When a win feels like a loss: Tigers show there is still work to be done
|Sunday, November 25, 2018, 9:01 AM- -|
CLEMSON – It hasn’t been a secret that the Clemson football program has been on a fast track to the College Football Playoff this season, but the defense that showed up Saturday night in Death Valley won’t win any national championships.
Following No. 2 Clemson’s 56-35 victory over South Carolina Saturday in Death Valley, assorted members of the media walked down the long hill towards the interview area near the visitors’ tunnel. A group of Clemson fans walking in front of us were in the midst of celebrating the win, but one member stood off to the side, a disgusted look on his face.
“I don’t have anything to celebrate,” he told the others. “This feels like a loss to me.”
Such is the state of Clemson football – many national and local pundits predicted a blowout win by the Tigers. Indeed, Clemson won by three touchdowns and, if it weren’t with the help of some questionable officiating, it might and probably should have been a lot more.
The offense racked up 744 total yards, with 393 coming through the air and 351 on the ground. And as good as the offense was, the defense was that bad.
South Carolina’s offense isn’t one of the best in the nation. They are, at best, average. The Gamecocks entered the contest ranked 46th nationally in total offense, and while they’ve had some bright spots, there have been some clunkers along the way.
Quarterback Jake Bentley has had a pedestrian career but looked like the second coming of Tom Brady Saturday night, carving up the Clemson defense to the tune of 510 yards and five touchdowns through the air. The play of Clemson’s safeties looked, at first glance, to be abysmal at best.
Walking into Saturday’s game, the punchline for many was Michigan’s showing against Ohio St. The Wolverines started Saturday ranked number one in the nation in total defense – just ahead of Clemson – and many considered their playoff-worthiness a fraud after getting sliced and diced by a faster Ohio St. offense. Clemson’s defense then looked Wolverine-esque against the Gamecocks. The difference is that Clemson is undefeated and headed to a conference championship game on the back of a stronger offensive showing.
There were plenty of good things to take away – a fifth consecutive win in the series, a 70th win overall against South Carolina, a 12-0 record and the 744 yards of offense, which ranks third in a single game in Clemson history, trailing 756 against Wake Forest in 1981 and 754 against NC State in 2012.
The offense scored on drives of 95, 97, and 98 yards, and recorded 39 first downs. They were 8-of-13 on third down and 2-of-2 on fourth down.
The Tigers can beat a lot of other teams with a great offensive performance, but if you want to beat the projected leader at the proverbial turn – Alabama – the defense has to fix what ails it. If Bentley can have that kind of success, Tua Tagavailoa or Kyler Murray or Dwayne Haskins will be licking their chops to see what they can accomplish with receivers running wide open.
If the solitary goal is to beat South Carolina and move on to a bowl game, the win is satisfying. But when the goals are bigger – and the competition gets better – things have to get better and get better in a hurry. The next time it feels like a loss will probably be an actual loss.