequently with a conversion rate of 50% on third downs. The defense played mostly Nickel and had difficulty stopping North Texas's talented running backs.
The defensive line looks strong. They showed pressure on passing situations but let the QB escape the pocket by over pursuing at times. The linebackers still need work but Hawkins showed flashes of adjusting to his new position.
The key word for the defense is tackling. There were too many missed tackles and assignments. North Texas especially exploited the linebackers and the 'vanilla' scheme being used on Saturday. Focus was also a key issue. Linebacker assignments must be addressed as soon as possible.
Overall fans learned several key lessons from Saturday's game. The offense continues its upward trend as the receivers gain life. Special teams is getting its spark back with punter Zimmerman, the 'Cat Man' kicker, and PR/KR Gilchrist has some speed. On defense the d-line pass rush is there, the tough DBs are there, but the run stuffing linebackers are still struggling.
What will the Presbyterian College Game be able to show us? We shall see on Saturday, September 11.