Hoping to learn from their mistakes in Week 1 against Troy, the Clemson Tigers stayed at home to host the FCS Division Wofford Terriers, who have been known to compete early and have become known for their grit and well disciplined football team. Many Clemson fans expected the game to be over by the middle of the third quarter, with the reserves logging plenty of snaps in the fourth quarter.
What the Tigers got was a Wofford scare, a game in which Wofford’s option attack rushed for over 200 yards against a plain, porous run defense and took advantage of a true freshman at safety early in the game to have a 24-24 tie at halftime. The Tigers were able to do just enough to hold on and escape with a 35-27 victory thanks to the offense’s new and improved big play ability, with key contributions from receivers Deandre ‘Nuke’ Hopkins and sensational freshman Sammy Watkins, coupled with a healthy dose of running back Andre Ellington.
Looking back, we will see just how each position grades out after Saturday, and what each position could do to improve a little more.
Tajh Boyd was solid again in Week 2, going 18-29 for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and he added a rushing touchdown. Boyd continues to become acclimated to the offense, and showed better decision making, better poise in the pocket and good mobility. Boyd must continue to improve in reading defenses and calling better protections, as on several occasions he failed to pick up blitzing linebackers. Going into Week 3, Tajh will surely show more as offensive coordinator Chad Morris opens up the playbook a little bit more.
Just as the freshmen made big plays, a familiar face showed us that he is still the biggest play making threat: Andre Ellington. The junior running back has returned with a vengeance, rushing for 165 yards and a touchdown. Ellington showed us he still has speed and that he has indeed returned to top form. While top backups DJ Howard and Bellamy saw fewer snaps, they still remain among the top rotation at running back. Rod McDowell played a few snaps but saw little of the field again after a dropped pass. The running backs need to continue their progress and improve in pass protection and do a better job of picking up blitzing linebackers.
Sammy Watkins continues to impress all of the Clemson Tiger faithful with his speed and even more impressive hands, finishing the week with 65 receiving yards and a touchdown. Another true freshman in Martavis Bryant also emerged by nabbing a 42-yard touchdown, and at 6'3", shows great size for a freshman. Deandre Hopkins has also reminded us that he is still on this team, nabbing a touchdown reception along with 73 receiving yards. All of the main receivers Clemson is rotating have shown reliable hands, something that could only be counted upon by few people last season. The receivers need to continue making plays in the passing game and improve on their blocking ability downfield when they don't have the ball.
The offensive line has been an issue these first two games in terms of physicality and pass protection, especially during blitzing situations. All of the linemen have been largely inconsistent, and have trouble picking up linebackers. The Tigers need to get more physical in the running game, especially if they want Ellington to flourish, and keep Boyd upright in pass protection if they want to have a chance at scoring on offense.
As was the case with the offensive line, the defensive line needs to improve in run support and rushing the passer. The line had little push up front, rarely got into the backfield and had little to no pressure on the quarterback. It is interesting to note that the Tigers played a three-man front the entire game and have done little blitzing for the first two weeks of the season. The defensive line needs to get more push up front to throw quarterbacks off their rhythm and better close the running lanes.
In Week 2, the linebackers have had all that they can handle, especially seeing something like the option thrown at them, and with young, true freshmen linebackers in the rotation, they struggled to make tackles all game. They were not assignment-sure and did not make tackles very well in the open field. The linebackers, next to the defensive line, had the worst position day out of all the defense. Going into Week 3, the linebackers must stay disciplined in their assignments and make better tackles in the open field.
In Week 2, the secondary was not as involved in the passing game with an option team like Wofford, only giving up 127 yards passing, but gave up two big passing plays that led to touchdowns, with Wofford only completing four passes. The secondary mainly stayed involved in containing the run, a job which they struggled with. There were a lot of missed tackles, and with starting safety Rashard Hall out with an injury, a true freshman at safety initially started but was quickly taken advantage of and replaced in the second half. The secondary was able to record an interception thanks to safety Kantrell Brown. With a good passing team like Auburn coming up, the secondary will be a crucial part of stopping Auburn's fast paced spread attack.
After a solid Week 1 for special teams, Week 2 did see them struggle a little bit, missing an extra point and a field goal. Sammy Watkins did, however, almost break several long runs for touchdowns, and is a primary return man on both kick and punt returns. Kicker Chandler Cantanzaro must get back to Week 1 form, where he made three 45-yard field goals, and punter Dawson Zimmerman continues to be a very solid and consistent punter.
Coaching on all facets could have been better. Head coach Dabo Swinney made the wrong call by attempting a field goal late in the game, therefore making it a two score game. Clock management still needs improvement from Swinney as well. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris had his offense productive, but are still short of having 80 snaps per game, which is Morris' goal for this offense. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele must get this young unit together to improve on their tackling and overall discipline on their assignments.
The intangibles are there on both offense and defense. The offense has shown better ability in the skill positions at wide receiver and running back. Tajh Boyd has shown he can play in this offense, and all of the offense can only improve as Morris opens up the playbook a little bit more. The defense is young and will only improve with time, but at the same time, they must catch on quickly, shore up their run defense and become more physical along the defensive line.
The talent for Clemson is there, but how this young team responds will be a big factor for the next 10 weeks.