CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is looking for the 23rd-ranked Tigers to gain some confidence against FCS opponent South Carolina State - to put last week's loss at Georgia behind them and for their next game at Florida State.
Clemson is in the midst of a difficult opening stretch with the Bulldogs of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference the middle leg of a three-game start that began with a 45-21 loss at Georgia and will conclude, after a bye week, at the top-ranked and Atlantic Coast Conference favorite Seminoles on Sept. 20.
Clemson's had little trouble in two career meetings with the Bulldogs, winning by a combined score of 106-13, and figures to again find its footing against South Carolina State (1-0).
''So you want to see your team improve in a game like this and that's what we're looking forward toward,'' Swinney said.
The Tigers (0-1) were tied at half time and trailed 24-21 entering the fourth quarter until Georgia's ground game took control. Clemson's usually high-paced offense struggled, too, managing 15 yards, one first down and zero points the final 30 minutes.
It was the first time in the four seasons under offensive coordinator Chad Morris - the second highest-paid assistant in football at $1.3 million a year - was kept off the scoreboard in a half.
After quarterback Cole Stoudt played confidently in the opening half, he and backup Dashaun Watson struggled to make plays downfield. Georgia's defense, led by last year's Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, kept the Tigers off balance the rest of the way - much like Pruitt's Seminoles did in a 51-14 bashing last October.
Swinney said the Georgia game gave the coach's plenty to teach off and hopes those lessons take against South Carolina State, which shared the MEAC title last year and reached the NCAA FCS playoffs.
The Bulldogs opened with a 63-0 victory over Division II Benedict and take a huge step up against Clemson.
''As everybody knows, we've got our work cut out for us with that deal,'' South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said.
Things to watch when No. 23 Clemson plays South Carolina State:
CLEMSON's OFFENSE: Coordinator Chad Morris was frustrated when his players didn't execute well down the stretch in a tight game through three quarters. The team ran 54 plays in the first half and just 25 the rest of the way. Count on the Tigers to push the pace against their overmatched opponents to try and put this one away at the break.
TIGERS DEFENSE: Things weren't great for the defense at Georgia, which surrendered 328 yards rushing, 209 of those in the final quarter when Georgia scored on three long touchdown runs. Coordinator Brent Venables said after the game he was ''disgusted'' by the late showing and has vowed improvement for a front seven that was expected to be one of the stoutest units in all of college football.
BULLDOGS BITE: South Carolina State is playing for the second straight year at Death Valley, filling a gap in the schedule when Coastal Carolina and coach Joe Moglia dropped out of the contest. The Bulldogs will receive $275,000 for the visit and some toughening up the MEAC, where they were picked second this summer. Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough says he broke in a lot of new players in last week's win and plans to rotate plenty of people against Clemson to try and keep things competitive. ''Kind of wish they had won (at Georgia) because then they wouldn't be quite as attentive to South Carolina State this weekend,'' Pough said.
PLAYERS RETURN: Clemson brings back three regulars who missed the Georgia game because of team violations that Dabo Swinney handed down in March in offensive lineman David Beasley, defensive end Corey Crawford and defensive back Garry Peters. Look for Beasley and Crawford to regain starting spots they had last season while Peters will add depth to a secondary likely to be without injured starter Martin Jenkins.
TIGER ATTRITION: Clemson keeps losing players, the latest with the dismissal of highly regarded freshman receiver Kyrin Priester. Swinney said Priester's attitude was not acceptable. Priester was among three top-flight freshman receivers - Artavis Scott and Damarre Kitt are the others - who were expected to make an impact this fall. Last month, the Tigers top returning runner in Zac Brooks was lost to an injury, while offensive linemen Shaq Anthony transferred and Oliver Jones went down with a season-ending injury.