After enjoying a significant jump in the latest Top-25 poll, the fourth-ranked Clemson Tigers continue their season-opening homestand on Saturday afternoon with an intrastate battle against the South Carolina State Bulldogs.
SC State opened up its season at home, suffering a 27-20 loss to Coastal Carolina, which was ranked No. 25 in The Sports Network FCS poll. The setback snapped a three-game home winning streak for the Bulldogs.
Clemson was put to the test in its opener, going toe-to-toe with No. 5 Georgia in a prime time, national-television contest, and it proved its worth as a legitimate national title contender in capturing a thrilling 38-35 victory. The game consisted of four ties and five lead changes, but the Tigers took control with 10 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters. After beating LSU in last season's Chik-fil-A Bowl, they became the first non-SEC team in NCAA history to defeat two top-10 SEC opponents in consecutive games.
"This was a great win," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "The character and toughness that our guys showed tonight was something special. We knew this was going to be a slugfest for four quarters. Georgia is a great team. The little things won the game for us. Our effort an intensity was awesome. We're going to celebrate this win today and refocus tomorrow. Our goal is to get better by next week."
Clemson easily dismissed South Carolina State in the only previous matchup between the programs, 54-0 on Sept. 20, 2008.
The SC State offense was merely average in its opening game with 365 total yards, but it was solid in the rushing attack, piling up 187 yards. It also stepped up its play on third down (7-of-19).
Justin Taylor was a workhorse with 80 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Julius Pendergrass racked up 58 yards on 18 totes.
Richard Cue had a modest game under center, completing 13-of-23 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown while being sacked twice. He also added 15 rushing yards and another score.
Tyler McDonald served as Cue's top receiving threat, reeling in four balls for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Bulldogs held Coastal Carolina to 369 total yards and picked up an interception and two sacks.
Joe Thomas led the way with 11 tackles and Justin Hughes added 10 tackles and a sack. Steven Murphy was active in the secondary with a pick and three pass break-ups.
Clemson owned one of the top offenses in the ACC last season and received great news in the offseason when it found out its star quarterback Tajh Boyd would be returning for his senior season. So far, his decision appears to be paying off after a spectacular performance in the opener.
Boyd torched an impressive Georgia defense through the air, completing 18- of-30 pass attempt for 270 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also made waves on the ground with 42 rushing yards and two more touchdowns, and if he can continue on this pace, the Heisman Trophy could be in his future.
Boyd's favorite option on the night was Sammy Watkins, who struck with a 77- yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and finished with six receptions for 127 yards.
"Overall, I still think we can get better at the wide receiver spot," said Watkins, who had a disappointing 2012 season and still struggled with a few drops against Georgia. "We made the big plays that coach wanted us to make and we still have a lot of improvement to make."
Boyd also hooked up with Stanton Seckinger and Zac Brooks for touchdowns.
Roderick McDowell will act as the feature back for the Tigers this season -- he had 22 carries in the opener while the next-highest total for a running back was four. He impressed early and often against Georgia, rushing for a career-high 132 yards.
The Tigers defense had a tough task facing a Georgia squad with NFL-caliber talent at nearly every position on offense, but while they allowed 545 total yards, they stepped up when they needed to by posting four sacks and two turnovers.
Spencer Shuey logged 12 stops and recovered a crucial fumble in the second quarter, which led to the game-tying touchdown. Vic Beasley had two sacks and another QB hurry, and Corey Crawford's interception of Aaron Murray halted a long drive for the Bulldogs.