CLEMSON — Heading into Saturday’s 61-3 victory over The Citadel, the second-ranked Clemson Tigers had one mission — find the missing deep ball.
After the team started the season red hot in the passing game, the last few weeks had seen the fire become just embers. But Saturday the Tigers found what they had been missing to the tune of a season-high 479 yards passing by three different quarterbacks with 15 different receivers making a catch.
"We really wanted to do a good job, down the field, throwing the ball,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “I felt like Kelly (Bryant) did a good job, the wide-outs did a good job. I think we had three quarterbacks with over 100 yards passing. I don't know if that's been done before. It's encouraging.
"After 10 games, you study yourself, and we've thrown the ball downfield early in the year really well. The last couple of games we just didn't have the timing and execution that we wanted and we looked at this week as it's all about ourselves and really improving ourselves for this final stretch of games that we're going to have … It looked like what we're used to around here."
However, it was a true freshman that stole the show for the Tigers.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins set career highs in receptions (six), receiving yards (178), receiving touchdowns (two) and also hauled in a career-long, one-handed, 78-yard reception. The 178-yard mark serves as the highest total for Clemson this season.
“He's one of those rare guys that has length, speed and great hands, awareness,” Scott said. “He can catch it with one hand. That was good to see and he's only going to get better and better."
The highest rated signee in Clemson’s 2017 class according to ESPN, Scout and 247 Sports, Higgins was rated the No. 15 prospect in the nation by Rivals, No. 1 in Tennessee and No. 2 wide receiver in the nation.
Success has not come easy for the recruit who many analysts were comparing to former Tiger great Sammy Watkins, but the coaching staff believes a game like the one he had against The Citadel could be exactly what he needs to carry him.
"Tee's done a really good job in practice and we've been a little frustrated that it hadn't quite happened in the games for him,” Scott said. “He's made plays like that in practice, and it's one thing to do it in practice and it's another to come out in a game and do it. So I thought he's a player that's only going to get better and better. Very talented young man and I think that went a long way for him today to have that type of success."
Higgins echoed the words of his coach, adding that the type of game the Tigers put together Saturday will not only help his confidence, it will help the entire team.
"My confidence went up. I'm ready for anything now. I just needed that one game to just get my feet wet, so it feels good,” Higgins said. “It just gives us more confidence - -just getting the ball that me and Deon (Cain) can go down the field and make plays. All of our receivers can, so it just gives Kelly and all of our quarterbacks more confidence to throw the ball down the field."
Higgins will make his first trip to William-Brice Stadium in six days and will play in his first ever Clemson-South Carolina football game.
While the Tennessee native has never played in a rivalry game of the magnitude of the one he will be in Saturday night, his teammates are making sure he knows what to expect.
"It's going to be a dogfight, so you just have to come in and be ready,” Higgins said. “When your opportunity comes, just go and make the best of it."