Clemson finishes off impressive first month
|Sunday, October 1, 2017, 1:08 AM- -|
So much for the gauntlet of a first month of the season that awaited Clemson in September as the Tigers took aim at a second straight national championship.
Yes, the Tigers faced a tough September, including games against Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. But Clemson controlled all three opponents to do something no team had ever done in college football history.
Led by its dominant and dynamic defense, Clemson became the first team to beat three top-15 opponents in a season before Oct. 1.
And really the Clemson defense wasn’t threatened in any of those games.
Sure, the Auburn game was a one-score contest throughout, but the Tigers from the SEC managed only two field goals and didn’t really do anything offensively after the first quarter. Louisville put 21 points on the scoreboard, but most of that came in the fourth quarter when the game was in doubt with Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offensive starters going up against the Clemson defensive backups.
There was a similar scenario Saturday in Blacksburg, Virginia, as the Hokies got 14 of their 17 points in the fourth quarter with most of Clemson’s defensive starters on the sideline for a good part of that quarter.
Add it all up, and Clemson won its three top-15 matchups by a combined score of 92-44, and two of those games were on the road.
But is it really a surprise? It shouldn’t be if you’ve paid attention the past few years. Yes, it’s tough to move on from Deshaun Watson and his talented offensive gang that helped lead the team to the national title last year. But this program is about more than one player or one group of players, and head coach Dabo Swinney tried to tell anyone who would listen exactly that this summer.
Even with all the new faces stepping into larger roles on offense this season, the Tigers have been extremely impressive in the first month.
The offense has gotten the job done, running the ball really well, throwing it when needed and most importantly, taking care of the ball, for the most part. On the other side, the defense has been in control of every game it has played in the 5-0 start, allowing 54 points.
So the test of the first month has been passed in impressive fashion. The next test is to keep that same focus against a schedule that doesn’t appear to be as daunting as we turn the calendar to October.
Up next is Wake Forest at home and then Syracuse on the road. Those games are followed by a home game with Georgia Tech and then another road trip to N.C. State. All four should be wins, but Georgia Tech and N.C. State, in particular, are going to be dangerous.
Also, Clemson only needs to look back to last year’s game with Pittsburgh to remember what can happen when a team is sloppy and doesn’t play its best. That might be the most impressive part of what Clemson has done so far.
Even with the five wins, it doesn’t feel like this team has played its best game yet. There are still improvements to be made, and the coaches and players surely know that, and they will keep pushing the team to improve moving forward.
The first month certainly was great, but there are even more great moments to come if this team continues its momentum from September.
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.