Saturday afternoon the Tigers had their home opener against FCS school Charleston Southern. Clemson was looking to avenge the loss they took in Durham just five days prior. The short week seemed to play a small factor early on with turnovers keeping the game close early on. It did not last long though as the Tigers would finish the game with a huge 66-17 victory. It is still hard to say that this Clemson team has proven themselves as a top team in the nation once again but they could be on the way.
Shaky First Half
To start the game both the offense and defense came out looking strong. The Tigers got the ball first and really established the short passing game right away. After a couple of incompletions to start Cade Klubnik would throw six straight completions leading the Tigers down the field for the score. On this drive four different receivers caught passes. Antonio Williams had the touchdown reception, paired with another catch on the drive. Others who caught passes were Will Shipley, Beaux Collins, and Jake Briningstool. Right after that, the defense would cause the Buccaneers’ offense to go three and out. They gave up zero yards on that first drive as well. The next drive is where some of the early problems started to arise.
After the three-and-out, the offense would turn the ball over twice. First on a fumble during a fourth down and one on a bad handoff exchange. The ball would be scooped up by Charleston Southern and ran back to the Clemson one-yard line. The very next play, the Bucs would score on a one-yard run. The next one would be a bad interception Klubnik threw that was returned for a touchdown. These mistakes would keep the game tied at the end of the first quarter. By the end of the first half, it was only a one-touchdown game.
Klubnik Struggles early
What also was disappointing for Clemson fans to see in the first half was Klubnik continuing to struggle quite a bit. His stats did not look terrible as he finished the first half completing 21 of 29 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He did also have a really bad interception that went for six. The throw did not seem to make much sense to throw. Klubnik threw the ball across the field which is hard enough in itself. He also threw it across his body at the same time though and that is something you just are not supposed to do. This was the worst of a few bad decisions Klubnik made in the first half. He missed open receivers and tried to force some throws that just were not there. Once he settled in though, he looked so much better.
Tigers Start Rolling
As it got to the close of the first half going into the second, the Tigers started settling in and playing how we expected. It started with both the defense and the running game. Both Shipley and Phil Mafah played great in this game. The running attack using both backs proved to be impossible for Charleston Southern to stop. Mafah especially had a great game finishing with nine rushes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Shipley added on another nine rushes for 73 yards.
Defensively the Tigers were dominant from the start. In the first quarter, the Bucs offense only gained 5 total yards. Overall for the whole game Charleston Southern only had 73 yards of total offense. Only 12 of these were rush yards and the passing game was not much better. Buccaneers quarterback Tony Bartalo completed six of 14 passes for 61 yards and an interception. In the second half, the defense shut out the Bucs offense. They also got a score off of an interception by linebacker Wade Woodaz who returned it for a touchdown.
Klubnik and the receivers also played well as they got settled in. The offense scored five total touchdowns themselves in the second half. Klubnik threw for two of these scores as well to bring his total to four overall. One of them was a 69-yard touchdown pass to Collins. He finished the day completing 28 passes of 37 attempts for 315 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. In those four touchdowns, Klubnik threw to three different wide receivers. As mentioned already Williams and Collins caught touchdown passes from Klubnik and so did Josh Sapp. It was also Sapp’s only catch of the day and was 25 yards.
Offensively the Tigers have to do something about the turnover problem. In two weeks they have 5 turnovers and all of them have been costly. Both turnovers in this game led to the only two touchdowns Charleston Southern scored. Cutting out the turnovers would benefit this offense immensely. Klubnik also has to be better in his decision-making. He is still a young player only having three total starts in his college career. For the Tigers to get where they want to be though Klubnik has to become the great player he is expected to be. He has all the tools he just still makes bad decisions that show just how young he is. Klubnik has to mature quickly with Florida State coming to town in just a couple of weeks.
Defensively Clemson looked stout throughout the game. The only touchdown they let up was a one-yard score after a turnover by the offense put the Bucs on the one. Otherwise, they let up less than 75 yards of total offense and no other touchdowns. The confidence seemed to grow back with each stop they made. If this defense can be as dominant as they have been projected to be it could be the reason Clemson truly gets back on track.