TigerIllustrated – Wake Surfing


ESPN’s announcers took particular fascination in some Clemson players’ decision to wear Andy Reid-style face shields (fog sold separately) instead of the more conventional mode of protection.

Maybe it was to protect their faces from the bloodbath.

As a bizarre offseason unlike any other segues into a 2020 season unlike any other, many wacky and unpredictable things have happened and will happen.

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Clemson fans experienced a dose of that before the game when it was revealed that three front-line players didn’t make the trip.

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Of the 22 players who started in New Orleans the last time the Tigers took the field, a mere eight were starters Saturday night.

Gulp.

As it turns out some things just can’t be, well, masked. This Clemson team is scary good just as so many of its predecessors have been, and this one was scary good from the jump amid circumstances that would’ve made some sputters wholly excusable.

Travis Etienne turned in a game-high 102 rushing yards in Clemson’s 2020 debut Saturday. (Winston-Salem Journal) (AP)

Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are gone, but the offense still has a rich collection of talent at receiver.

Xavier Thomas, Justin Foster are out, but the defensive line looks like it’s back to eating people alive.

Derion Kendrick and Mario Goodrich were back home in Clemson, on top of Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse having already departed, and the secondary had some coverage issues but still managed to hold up.

Jamie Skalski had to sit the first half for a targeting penalty last January, but by the time he was allowed to return it was already over with Clemson up 27-0 on the strength of a surgical, withering first-half showing that did nothing but affirm the Tigers’ No. 1 ranking.

The person performing the surgery, of course, was one Trevor Lawrence. As long as this guy is making the throws, these receivers are probably going to be just fine.

And as long as Travis Etienne is bashing away with the ball in his hands, this offense is going to be frightening to confront.

The Tigers opened the season by opening a can on Wake Forest before a national-television audience, even if a late flurry by the Demon Deacons made it seem closer (and made gambling on sports seem insane).

A 37-13 victory extended Clemson’s ACC winning streak to 23 games as Lawrence threw for 351 yards and a touchdown while completing 22 of 28 passes.

Etienne ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries while catching three passes for 47 yards. Amari Rodgers led the team in receiving yards with 90 on five grabs as Clemson totaled 554 yards on 79 plays with 27 first downs.

Wake had 324 yards, but just 32 came on the ground. The Demon Deacons had just four first downs in the first half when it mattered, and starting quarterback Sam Hartman completed 11 of 21 passes for 182 yards while getting sacked four times before leaving the game in the third quarter after a savage hit by LaVonta Bentley.

The defensive line was short-handed only if you haven’t been paying attention. Foster had a wealth of experience, and Thomas was the team’s best returning pass rusher.

But the defensive line assembly line keeps churning, as evidenced by freshmen Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee. The two haven’t looked like typical freshmen since arriving as mid-year enrollees, and they looked like veterans Saturday in combining for 3.5 sacks. Murphy was Clemson’s leading tackler with seven.

It’s been almost exactly eight months since this team was on the field in the national championship game in front of a full Superdome.

Everything has changed since then.

Well, almost everything.

What a way to make up for lost time.

Or gained time, depending on your perspective.

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