Tigers survive in Chapel Hill – Week 5 Recap and Observations

There was plenty to talk about after Saturday, especially here in the Upstate of South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It was nearly a year to the day the last time the Clemson Tigers almost lost a football game. September 29, 2018 is a day that will forever live in Clemson lore. It had been a tumultuous week that week after Dabo Swinney made the decision to start Trevor Lawrence over Kelly Bryant. Bryant would then leave the team. And that Saturday afternoon in late September was when every Clemson’s fan worst nightmare nearly came true, Trevor Lawrence was knocked out of the game. Clemson was able to do just enough on offense and shut down Syracuse late in the game to give the Tigers the win. After that scare, Clemson would go on to destroy everyone in their path, including Notre Dame and Alabama in the Playoff.

364 days later this Tiger team was faced with a similar challenge. The Tar Heels had them on the ropes for most of the game. The offense was stagnant and inconsistent. Too many mental mistakes by the offensive line and a Travis Etienne fumble saw the Tigers and Heels tied at 14-14 mid-way through the fourth quarter. Trevor Lawrence was able to find Tee Higgins for the go ahead score, but a gassed defense couldn’t get North Carolina off the field and the Tar Heels scored with just over a minute to go. The Tigers defense was able to rise up and stop a two point conversion try and walk out of Kenan Memorial Stadium with the 21-20 win.

Like Dabo said post-game, you only have to score one more point than your opponent. A win is a win, but Clemson always seems to have that one game every year that puts fear in the heart of every fan. Three years ago, they lost a home game to Pitt. The Tigers would go on to win the National Championship that year. Two years ago it was a loss at Syracuse. They would go on to win out, dominate Miami in the ACC Championship and then lose to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Then of course there was last year, where they nearly lost to Syracuse and then went on to obliterate everyone in their path to become the first team in the modern era to finish the year 15-0. Maybe this is the spark the Tigers needed. Maybe the close win and dropping in the polls will light a fire under this team and we might just see a repeat of last year’s domination. I suspect that, after this game and the bye week next week, we will see a different Clemson team when they take the field at home against Florida State.

That school down in Columbia had a nice win on Saturday night. The Gamecocks had lost its previous five meetings to Kentucky, but without QB Terry Wilson, the Wildcats offense just isn’t as dynamic. I thought Sawyer Smith would be good enough to pull out a win against a very porous South Carolina defense, but I’ll give the Gamecocks credit, their defense came to play. They were able to shut down Kentucky allowing only 212 yards of offense and forcing two Kentucky turnovers. Kentucky didn’t even score until the final three minutes of the game, and by that point, the game was long decided. Things haven’t looked great for South Carolina in 2019 and this win will give them a little boost. But it probably won’t last long as the Gamecocks have to face Georgia and Florida in back-to-back weeks after their bye next week. Enjoy this win now Gamecock fans, because the losses are just over the horizon.

And back up here in the Upstate, the FCS #15 ranked Furman Paladins hosted SoCon foe East Tennessee State. The Bucs got a huge win over Austin Peay a week ago and Furman was coming off a win in which they completely dominated Mercer in every facet of the game. Both teams featured outstanding defenses and that was just what we saw Saturday afternoon, a defensive slug-fest. Tied at 10-10 going into the final quarter, it was Furman that was able to pull ahead 17-10 with 14:57 left to play. A series of events in which both teams traded turnovers, ETSU had the ball and started making its way downfield when a DiMarcus Clay interception by Furman closed the door on a Bucs comeback. Furman survived and moves forward now with a road game against a Samford team that just dropped 61 on the Citadel in a 4OT win.

Outside of the “Palmetto State” though, there were plenty of other games/teams that really stood out to me.

Alabama’s offense continues to be excellent, but their defense is really struggling. The Tide gave up 23 on the road a couple of weeks ago to South Carolina and then allowed a mediocre Ole Miss team score 31. I know a good many of those points were scored in garbage time, but even still, we are accustomed to not seeing that from a Nick Saban Alabama team. They’ve always prided themselves in their depth on defense, but that just isn’t the case right now. Honestly, the Tide could be in real trouble when they have to take on LSU and Auburn later on this season.

Jalen Hurts and the Oklahoma Sooners look absolutely unstoppable on offense, which is a good thing because their defense is awful. Hurts is putting up video game numbers right now and should be the favorite, at this moment, to win the Heisman. However, the defensive woes continue in Norman. They only gave up 16 to Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders are down this year and just not really any good. Teams like Texas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor will definitely give them some issues later on this year. Again, its a good thing the offense can put up 55.5 ppg. They’re going to need it.

There was a lot of talk on Sunday when the new Top 25 polls were released about Clemson falling to number 2 and Alabama being the new number 1, but honestly, through the first five weeks, I feel like Ohio State is actually the best team. I know they didn’t play anyone their first four games, but they looked solid in those blowout wins. Nebraska was supposed to be their first really tough test this Saturday and they went in to Lincoln and destroyed the Cornhuskers. All the way around, this Buckeyes team looks solid with no real glaring holes on either offense or defense and QB Justin Fields is balling out each week. This Ohio State team is scary good and I would actually rank them higher than fifth right now.

Even though they lost, I still think Virginia is probably the second best team in the ACC at this point. They actually took the lead into half time against Notre Dame on the road, and had it not been for five turnovers, probably could have pulled off the win. Bryce Perkins is really good, but he didn’t get a lot of help from anyone else on the offense in this game. Virginia’s defense has been playing really, really good and gives the Cavs the best shot at winning the ACC Coastal. After this weekend, I really look forward to seeing them play both North Carolina and Duke, who can both challenge them for the division crown.

In the SoCon, I’m not surprised that Wofford beat VMI, but I was surprised that the Terriers defense gave up almost 500 yards of offense and 36 points to the Keydets. The Terriers have a tough test in Johnson City next week as they go and play a very good Buccaneers team that gave Furman everything they could handle. VMI travels down to Charleston to take on The Citadel for the “Silver Shako” in the battle between the two military institutes in the league.

I was really surprised at the performance The Citadel put up on Saturday. I know they lost and I actually picked Samford to win because I didn’t think The Citadel could hang with Samford in a shoot-out. Well they did just that. In fact they hung around long enough to send the game into quadruple overtime. Neither defense looked great, but man the offenses played outstanding and I was highly impressed with The Citadel even in the loss. At this moment, I think I would still have to put The Citadel at #2 in the SoCon right behind Furman.

Western Carolina is obviously much better on offense when Tyrie Adams is in the game, but their defense is just abhorrent. Chattanooga had a field day against that Catamount defense as the Mocs ran for 400 yards and had 589 yards of total offense in the 60-36 win at home. Western should be able to get a win at home next week (you’d think) as they host Gardner-Webb. Chattanooga gets ready to head down to Macon to take on a reeling Mercer team.

I’m not exactly sure what to say about Mercer. After starting off 2-0 (1-0) they have since lost three straight to Austin Peay, Furman and now to D-II opponent Campbell. The Bears have yet to win at home this season and were thoroughly out played by the Camels. There are lots of problems right now in Macon and you just hope that the Mercer fan base gives Bobby Lamb just a little more time to get it straightened out, because I believe they will. They have too much talent, especially on offense, not to. It’s not been the 2019 that the Bears had imagined, but there is still plenty of time to get the train back on track. They aren’t out of it yet.

SoCon Power Rankings

After the first five weeks, I think its clear to say that Furman is by far the best team in the league. Obviously there is still a lot of football to be played, but at this moment, I believe they are the team to beat. I was wildly impressed with The Citadel, even though they lost to Samford. I think Samford’s early struggles are behind them, but I think overall, The Citadel is still the slightly better team, on paper anyway. Wofford is starting to get their season on track after weird losses to SC State and Samford. ETSU looked really good on Saturday in a narrow defeat to Furman. Their defense is really good, but I just worry about the long term success of the offense. Chattanooga got a nice SoCon win over Western, who is clearly the bottom dweller in the league. Their defense is just awful. I really struggled with ranking Mercer and VMI and who should go above the other. Mercer has not been playing up to standard and has lost three straight now. They were absolutely dominated by Furman two weeks ago. VMI does have a good win on the road at ETSU, but they followed it up with a head scratching loss to Robert Morris. I think for that reason, I have the Bears slightly over VMI.

  1. Furman
  2. The Citadel
  3. Samford
  4. Wofford
  5. ETSU
  6. Chattanooga
  7. Mercer
  8. VMI
  9. Western Carolina

Check out The Spread podcast on soundcloud.com. Another great episode with SoCon John in last night’s recap show. Like us on Twitter and Facebook at The Spread w/ Cameron Tarrant. Let me know what your biggest takeaways were from Week 5 by commenting below, I’d love to hear from you. Tomorrow, I’m going to put out my NFL power rankings after the first four weeks, so stay tuned for that.

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