The Clemson Tigers' mediocre performance on the road at the Auburn Tigers, while surprising, was understandable. Deshaun Watson and Co. don't get the same pass following a 30-24 win on Saturday over Troy.
Now, overreactions are dangerous. Emotion-fueled responses to a dismal day can be laughed at later when the second-ranked Tigers are shredding every opponent like last season. They're OK for now, despite the disappointing route to 2-0.
But—at least for another week—we'll be wondering, discussing and arguing if Clemson's sluggish start to 2016 campaign is a sign of significant problems.
Dan Hope of the Independent Mail notes co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott addressed the offense's struggles:
The unit registered 414 yards but averaged just 4.9 per snap. For an offense Watson once said is striving to become the best in college football history, that's unacceptable.
Watson attempted a career-high 53 passes, mostly out of necessity because the Tigers struggled on the ground.
The non-Watson running game managed just 3.5 yards per carry. Plus, those players—Wayne Gallman, Tyshon Dye, Adam Choice, C.J. Fuller and Artavis Scott—mustered a meager 3.1-yard average on first down.
Last year, Clemson boasted the nation's No. 21 rush offense, only registering fewer than 150 yards in a game in a blowout win over Appalachian State, against Boston College—the nation's No. 1 defense—and Alabama, which failed to contain the aerial attack.
As for the passing game, head coach Dabo Swinney believes the receivers failed to consistently help Watson.
"He can't throw it and catch it," Swinney said, according to Zach Lentz of the Times and Democrat.
Following a nine-reception day at Auburn, Mike Williams managed just two grabs and blew a back-shoulder route on third down, which brought out the boo birds. Hunter Renfrow dropped a pass. Jordan Leggett had just one catch.
Now, this isn't to say Watson is without blame.
A highly regarded NFL draft prospect, Watson faced a few self-imposed problems. His first interception was directly to Trojans defender Jalen Rountree. Watson also unsuccessfully attempted to force a pass between two defenders and badly overthrew Williams on an open vertical route.
The junior quarterback finished 27-of-53 for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Although Watson's bad throws were bad, the good throws reminded viewers why he's a potential No. 1 draft pick.
Watson wasn't perfect, but he made enough plays to avoid what would've been a dreadful outcome. The defense providing another respectable effort was critical as well.
Clemson forced three turnovers. Jalen Williams picked off a Brandon Silvers pass in Tigers territory—immediately after a Watson interception. Kendall Joseph's pick led to a touchdown. Dorian O'Daniel's first career interception set up a Greg Huegel field goal.
Jabir Frye ripped off a 66-yard touchdown, but Clemson otherwise limited Troy to 75 yards on 32 carries and a 2-of-15 mark on third down.
Again, though the Tigers committed several annoying errors—two pass interferences, one facemask, one roughing the passer and one declined holding—the unit wasn't awful.
Similarly, Clemson's special teams performed well most of the time. The problem is the primary mistake was inexcusable. Ray-Ray McCloud returned a punt 74.9 yards before flipping the ball behind his back prior to crossing the plane of the end zone.
One blunder created another for the Tigers all game long.
"Nothing big. Nothing major," Swinney said about Clemson's struggles, per Brad Senkiw of the Independent Mail. "Little things lead to big things."
Clemson clearly has issues to address. Denying that is ignoring what happened in Auburn but more so what transpired against Troy. There's no doubt the Tigers need to shake off an uninspiring start to 2016 before entering ACC play at Georgia Tech on Thursday, Sept. 22.
After that midweek matchup, Clemson hosts QB Lamar Jackson and the electric Louisville offense. On paper, the conference clash should be a high-scoring affair. If the first two games are any indication, the Tigers might have an issue holding up their end of the bargain.
During the rest of October, Swinney's club faces a feisty Boston College defense on a Friday night, hosts North Carolina State and travels to Florida State. Clemson doesn't have much time to stumble, particularly on offense.
However, burying the Tigers would be foolish. It's early. There's plenty of football left.
Every mistake was correctable. Watson made a terrible throw on his first interception. Perhaps his second pick was the result of frustration and trying to be a much-needed hero. The offensive line seemed to underestimate a formidable Troy front seven.
Clemson boasts a collection of proven pass-catchers. Two games in 2016 might not suggest that, but the group remained almost entirely intact from last season. History says the receivers will figure it out.
The defensive line controlled the trenches. Frye's touchdown run was a fly sweep that the linebackers didn't read properly and weren't fast enough to chase down. McCloud might run into a tunnel before dropping the ball from now on.
If Swinney's team stumbles when South Carolina State comes to town next Saturday, college football nation will need to reassess expectations. For now, though, Clemson's biggest enemy is itself. That's a real problem, but it's not a major one yet.