CLEMSON, S.C. - It seems Clemson victories won't be very pretty this year - at least not early in the season.
Although the 38-14 victory over Wofford at Memorial Stadium on Saturday didn't reflect how much of a struggle the Tigers had with the Division I-AA Terriers, you can bet Clemson doesn't want to see Wofford again, or at least not in the near future.
The Terriers effectively used their wingbone offensive attack, a combination of the option and the wishbone, during the first half, and it wasn't until the Tigers finally wore down Wofford in the third quarter that Clemson felt secure.
Wofford scored first and led the Tigers until fumbles on two straight possessions in the second quarter helped Clemson to 14 points. Until the Tigers took the lead for good on Eric Meekins' 29-yard fumble recovery with 13:23 left in the second quarter, Clemson fans booed coach Tommy Bowden on several occasions.
"I told (Wofford) coach (Mike) Ayers after the game that every coach reaches a milestone at the school they're coaching, and he helped me accomplish one," Bowden said. "Today was the first time I've been booed, so I'm officially the Clemson coach now."
Wofford had nothing to lose and earned respect from Clemson players, especially quarterback Woody Dantzler, who said after the game that the Terriers were better than some ACC schools.
The Tigers led 24-14 at halftime. Clemson's 13-play, 92-yard drive, which culminated with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Dantzler to McKelvey with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, gave the Tigers an insurmountable lead.
The drive ate 4:14 off the clock and was part of the 9:06 in which the Tigers controlled the ball in the third quarter. Wofford's defense wore down.
"I think we're a good team; I don't think we're a great team," Bowden said. "You learn to be satisfied with victories ... they're hard to come by. If you shut them out, and they don't get 14, give you 40, it's 50 to nothing, and everybody's pretty happy. But I don't know if we're that caliber team right now. So 38-14 is, you know, we just have to correct mistakes.
"I'm not going to go home and cut my wrist on 38-14."
As often as the defense has been criticized early this season, it was the defense that shifted the momentum in the Tigers' favor, with Meekins' returned fumble and Bryant McNeal's forced fumble on the Terriers next series.
Senior linebacker Chad Carson said he knows the Tigers must play better, especially, with next week's ACC opener against Duke around the corner.
"They ran the ball pretty well, which is not good; we always like to stop the run," Carson said. "But we'll see. Maybe we'll be able to do better next week."
Who shined: Junior wide receiver J.J. McKelvey had the biggest game of his career, catching eight passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Woody Dantzler was 21-of-30 passing for 207 yards, and both of his touchdown passes went to McKelvey.
What worked: The Tigers moved the ball up and down on the field against Wofford. When Dantzler wasn't firing passes, he, Travis Zachery, Chad Jasmin and Bernard Rambert had success on the ground.
What didn't: Clemson had some trouble stopping Wofford's wingbone rushing attack.
What's next: Clemson plays host to Duke at 1 p.m., Sept. 15, at Memorial Stadium.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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