By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
CLEMSON, S.C. — For the better part of three quarters, Appalachian State more than held its own against a Clemson squad that may have been the most physically talented group the Mountaineers have played in their 86-year football history.
But a turnover-infested meltdown in the second period resulted in a 41-10 loss by Appalachian (1-1) to the 12th-ranked in the Associated Press Top-25 poll before 81,467 fans at Memorial Stadium.
ASU sophomore quarterback Taylor Lamb experienced the worst game in his young career, throwing for only 95 yards, one touchdown and three crucial interceptions against a team that was rated first nationally in Football Championship Subdivision defense last season.
The Tigers (2-0) took advantage for 28 second-stanza points to build a 31-0 lead, turning a promising start into a blowout.
“You can’t give them 14 points on interceptions,” said Lamb, who became the latest victim of a place long known as Death Valley for opponents. “You have to protect the football. We’re not going to win when you go 9-of-28 with three interceptions.”
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a junior who was named the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason offensive player of the year, sparkled by hitting 19-of-26 for 248 yards and three impressive touchdowns.
The Tigers piled up 392 yards of total offense, compared to 298 for the Mountaineers, but it was four App State turnovers that proved to be the biggest stat of the game.
Just as impressive was the Tiger defense, which kept the pressure on the Mountaineers throughout the afternoon.
“They probably were (the most talented team ASU has ever played,” said Mountaineer coach Scott Satterfield. “They are extremely talented. That secondary is the best I’ve ever faced and that’s got to be the best receivers we’ve ever faced.”0.
Despite the skill of Clemson, however, Appalachian was frustrated with the results.
“They were good,” said ASU inside linebacker John Laws, “but they shouldn’t have beaten us by that many points. I’m disappointed.”
Laws was one of many defensive standouts for Appalachian, with six tackles (five solo stops), one tackle for loss and an interception.
Devin Stringer, playing at outside linebacker despite the death of his 11-year-old daughter, Noelle Marie, unexpectedly on Monday, added six tackles, while defensive end Ronald Blair excelled with a team-high eight tackles and two of its three sacks and cornerback Latrell Gibbs contributed six tackles and an interception.
Clemson was fortunate to hold a 3-0 after one period.
Tiger kicker Greg Huegel missed a 39-yard field goal midway through the initial period, but got a second chance when the Mountaineers jumped offsides. He made a second kick from 34 yards, but this time it was Clemson that was signaled for a false start, forcing Huegel to kick again, this time successfully from 39 yards.
Appalachian moved to the Clemson 24 later in the first quarter, but Lamb forced a back-footed throw into the corner of the end zone for Barrett Burns and strong safety Jayron Kearse leaped in front of the tight end for an acrobatic interception to kill the drive.
A pass interference call on Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley and Lamb’s perfectly-executed screen pass to Terrence Upshaw for 27 yards gave the Mountaineers two key first downs on that march.
Upshaw had the two longest offensive plays for ASU on the day, also breaking free for 52 yards on one second-half run. He finished with 69 yards rushing on 11 carries in addition to his 27 receiving yards.
Marcus Cox showed his consistency with 25 carries for 104 yards on the ground.
Instead of grabbing the lead, Appalachian went into almost complete cardiac arrest the remainder of the half.
“Our defense played well early,” said Satterfield. “Then we threw those interceptions.”
With Lamb struggling on his reads against the talented Tiger defense, Clemson struck quickly to expand its advantage. Carlos Watkins dropped into coverage as the Tigers came with an outside blitz on third and 10 from the 14 and Lamb threw the ball right into the defensive tackle’s hands for a 15-yard interception return and a touchdown with just under 12 minutes left in the second period.
Two plays from scrimmage later, Lamb was intercepted for the third time of the half when weakside linebacker Ben Boulware stepped in front of a pass at the ASU 33. After a six-yard return, it took the Tigers only two plays to find the end zone again.
Watson lofted a picture-perfect pass into the hands of Charone Peak despite nearly prefect coverage for 24 yards and the score to make it 17-0.
Sparked by that momentum burst, Clemson held App State to a three-and-out. Watson and company responded with a nine-play, 64-yard to extend the lead.
Even with one touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty, Clemson was undeterred and Wayne Gallman darted 23 yards on the next play for the TD that counted, increasing the Mountaineer deficit to 24-0.
When Appalachian held the ball for only 74 seconds on its next possession, the Tigers had another chance to score. Watson scrambled free and fired a pass that traveled 65 yards in the air before Peake pulled it down for the 59-yard score.
The second-stanza massacre was complete.
The Mountaineers settled down in the second half to play Clemson even, with each team scoring 10 points, but the damage was done.
Jeff Scott, Clemson co-offensive coordinator singled out the ASU defensive line for special praise.
“We knew watching the video that these guys were really good upfront,” said Scott. “They are going to have a lot of success this fall.”
With its biggest challenge of the season over, Appalachian will have a week off before traveling to meet Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia on Sept. 26.
“We have to regroup and get ready for Old Dominion,” Satterfield said. “Losing is awful, no matter the level you’re at. We’re striving to be like Clemson someday.”