No. 5 Clemson looks to hang to passes, eliminate drops
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) warms up before an NCAA college football game against Troy on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has apologized to Tigers' fans for his "negative energy" that he believes has contributed to the team's sluggish start on offense.Watson said he spoke with quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter on Sunday night and head coach Dabo Swinney on Monday morning about re-focusing his attitude to more of the fun-loving, care-free vibe he brought to the Tigers in his freshman and sophomore seasons. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson's mission this week: Hang on to passes and eliminate the drops.
The usually sure-handed receivers for the fifth-ranked Tigers (2-0) have played like there's grease on their hands. The group had eight drops in a way-too-close 30-24 win over Troy last week and they want to turn things around against South Carolina State (0-2) on Saturday.
The problem is not with just one or two players, it's across the board for Clemson's receivers. Usually reliable wideouts including Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow, Mike Williams and Deon Cain all have dropped catchable balls the first two weeks.
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Receivers coach Jeff Scott counted eight drops against Troy.
''That's enough for a whole season,'' he said.
Coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson's former receivers coach, spent time this week working with receivers to sure up their technique and early season confidence.
Swinney said he felt like he needed to get in there with receivers coach Jeff Scott ''and get back to some of the things we needed to do just from a drill standpoint and creating the eye intensity that it takes and the confidence.''
Even with more drops, don't expect the FCS Bulldogs to make this one tight – Clemson has won its three matchups with South Carolina State by a combined 179-20 score. Still, Swinney and the receivers are thinking down the road for when the Atlantic Coast Conference season begins.
Clemson's receiving rotation took a hit this week with Renfrow's broken hand suffered when he caught a TD against Troy. Renfrow had been the Tigers' touchdown maker with TD catches in four consecutive games.
Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud will see extra action with Renfrow, expected to miss four games, on the sidelines.
Swinney liked what he saw this week. ''There is a lot of pride in that group and nobody needs to tell them they need to do a better job,'' Swinney said.
Some things to watch when South Carolina State plays No. 5 Clemson:
POSITIVE WATSON: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson apologized to fans for the ''negative energy'' he showed that he believed impacted the team in a 30-24 win over Troy last Saturday. Watson says he'll be refocused on the positives of his college career and channel that into better performances. Watson, who entered the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite, has thrown four TDs with three interceptions so far this season.
FACING CLEMSON: South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said facing the Tigers might be more difficult with Clemson's stodgy play on offense so far. Pough said Clemson will likely be more focused to fix the problems it has endured this year. ''We'll have our work cut out for us this coming Saturday,'' he said.
CLEMSON VS. THE FCS: The Tigers come into this one with a 30-0 mark against programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. Clemson's average margin of victory in those games has been 40-7. The closest call came in 2011 when Wofford lost 35-27, Clemson's only single-digit result against an FCS team
THE WAITING: South Carolina State waited four hours last week through lightning and weather delays before falling 53-24 at Louisiana Tech, a game that ended at 2 a.m. Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough said it looked like the game would be called and had his team ready to leave when the call came that things would go on. ''It was a very unusual circumstance to say the least,'' Pough said.
OLD FACES: South Carolina State brings in two first-year coaches quite familiar with Clemson's Death Valley in defensive coordinator Kirk Botkin and offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus. The two were longtime members of South Carolina's staff under Steve Spurrier who were not retained by new coach Will Muschamp.