Second Look: Grading Clemson's season opener


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Clemson's starting group started strong and made way for the depth to also stand out Saturday.
Clemson's starting group started strong and made way for the depth to also stand out Saturday.

Clemson kicked off a season with high expectations by a strong effort in all phases of the game against Furman on Saturday.

This season the ‘Second Look’ will feature the TigerNet staff grading the Tigers as a group and offering some different perspectives on the action each week.

Here’s our look at week one of Clemson football action:

Offense

Taken as a whole, it was a good afternoon for the Clemson offense. It’s hard to complain about 48 points and 531 total yards, especially when the offense is as balanced as Clemson’s was yesterday – the Tigers had 254 yards on the ground and 277 through the air.

Included in that balance were two drives of over 90 yards, both led by freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Add in the fact that there weren’t any turnovers and you’re trending towards a perfect score.

Except this: The Tigers were just 4-of-12 on third down and 2-of-4 on fourth down. Against Furman. The offense was very vanilla, and it was the first game, but the execution has to be better in a hurry because the team plays at Texas A&M next week.

There were more than a few bright spots – the running of Travis Etienne and freshman Lyn-J Dixon, the big-play ability of Amari Rodgers, the knockdown block that Justyn Ross had on one of Dixon’s big runs, and the offensive line depth. All are a plus, and the offense should be better next week with a more diverse game plan. -- David Hood

TigerNet grade: B+

Defense

The opener was a good test in discipline - and for the most part, Brent Venables’ group passed with flying colors.

Furman was an FCS Playoff team and returned starters from one of the better offenses at that level last season, but Clemson held the ground-centered attack to only 2.2 yards per rush and just 2.6 yards per play, allowing just five conversions out of 17 third and fourth down situations.

What stands out most is how consistent the performance was despite mixing in close to 35 different defenders. Obviously the first group with Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and co. impressed, but players such as third-string WLB Shaq Smith (1.5 TFL) and SLB Baylon Spector (forced fumble and recovery) also came in and made immediate impacts. The experience - and good experience - for players down the depth chart will reap dividends down the road this season.

Elsewhere, new starters in nickel/SLB Isaiah Simmons, safety K'Von Wallace and cornerback A.J. Terrell looked natural in their positions, and the depth at both tackle and end shined throughout the game.

The road only gets tougher from here, but game one displayed a defense ready to handle the hype this season. -- Brandon Rink

TigerNet grade: A

Special Teams

Dabo Swinney and Clemson couldn’t have asked for much more out of the special teams units Saturday against Furman. From punt return to kickoffs to field goals, the units were already in midseason form.

Amari Rodgers, who may be (or was) the most overlooked player on Clemson’s roster, has the potential to be a star in the return game. Rodgers had two punt returns for 87 yards, including a 62-yard return that included a nasty stiff arm. He just looks natural and comfortable as a return man and he’ll only get better with experience.

Kicker Greg Huegel – who missed the second half of 2017 with a torn ACL – made his much-anticipated return and he looked better than ever. Huegel hit a 35-yard field goal – his first attempt of the season. Later in the first half, the former walk-on calmly nailed a 49 – or 50-yard field goal depending on who you talk to.

Then you add in what freshman B.T. Potter was able to do on kickoffs and Clemson couldn’t have been happier. On Potter’s first kickoff, he nearly sent the ball into the student section on the hill and as he exited the field he was greeted with high fives from the defense and Swinney on the sideline. Potter couldn’t have asked for a better college debut.

There’s no such thing as perfection and we still need to see what the kick return unit can do, but Saturday was about as good as it gets. -- Nikki Hood

TigerNet grade: A

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