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September 15, 2012

One to grow on





CLEMSON, S.C. -- The 41-7 final score is not indicative of the butt-chewing that occurred on Clemson's side Saturday afternoon.

The Tigers got plenty of, uh, face time with their coaches as a result of an assortment of mistakes that won't suffice seven days from now in Tallahassee, Fla.

Maybe it's a good thing that the next week won't be much fun in Clemson's camp. Last year's team seemed to play its best when it was edgy, and there won't be much back-patting going on Monday morning when the team watches the film of this one.

Going in, this was supposed to be a day defined by the return of Sammy Watkins. And fans did an impressive job of filling the seats, an announced 81,500 of them, to welcome back perhaps the most feared player in college football.

But though Watkins dazzled early, showing explosion that's even more jaw-dropping than last year, the more prominent storylines were developments that made folks uneasy:

-- Starting right guard Tyler Shatley and starting defensive tackle DeShawn Williams suffered foot injuries and missed most of the game.

-- The defense continued to struggle, particularly at linebacker and defensive back.

-- The reserve offensive linemen playing for the injured starters didn't inspire much confidence.

The defensive inconsistency should be considered the biggest issue on this team for 2012, but the most pressing matter right now might be an offensive line that faces uncertainty heading into a game against a deep and talented Florida State defensive front.

Left guard Kalon Davis, who played for an injured David Beasley, drew the ire of coaches late in the first half after a pressure of Tajh Boyd forced the Tigers to settle for a field goal. Beasley, who's recovering from a knee injury suffered against Ball State, is expected to play against Florida State.

Right tackle Shaq Anthony started for Gifford Timothy, but he was uninspiring in the first half and received a lengthy third-quarter tongue-lashing from Robbie Caldwell early in the third quarter. Caldwell replaced Anthony with Timothy.

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Shatley should be fine, and he also expects to have Beasley and Timothy at full strength next week. If he's worried about this offensive line, he's not showing it.

"We weren't as aggressive up front," Morris said. "They're backups for a reason."

The offensive line sputters, coupled with more defensive lapses, were too much for Dabo Swinney to gloss over at halftime. He was pleased a week earlier after his offense jumped all over Ball State, but in the locker room today he blistered his team with the Tigers up 20-7.

He told sophomore linebacker Tony Steward he was starting the second half because, well, someone needed to make a play. He said a lot of other things, too.

"He kind of woke some guys up," said tight end Brandon Ford. "He got in their face, told them to step up. It should never be like that. We should always be ready."

Swinney had watched his offense let up a bit after it rolled up 166 yards and two touchdowns in just 12 plays on its first two possessions. The last three first-half possessions went field goal (after a third-down sack), punt (after a drop by Martavis Bryant), and field goal (after third-down pressure).

He watched his defense give up big chunks of rushing yardage off basic toss sweeps. He watched Rashard Hall and Bashaud Breeland stare into the backfield on play-action, resulting in a 37-yard touchdown pass.

The defense tightened some things up in the second half. But it couldn't keep Furman from converting a second-and-33 on a deep ball misplayed by Xavier Brewer. Swinney was all over Brewer after that miscue, plus a defensive holding penalty a few plays later, and they were some of the plays Swinney lamented as needless "charity" offerings after the game.

In the end, the defense came up with some stops and limited Furman to seven points. That was a positive, coupled with the fact that a bunch of reserves got significant playing time for the second week in a row.

Morris was disappointed in his offense "losing our edge" in the second quarter, but overall he seemed very happy about the progress of his offense through three games.

The Tigers finished 2 yards shy of cracking 500 yards for the third consecutive game. And they did that on just 68 plays - largely a function of Furman's efforts to milk the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Watkins and all those playmakers.

And Swinney had to marvel at Watkins' first cluster of touches: 12-yard reception, 19-yard reception, then a 58-yard touchdown run off right end.

"It was like he just shot out of a cannon. It was a thing of beauty. He is a special player and it doesn't take long to find him on the field. He is electric."

Florida State's 52-0 smashing of Wake Forest might've struck some fear in the hearts of Clemson supporters, and surely it'll cause plenty of national pundits to pick the Seminoles to roll in the primetime showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Saturday in Death Valley presented some reasons for concern about the Tigers' chances. But maybe a good butt-chewing is what this bunch needed.

Said Morris: "Throughout the course of the year, there's only a few times you can really find a prime time to grab a moment and seize a moment as a coach. And (halftime) was one of them. You just do it."

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.


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