By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The No. 11 Clemson Tigers will have a final tuneup this weekend against the Furman Paladins at Memorial Stadium before beginning Atlantic Coast Conference play next weekend.
Furman is coming off a disappointing 24-21 loss to Samford in its last contest. A 27-yard field goal from Cameron Yaw with 37 seconds left in regulation proved to be the difference and dropped the Paladins to 0-2 on the season.
Clemson is off to a 2-0 start this season after a statement win over Auburn (23-17) and a dominant 52-27 win over Ball State. The Tigers gave a glimpse of how explosive they can be in the game with 45 of their points coming in the first half, including a second quarter in which the Tigers put up 32. Clemson also opened last season 2-0 en route to an 8-0 start.
Even though Furman and Clemson do not share a common conference or even a common level in the NCAA (Furman is an FCS program) these teams do have a long history. In fact Furman is Clemson's oldest rival with the teams first meeting way back in 1896. Clemson won that game 14-6 to set the tone for a series that the Tigers have dominated with a 41-10-4 record all-time against the Paladins.
It wasn't just the score that was tight in Furman's defeat against Samford, as the teams were almost identical in terms of offensive production. Furman finished with 359 yards of total offense in the game which was just behind Samford which had 366.
The Paladins favored the run in the contest with 43 rushing attempts netting the squad 158 yards. Jerodis Williams led the way with 98 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. Furman also got the majority of its first downs on the ground with 10-of-19 coming on run plays. The other nine were broken up among pass plays and penalties.
Through the air the Paladins did wind up with 201 yards, but quarterback Dakota Derrick completed only 11-of-25 passes and was intercepted three times. The offensive line didn't do him any favors allowing three sacks. The inability to consistently complete passes hurt the team, especially on third down where the Paladins went 3-for-13 on conversion attempts. Will King was the most dangerous receiver on the field for Furman with 89 yards and a score on four receptions.
Defensively speaking Furman did a solid job against Samford in allowing an almost mirror image of its own offensive production. Samford had three less first down (16) than the Paladins and also converted only 4-of-15 attempts on third down. The defense was unable to create pressure on Samford's quarterback Andy Summerlin who completed 23-of-37 passes for 216 yards and a pair of scores. The pass defense also made a costly error on the final drive with a pass interference penalty on a third and 12.
In terms of individual performances Mitch Mcgrath and Gary Wilkins led the team with 10 tackles each, while Matt Solomon had eight tackles and a team- high two pass breakups.
The big news for the Clemson Tigers this week is that star wide receiver Sammy Watkins will return to the lineup. Watkins was considered a dark horse Heisman candidate before being suspended for the first two games of this season. The sophomore wideout is coming of a freshman campaign in which he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 scores, all team-highs.
Even without Watkins, the Clemson offense has been impressive in the early season thanks to a stable of offensive playmakers. Chief among them may be the second receiver on the depth chart, DeAndre Hopkins. The junior caught six passes for 105 yards including three touchdowns in the win over Ball State last weekend.
"It just felt great to come out and make plays for my team," Hopkins said, "Coach (Chad) Morris trusts me to put the ball in my hands. I just wanted to come out for my team."
Quarterback Tahj Boyd will now have even more weapons to work with after he completed 19-of-23 passes for 229 yards and three scores in just the first half of play against Ball State. Watkins' return could also open up the running game a bit for Andre Ellington, who is coming off a 1,000-yard season but had only 41 yards against Ball State on 13 carries.
Overall Clemson racked up 526 total yards in the win, converted 12-of-18 third down chances and capitalized on all five red zone trips with touchdowns. The Tigers are now the top-ranked offense in the ACC (527 ypg).
The defense for Clemson was slightly less successful but with a number of starters being pulled early on that is to be expected. Overall the Tigers allowed 380 total yards to Ball State, the majority of which (252) came on the ground. The offense did make the most of Ball State's mistakes though with a pair of interceptions in the game, while also holding the Cardinals to a 3 for-14 conversion rate on third down.
Stephone Anthony led the team with nine tackles and an interception. DeShawn Williams was a force up front in the game with the only sack for the Tigers and two total tackles for loss.
"We're getting there. It's like (defensive coordinator Brent) Venables said, we just have to keep going," Williams said while acknowledging there is room to improve especially against the run, "We have to get ready for ACC play. I know we will. We have too much pride to let people run on us. We'll be ready next week."
Williams and the Tigers are clearly motivated and out to prove something this season, but need to stay focused and not look to far in advance. Still, against a winless Furman squad with the addition of Watkins, the Tigers have too much firepower to be too worried about overlooking this weekend.