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Clemson Football

Stranger Things

August 30, 2019
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CLEMSON -- Opening night inside Death Valley felt a tad off.

Sure, you can wake up and look at the box score of No. 1 Clemson’s 52-14 shellacking of Georgia Tech and think you missed nothing out of the ordinary. And in some cases, you’d be right. 

Like Travis Etienne's night, which ended pretty early in the third quarter after a career-high 205 rushing yards and three touchdowns. That was business as usual for the superstar running back that looked superhuman on runs like his 90-yard touchdown run that ended up being the longest rush in Memorial Stadium’s history.

The Tigers finished with 411 total rushing yards against the team that had previously been known for their option attack.

It was strange to see a Clemson offense - an offense that many believe is the best in the country - go three-and-out on their very first series and sputter a few times before eventually racking up 632 total yards and 52 points.

Or veteran Isaiah Simmons leading the defense with ten tackles en route to shutting down Georgia Tech’s revamped offense. Or another Clemson freshman receiver making a one-handed grab that simply left you saying, “wow.”

But other moments during Thursday night’s contest were odd. Things were - well, they were strange.

It was strange to see a Clemson offense - an offense that many believe is the best in the country - go three-and-out on their very first series and sputter a few times before eventually racking up 632 total yards and 52 points.

Strange to see Trevor Lawrence, the Heisman hopeful, have a rather underwhelming night completing 13 of 23 passes for 186 yards and two interceptions after only throwing four during his freshman campaign. Strange to see the quarterback get absolutely fooled on his first pick and have to make a touchdown-saving tackle that ended up being the play of the game.

“The best play of the night came on his worst play,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said of Lawrence. 

“You know the eye of the Tiger when you see it and you know it when you don’t,” head coach Dabo Swinney added. “That was it.”

Clemson Sports Talk
Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers host Texas A&M next weekend in Death Valley at 3:30 PM.

It was strange to finally catch a glimpse of Clemson’s defensive front tested without the veterans it had lost to the NFL. Bizzare to see the inexperienced group rise to the occasion with their backs against the wall so early come up with a goal-line stand that will only build their confidence moving forward.

Heck, even a player wearing No. 13 dropped a touchdown pass. At times, it was as if we were in the upside-down.

But that’s what season-opening games are all about: the teachable moments for a group that is nowhere near close to its full potential, according to its head coach. A lot of heavy expectations have been put on this group that went 15-0 just a year ago and many - including ourselves - thought they’d pick up right where they left off in Santa Clara.

But with 40 new players on the roster and 90 total getting to play on Thursday night, there was bound to be a few sputters here and there. 

“There was a lot of big eyes today,” Swinney said. “As much ball these guys have played and practice can get easy for them - well, not easy for them but they just get used to it. Then all of a sudden game day is different and you can’t simulate it.”

Swinney wasn’t totally displeased with the fact his team turned the ball over three times or had six penalties for 43 yards. And defensive coordinator Brent Venables was fairly proud of his defense even though they had some miscues in coverage that led to Georgia Tech touchdowns and 294 total yards of offense.

These “stranger things” that occurred were necessary for the growth of this team that needs every bit of it before Texas A&M comes to town.

“We had some craziness go on, but I am really thankful for the opportunities that we got in the game to be able to teach some of the failure that we had,” Swinney continued. “We’ll grow from it.”

“We had some craziness go on, but I am really thankful for the opportunities that we got in the game to be able to teach some of the failure that we had,” Swinney continued. “We’ll grow from it.”

Swinney was asked after the game if there were any questions that he had prior to the game that were answered after his team walked off the field 1-0. The head man leaned back in thought and gave a quick, honest answer:

Not really.

Everyone knows the talent that exists all across the board on Clemson’s roster. The fact that a receiver like Tee Higgins can lead the team with four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. That Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon can combine for four touchdowns and tote the rock as well as any two backs in the nation.

But now Clemson fans need to wrap their heads around something else: this group that was deemed “Best Ever” in January has a long way to go before it can call themselves that again.

And given by the final score of Thursday night’s win and what we saw in Santa Clara, that feels a little strange.

“We’re going to be a work in progress for a little while. It is what it is,” Swinney said with a laugh. “We gotta play and get into some situations...

“But they will get better quickly.”

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Stranger Things

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