Buddy Pough can honestly look at the carnage from last week’s college football schedule and ask, “Why Not Us?”
Thirty Football Championship Subdivision teams entered play as unofficial huge underdogs against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Eight emerged as winners, including Eastern Washington, which stunned 25th-ranked Oregon State 49-46.
At 12:30 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina State looks to emulate its successful FCS brethren, albeit against a more formidable opponent in fourth-ranked Clemson (1-0), which is coming off an emotionally charged 38-35 victory over previously fifth-ranked Georgia.
Despite the enormity of the task (at least two unofficial online oddsmakers have S.C. State listed as a 52-1/2-point underdog) and coming off a season-opening 27-20 home loss to 25th-ranked Coastal Carolina, the Bulldogs see this as a “win/win” opportunity.
“We’ve got to go out and play great,” Pough said earlier this week. “We’ve got to have a good plan. We’ve got to have some things to fall in our direction in a situation for us to be successful in a situation such as this. That’s what happens when an FCS team generally beats one of the Bowl Subdivison kinds of teams. It probably says more about the bowl team than it does about the FCS team. They’re not probably paying attention to some things that way.
“But it’ll be fun to go in and play these guys. I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how we match up. I’d like to see if we can block them. I’d like to see if they can block us. I’d like to see if we can defend them. It’s a good measuring stick for us to see just how we compare with these style programs.”
S.C. State (0-1) received $275,000 plus revenue from the sale of 3,500 tickets provided by Clemson to visit Howard’s Rock for a second time. It can only hope to have a better showing that five years ago when the Tigers routed the Bulldogs 54-0 behind three touchdown runs by James Davis and a defense that collected three interceptions.
The Bulldogs will have to contend with an even higher-tempo offense led by senior quarterback Tajh Boyd. He completed 18-30 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards and two scores against the Bulldogs, earning Atlantic Coast Conference and National Maxwell Football Club Player of the Week honors.
Look for the Tigers to further quicken the pace based on offensive coordinator Chad Morris comments earlier this week.
“We can play faster. Tajh slowed us down a whole bunch. That was some of our biggest downfalls,” Morris said. “He played well, he played like a veteran, like he’s supposed to play. But as far as the tempo, especially in the third and fourth quarter, he was the one slowing us down because he wasn’t getting his eyes to the sidelines quick enough.”
Boyd’s favorite target is junior Sammy Watkins who after a sophomore slump had six receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown. When asked about simulating defending Watkins during practice, Pough said the Bulldogs would have to work outside the box.
“What you do is you put (the receiver) 20 yards down the field at the snap and then, at that point, then you start letting him go,” he said. “You keep everybody else where they would ordinarily would be so that he has a head start on everybody. That’s how you actually feels like sensation-wise.”
The Tigers also had success on the ground as senior running back Roderick McDowell rushed for 132 yards in his first career start and faces a Bulldog defense which allowed 151 yards to Coastal Carolina senior Lorenzo Taliaferro, who had two scores.
Preseason All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tackle Javon Hargrave, who was doubtful against Coastal Carolina but still saw action, should be ready against the Tigers.
Offensively, the Bulldogs return to Death Valley offensive coordinator Joe Blackwell looking to mimic Clemson’s high tempo approach. Running back Justin Taylor had 80 yards and a touchdown in his debut and quarterback Richard Cue had the highest yardage total of any MEAC quarterback with 178 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown bomb to Tyler McDonald.
While Taylor, McDonald and punter Nick Belcher earned MEAC Player of the Week honors, a blocked field goal attempt that turned into a 56-yard touchdown return by Coastal Carolina’s Quinn Backus and two failed fourth down attempts overshadowed their efforts. Pough knows such missteps would prove costly against the Tigers, with a loss putting more pressure on the Bulldogs to avoid an 0-3 start the following week against Alabama A&M.
“It’s going to be hard for us to win this week, but we’re going to go after it just as if it was any other game,” Pough said. “If we were not successful after that game, then we’ll deal with that situation. We don’t deal with the hypothetical down-the-road deal. Right now, all we’re thinking about is Clemson.”