Focus evident for Clemson in season-opening blowout


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The Tigers rolled up 667 yards of offense while playing over 90 players.
The Tigers rolled up 667 yards of offense while playing over 90 players.

Yes, Clemson played an overmatched and undermanned team in Kent State in its season opener Saturday.

And yes, Clemson cruised to a 56-3 win in its first game since winning the national title in January.

But the score wasn’t really all that important Saturday. Everyone knew Clemson would win it. The Tigers could have named their score if they wanted, and they did. The most important thing was how Clemson looked and how Clemson played.

In these kinds of games, being focused and playing a clean, smart game is just as important as the final score. And the Tigers did just that.

All the statistics and touchdowns were certainly nice, and there were plenty of both. But it was good to see the Tigers come out, respect the opponent, respect the game and play well. That wasn’t a surprise because it’s what Dabo Swinney’s program is known for. But with so many new players taking on larger roles, especially on offense, there was a bit of an unknown to Saturday’s game.

But there was no looking forward to Auburn or thinking about the game with Louisville in a couple of weeks or even thinking about something silly like the showdown with Florida State in a couple of months. The Tigers started strong and continued throughout the game with strong, focused play.

Each quarterback played well as Kelly Bryant looked like the player the coaches want to see take over as the starter. He was efficient with his throws, making the deep throws when needed, and on point with his decisions, completing 16-of-22 throws for a touchdown and an interception off a deflected ball in the end zone. Zerrick Cooper was solid, and so was Hunter Johnson, and both showed flashes of their tremendous talent.

The top four running backs all looked good with C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne all scoring touchdowns as Clemson rolled up 353 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdowns. And the receivers and tight ends looked dangerous, led by Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Milan Richard.

In short, all the new offensive faces in key roles gave the Clemson staff – and fans – plenty to look at and be excited about for the prospects of the upcoming season. After all, the Tigers rolled up 667 yards of offense

The defense was dominant, although it came against a Kent State offense that didn’t offer much of a challenge. But again, the key was more about how the defense played, stayed focused on the task at hand and didn’t get lazy against an overmatched opponent, even when the score got out of hand early.

There really were no bad mistakes or big-time busts against the Kent State option offense. The Tigers’ defenders did their jobs and took care of business throughout the game and never gave the Golden Flashes any room to breathe or get much done.

Kent State had just 1 passing yard, 120 total yards and one first down as Clemson smothered its attack throughout.

All in all, it was the kind of performance the Clemson coaching staff had to be looking for and had to be excited about moving forward. In the season opener, in a game they should win easily and with all the national championship talk and excitement still swirling around the program, it would have been understandable for the Tigers to be a little sluggish, sloppy or unfocused.

But they were none of those, and now they can turn their attention to the rest of a difficult first month that is to come with the games against Auburn and Louisville up next and then Virginia Tech later in the month.

That’s a tough trek, for sure, but the Tigers’ first step of the 2017 season certainly was a positive one.

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.


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