CLEMSON — Clemson’s offense sure looks ready for Florida State. The 10th-ranked Tigers’ defense? That’s anyone’s guess after another so-so showing against Furman.
Clemson (3-0) beat the Paladins 41-7 and open defense of its Atlantic Coast Conference title at No. 4 Florida State in Tallahassee, a game that figures to go a long way in deciding the Atlantic Division.
Clemson’s offense has been every bit as explosive as a year ago, especially with Sammy Watkins back from a two-game suspension. The Tigers’ defense also looks like it did in 2011 – and that’s not a good thing.
Furman (0-3) held the ball for nearly 17 minutes more than the Tigers, who gave up several big, chunky plays to their Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
“That first half made me want to throw up,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
It may have made Florida State coaches lick their chops.
The Tigers tightened things up after the break and kept Furman off the scoreboard the last two quarters. The Paladins managed only 117 of their 352 yards in the final two periods.
But unless things improve fast, Venables knows his players could be in for big-time pasting against the Seminoles (3-0) at Doak Campbell Stadium next week. “They’ll break the scoreboard next week if we don’t play better and more consistent,” he said.
That almost happened at the Orange Bowl last January when the ACC champions gave up a bowl record amount of points in a 70-33 debacle to West Virginia. Venables was hired soon after that defeat, brought in to plug the holes that sprung open in Kevin Steele’s defense last fall.
Right now, Venables says it’s a work in progress. Clemson entered this week 98th nationally against the run, a number that figures to improve with just 110 yards given up in the Furman win. But the Tigers gave up their most passing yards of the season as the Paladins were 20 of 31 passing for 242 yards. That included a wide-open 37-yard touchdown pass from Reese Hannon to Jordan Snellings.
“We won. We have room for improvement, but that’s every game,” Clemson safety Rashard Hall said. “I thought we played a great game, especially in the second half. We just have to get better.”
Clemson’s used its quick-strike offense and just enough defense to gain its second straight 3-0 start. The Tigers yielded 374 yards in the Georgia Dome in a 26-19 victory over Auburn to start the season, yet held the 2010 national champions to four field goals on four times inside Clemson’s 30.
Last week, Clemson put up a 45-point first half that overwhelmed Ball State on the way to a 52-27 victory.
In this one, Furman was able to maintain possession and keep Clemson’s offense off the field. That meant more time for the defensive mistakes to show through. Again, though, Clemson proved stoutest with its back to the wall as it held Furman without points on five of six trips the Paladins made inside the Tigers’ 30. And that has Venables thinking about a unique strategy.
“Get them to third down, concede the third and medium because we play pretty good on third down and in the tight zone,” he said.
Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) put on an offensive show in defeating Wake Forest 52-0 on Saturday. Chris Thompson had scoring runs of 74 and 80 yards to spark the Seminoles to a 38-0 lead at the half. He finished with a 197 yards rushing.
“We wanted to make a statement today,” fullback Lonnie Pryor said. “Our goal is to win the ACC and hopefully win a national championship. They were in the way, so we won and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney likes his team’s progress from the start of the season and expects more improvement as the year continues. He was most disappointed at the blown assignment that led to Furman’s touchdown.
“We’ve got to get out of the charity business and quit busting some big plays that have given up touchdowns,” he said. “You’re going to play a team like Florida State, you can’t give them those easy ones.”
Clemson has risen up to the defensive challenge at critical times last year. The Tigers held Virginia Tech to 13 points combined in wins at Lane Stadium (30-3) in the regular season and in the ACC championship (38-10).
Venables saw things pick up in the second half as his players cleaned up their technique. “Our positioning was better. Our leverage was better. It was a better half of football,” he said.
But is it good enough to slow down the Seminoles, who look eager to end Clemson’s recent run of success in the series. Florida State has lost six of the past nine meetings with the Tigers.
Florida State is “a good ball team. We know that,” said Hall, Clemson’s safety. “But then again, so are we.”