CLEMSON — Gainesville graduate Deshaun Watson threw for three touchdowns and No. 2 Clemson avoided a host of mistakes — including an embarrassing early celebration punt-return gaffe by Ray-Ray McCloud that cost a TD — to hold off pesky Troy 30-24 on Saturday.
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.
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 where he apparently was so excited, he flipped the ball away before crossing into the end zone to start the celebration. Moments later, it was a sheepish McCloud on the bench awaiting the inevitable overturn by officials. Troy recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Watson finished with 292 yards passing and McCloud led Clemson receivers with 86 yards on seven catches.
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.
TROY: The Trojans continue its out of 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.