To play or not to play?
That was the question Clemson dealt with as university officials weighed their options throughout the week to play Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern at Memorial Stadium because of Hurricane Florence’s impact.
The game time initially was moved from 3:30 p.m. to noon, and a final call to play wasn’t made until Friday morning.
Ultimately, the game went on as planned and without a hitch. Traffic control didn’t appear to be an issue even though the vast majority of South Carolina State Troopers were assigned to duties pertaining to the storm.
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“I told our guys today, hopefully we can take somebody’s mind off of what they are dealing with, what their reality is,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
It turned out to not be a distraction for the Tigers in a 38-7 victory against the Eagles.
Several players did have their families relocated to the Upstate before the storm hit. The Tigers weren’t sure during their preparations exactly when or if they’d kick it off this week.
That should’ve presented a challenge for the Clemson defense, which hosted a Georgia Southern option team that came into the game ranked fourth nationally with an average of 326.5 rushing yards per game.
Also, Clemson’s stop unit was coming off one of its worst performances of the Brent Venables era.
The seventh-year defensive coordinator watched his team give up 430 passing yards to Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond in a two-point Clemson win on the road.
“Obviously we’ve had some (big) plays that we let up, some things that we didn’t like but I do think our team is going in an upward direction,” said Clemson linebacker Tre Lamar, who recorded a game-high 11 tackles.
While the questions surrounding the pass defense will have to wait a couple weeks to be answered, their toughness and execution showed up this week.
Georgia Southern produced just 80 rushing yards on 43 carries and converted just four of their 14 third downs. The Eagles needed a well-designed double-pass play to set up their only score.
“Real pleased with our effort and again our attitude,” Venables said. “You wouldn’t know the difference if we were playing the Denver Broncos or Mary Poppins State.”
Two weeks after handling Furman’s option, the Tigers looked like a defense with a purpose again.
“We just had to go out there and do it for four quarters,” said Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant, who had two sacks. “We wanted to prove we could play a full game and dominate for four quarters.”
This game might ultimately be just a small footnote this season, but they needed a confidence booster heading into next week’s game at Georgia Tech (1-2).
Clemson has held Paul Johnson’s attack to 121.3 rushing yards per game the last three meetings with Clemson. Venables says he doesn’t have some “magic potion,” but his defense does display the kind of technique and discipline it takes to shut the option down.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to be a really good defense, a lot of work, but today was an opportunity for us to improve and get better,” Venables said.
Now that his defense has its groove back, getting out of Bobby Dodd Stadium 4-0 looks more promising.
CLE: Etienne 1 run (Huegel kick), 8:43
CLE: Ross 57 pass from T.Lawrence (Huegel kick), 5:19
CLE: Feaster 1 run (Huegel kick), :53
CLE: FG Huegel 37, 10:36
GSO: Werts 6 run (Bass kick), 13:54
CLE: Etienne 40 run (Huegel kick), 6:06
CLE: Choice 10 run (Huegel kick), 2:03
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Georgia Southern, W.Fields 14-27, C.Wright 5-20, M.Garrett 6-19, Werts 17-10, LaRoche 1-4. Clemson, Etienne 16-162, Choice 7-49, Feaster 10-32, K.Bryant 6-27, Dixon 5-26, T.Lawrence 2-13.
PASSING: Georgia Southern, Fortune 1-1-0-40, Werts 2-8-0-20. Clemson, K.Bryant 7-10-1-68, T.Lawrence 12-19-1-194, Brice 2-2-0-24.
RECEIVING: Georgia Southern, Fortune 2-20, Kennedy 1-40. Clemson, Ross 3-103, H.Renfrow 2-44, Richard 2-26, Feaster 2-18, Higgins 2-11, Rodgers 2-9, Galloway 1-20, Ca.Smith 1-17, T.Thompson 1-11, W.Swinney 1-7, Kendrick 1-6, Chalk 1-6, Chase 1-4, C.Powell 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Clemson, Huegel 39, Huegel 47.