Although the victory may have looked convincing on the scoreboard, it was far from the standard that Dabo Swinney has set in his second full season as the Tigers’ head coach.
“The name of the game is points and they were only able to get 10 to our 35,” Swinney said.
Clemson’s time of possession (18:08) was more than doubled by North Texas (41:52). The Tigers went a paltry 2-for-9 on third downs and took more than a quarter to complete a pass before going on to complete less than 50 percent of the throwing attempts.
Offensive coordinator Billy Napier credited North Texas’ defensive staff for causing some confusion. They changed the front to an odd look switched up some things in the secondary.
“I think we can do a lot better, but I think we did some things well,” he said. “For me, the only negative, probably, was the third-down percentage wasn’t very good. The turnover—I could do a better job of coaching the quarterback down in the [red] zone—on the four-yard line we had the turnover.”
The Mean Green threw for 269 yards while running back Lance Dunbar went for 116 yards and a touchdown.
“Dunbar, he could definitely play in the ACC. SEC, Pac-10, Big 12—whatever you want to call it,” said Corico Hawkins, who had five tackles and a sack. “He’s going to have a great season this year and I can see why he was one of the top candidates for the Doak Walker Award.”
He added that tackling was “the biggest issue” for the Clemson defense.
“It was all us. In a lot of situations, we didn’t tackle the way we were supposed to. We were leaving our feet. Guys were going for the knockout shots when they should of form tackled and applied our tackling rules,” Hawkins said. “We didn’t do that.”
“Dunbar, he could definitely play in the ACC. SEC, Pac-10, Big 12—whatever you want to call it,” said Corico Hawkins, who had five tackles and a sack. “He’s going to have a great season this year and I can see why he was one of the top candidates for the Doak Walker Award.” (Roy Philpott)
Regardless, Clemson is now 1-0 and North Texas is 0-1.
“The best thing about that game is it’s over,” Swinney said. “The objective is to win and I’m awful proud of the guys. They found a way to get it done.”
Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper each rushed for over 100 yards—the first time in two years Clemson had two 100-yard rushers in a game. Five different members of the Tiger defense picked up a sack and Byron Maxwell and Coty Sensabaugh each had an interception. Dawson Zimmerman also had a career day, averaging 51.3 yards on six punts, including a long of 79—the second longest punt in school history.
Big scoring plays were back in the fold, too.
On the second play from scrimmage, Ellington scored the game’s first touchdown on a 60-yard touchdown run.
But it took four more drives before Clemson would reach the end zone again.
“We didn’t get discouraged. We came out there and just kept going,” said Kyle Parker, who completed 9-of-17 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. “We had some drives where we went three and out and we also had some drives where we scored on the first play.”
On the first play of Clemson’s fifth offensive series, Parker hit Brandon Clear on a 70-yard scoring strike—the first touchdown reception of his career.
North Texas responded with a 6-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Tune to Darius Carey.
Carey’s excessive celebration penalty pushed the ensuing Mean Green kickoff back 15 yards. Marcus Gilchrist’s 25-yard return left started Clemson’s drive at the North Texas 49 with 1:03 left in the first half.
29 seconds later, Parker connected with Harper on an 8-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 21-7 halftime lead.
Ellington scored again with 2:31 left in the third quarter with a 14-yard run.
Trent Deans later hit a 25-yard field goal with 12:27 left to cut Clemson’s lead to 28-10.
On the following drive, Harper scored on a three-yard run to give Clemson a 35-10 lead.
“Our first goal is to win the opener,” Swinney said. “We were able to accomplish that today and glad to do it. We’ll move on to the next one and get ready.”
Clemson hosts Presbyterian next Saturday at 3:30. The Blue Hose lost their season opener to Wake Forest on Thursday night, 53-13.