In a game that saw a lot of miscues and mistakes, the highlight of the game had to be the effort early on by the defense and the special teams. Though fatigue would set in after spending so much time on the field in the first half, the defense was able to hold the Clemson offense from making the big plays. In fact, for most of the game, the Tigers had to edge their way up the field, unable to make a big play up the middle.
Defensive lineman Ronald Blair led the way with eight total tackles (seven solo; two for loss) and two sacks on the day. Linebackers Kennan Gilchrist and Eric Boggs had seven tackles while Devan Stringer, Latrell Gibbs and John Law all had six total tackles.
The team finished with three sacks, six tackles for loss and two interceptions.
The special teams did their part too. App State was able to start its drive on its own 38-yard line or better five times–only two of which were by interception. Jaquil Capel led the way with 73 yards off two kick returns, with Josh Boyd and Ike Lewis managing 51 and 43 yards, respectively, off two returns apiece.
For most of the game, the offense just never found anything that resembled a groove. Especially in the first half. Averaging just under 2 yards per carry, App State’s offense couldn’t mix things up enough and the pass became predictable. This led to quarterback Taylor Lamb having one of his worst halves of his career, throwing three interceptions off 5-17 passing in the first half. He would finish 9-28 for the game for 95 yards and one touchdown.
Running back Marcus Cox did manage to find his way north of the 100-yard rushing mark, but it came mostly in the second half. After the Mountaineers only had 59 total rushing yards in the first half, they finally found some momentum and ran for 174 yards in the second.
App State was simply never going to overcome the tremendous hole it dug itself in the first half. Only having three first downs total in a half, punting six times, three turnovers and only getting 2.7 yards per play on average, that just wasn’t to get it done against a Clemson squad that was eager to pounce.
Flag on the Play:
As if it couldn’t get any worse on the day for the Mountaineers, the penalties against App State sapped any kind of energy the team would manage. In the first quarter, the Mountaineer defense managed two back-to-back offsides calls to put Clemson within field goal range, allowing them to put the first three points on the board. Between that and delay of game calls, App State would find itself in long-down situations more often than not.
Overall on the day, App State had 12 penalties for 91 yards lost. The Tigers had nine penalties for 75 yards lost.
Predictable play calling:
Deciding whether the players or the coaches are more to blame for a loss is like the “chicken or the egg” argument, so I won’t belabor my point, but it’s worth noting how vanilla the play calling was in this loss.
Clemson knew from the get-go where App would run, evidenced by their whopping 10 tackles for loss in the game. The Tigers’ secondary was a difficult match up for the Mountaineers, but good play calling can typically mask deficiencies in physical talent.
Early in the first quarter, Lamb dumped off a screen to Terrence Upshaw which gashed the Tigers defense for 27 yards. Surprisingly, they never went back to the screen game again, despite Lamb being faced with tremendous pressure the entire game. They also didn’t move the ball much, either.
Instead, the Mountaineers reverted to what worked against Howard: Carries up the middle, powers slightly to the right, and other power style runs, all of which saw little success until the game was far out of reach.
The Talent of Clemson:
Let’s not forget how good this Clemson team really is. It took perhaps a worst case scenario for App State to lose badly to this nationally ranked team and that bodes well for the talent App has. Yes, this is a bad loss. Yes, there are plenty of points to take away from this game to improve upon before Old Dominion. But this is all in preparation for conference play. It would always be nice to pull an upset off in a place like Death Valley, but the point of these games isn’t necessarily to get Ws, it’s to get better.
If the Mountaineers come out much better in two weeks and roll through conference play, this loss will be but a blip on the season for these players.
The Mountaineers (1-1) go into their bye week and will have a full two weeks of practice to work out the woes from this game before taking on Old Dominion on Sept. 26. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Story: Chris Warner, Sports Editor