Clemson overcomes McCloud's ball flip to hold off Troy 30-24
With all the problems, mistakes and numerous errors it's hard to take a lot of positives from Clemson's 2-0 start.
Deshaun Watson threw three touchdowns as the second-ranked Tigers held off Troy 30-24 on Saturday in a game that will mostly be remembered for bad decision making by the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
Front and center is Ray-Ray McCloud's embarrassing mental gaffe when he flipped the ball on the 1-yard line as he was cruising into the end zone to celebrate a 75-yard punt return TD. McCloud went through with the flash, posing for the fans, and rolling around with teammates after Clemson's first punt return touchdown in three years. Moments later, replays showed McCloud never brought the ball across the goal line.
"You're going to leave this game thinking about" my mistake, McCloud said.
To his credit, the sophomore didn't hang his head and go cower in a corner. McCloud finished with seven catches and a career best 86 yards receiving.
Still, many will not only see Clemson's mistakes in this game, but on the season as well.
The Tigers (2-0) were out of synch on offense and could not break away from the Trojans (1-1) until the fourth quarter. Watson hit beefy defensive lineman Christian Wilkins for a 1-yard score in Clemson's jumbo goal line package, then connected with Deon Cain on a 23-yard TD pass for a 27-10 lead.
Troy rallied with two touchdowns in the last five minutes, the second one with 44 seconds to go. But Cain grabbed the on-side kick attempt and Clemson ran out the clock on a second straight victory that was too close for most of the crowd at Death Valley.
"Everybody wants to see us score 50 points, 60 points and everybody wants it now," Watson said. "We're not going to do that. First we've got to execute and find our rhythm."
The Tigers couldn't get out of their own way much against Troy - most notably on McCloud's dynamic, 75-yard punt return right before halftime that should have been a Tigers' touchdown but turned into a Troy touchback.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told McCloud it was a great run, but he needed to grow up, get back out there and do his best for Clemson.
"When he told me to grow up, that's what I had to do," McCloud said.
Watson also did enough to get the win with 292 yards passing, but didn't do much to enhance his Heisman Trophy chances.
His performance did bolster Troy's confidence.
"That's the Heisman front-runner, you know what I'm saying," Brandon Silvers, Troy's quarterback, said in praise of the Trojan defense.
TROY: The Trojans strong defensive effort on Clemson's high-powered offense - they intercepted Watson twice - will served them well when the Sun Belt Conference season begins against New Mexico State in two weeks.
CLEMSON: The Tigers put up another sloppy offensive showing for much of Saturday and could be poised for a fall from No. 2 in the Top 25. Clemson needs to find its gear soon before Atlantic Coast Conference play begins at Georgia Tech on Sept. 22.
CLEMSON: Get ready for a late-summer slide for the Tigers. The offense has not looked like the unit that matched up with Alabama in January and that was expected to be even better with the return of injured 1,000-yard receiver Mike Williams. The Tigers' 19-13 win at Auburn last week could be excused as a team going through early season growing pains at a difficult Southeastern Conference venue. It's a little harder to explain this performance.
TROY: The Trojans out-rushed Clemson 141-122 and did it by limited the Tigers' two 1,000-yard rushers last year in Watson and Wayne Gallman to a combined 89 yards.
CLEMSON: Watson had two interceptions in a game for the just the fourth time in his college career. The 6-foot-2 junior has won all four of those contests, however.
CLEMSON: Starting linebacker Ben Boulware was on the ground in pain in the fourth quarter and walking around on crutches. But coach Dabo Swinney said Boulware got his right ankle rolled up on and the injury does not appear to be serious.
TROY: The Trojans continue their non conference schedule when they take on Southern Mississippi next week, the first regular-season meeting between the schools since 1977. Troy lost to the Golden Eagles 30-27 in the 2008 New Orleans Bowl.
CLEMSON: The Tigers play their final pre-Atlantic Coast Conference contest with FCS opponent South Carolina State. Don't expect that to be a tight game: Clemson has won the three career meetings by a combined score of 179-20.