Top 25 preview: South Carolina State at Clemson

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

KICKOFF: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 9/7/13
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
SERIES: Clemson leads 1-0, having defeated South Carolina State 54-0 in their only previous meeting during the 2008 season. Clemson has never lost to an FCS opponent in 26 games since the division was created by the NCAA in 1978.
AP RANKINGS: South Carolina State unranked, Clemson No. 4

Clemson set the tone for a special season with a Week 1 victory, 38-35, over SEC contender Georgia. The Tigers' explosive offense gets a tune-up opportunity for quarterback Tajh Boyd, who accounted for all five Clemson scores last week.

True enough, but toppling Georgia was a big first step, and continued the momentum from last year's 11-2 season that culminated with a victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
"We are light years ahead after one game this year than we were after one game last year," Swinney said. "Last year we were starting over on the offensive line and defensive line, but that team got better and better throughout the year. The challenge for this year's team is to improve the same way."
If they do, Clemson could wind up with a memorable season.
The 38-35 conquest of Georgia showed a lot of positives, with the primary surprise being the debut of running back Roderick "Hot Rod" McDowell, who rushed for 132 yards in the first start of his career.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd was his typical self, tossing three touchdown passes and running for two more, and receiver Sammy Watkins flashed back to his freshman form by catching seven balls for 127 yards.
Keyed by a maturing defensive front, the Tigers' defense also appeared to be improved, forcing five three-and-outs and allowing just two drives longer than eight plays.
But there were a few concerns, including six dropped passes -- a few of which occurred in crucial third-down situations -- a fumbled punt, and the yielding of nine plays that covered 20 or more yards.
Swinney's message to his team this week?
"There's plenty of room for improvement," he said.
Clemson, which became the first non-Southeastern Conference team to win back-to-back games against Top 10 SEC opponents with its win against Georgia, now owns seven victories against Top 25 teams in the last two seasons.
But those impressive numbers and the Tigers' high hopes could be dashed with a letdown against South Carolina State, so Swinney reminded his team that eight FCS schools claimed victories over FBS opponents last week.
"Play with low energy and turn it over and if you aren't dialed in on your execution, you get beat," Swinney said. "Everybody for us is a nameless, faceless opponent. It's about playing to a standard every week. We've got to remember that."

--WR Martavis Bryant is being counted on to replace record-breaking receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who's now with the Houston Texans. Bryant was unimpressive in his first start last week, dropping two passes and catching none of the three aerials sent his way. He has shown flashes of big-play capability -- such as last year when he averaged 30.5 yards on his 10 catches -- but he's got to become more consistent to maintain his starting spot. He'll get a good chance this week against what should be an outmanned S.C. State secondary. "He's going to get better," offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. "He's going to be fine. We're not worried about him."
--RB Zac Brooks was impressive in fall camp and it carried over into the first game. Brooks, who's just a sophomore, enjoyed a notable debut, carrying three times for 20 yards and hauling in a highlight-reel 31-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route against Georgia. If starter Roderick McDowell has a big first half, Brooks may get plenty of chances to showcase his skills in this game.
--DE Vic Beasley continued where he left off last season, recording two sacks in the Tigers' opener against Georgia. Beasley is a relentless rusher off the edge, and began showing glimpses of his potential last season when he led the team with eight sacks despite just playing 288 snaps. Expect him to be on the field considerably more in 2013. "He can be disruptive," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
--Sophomore punter Bradley Pinion already is proving to be a valuable weapon for the Tigers. In his first career start, Pinion had seven kickoffs, and all went for touchbacks. As a punter, he had seven punts for a 41.0-yard average. Only one of his punts was returned, for a total of four yards, and he downed three punts inside the 20. The bottom line? On 14 kicks by Pinion on the night, Georgia had a total of just four return yards.

--WR Tyler McDonald -- He caught four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against Coastal Carolina last week, accounting for almost half of senior Richard Cue's passing total.

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