Early TOs Doom App State in Loss at No. 12 Clemson

Published Sunday, September 13, 2015 at 10:25 am
Terrence Upshaw rushed for 69 yards on 11 carries and had a 27-yard reception in Appalachian State's defeat at No. 12 Clemson. Courtesy: Allyson Lamb

Terrence Upshaw rushed for 69 yards on 11 carries and had a 27-yard reception in Appalachian State’s defeat at No. 12 Clemson. Courtesy: Allyson Lamb

Interceptions on three-straight series early in the game squelched Appalachian State University football’s upset hopes in a 41-10 loss at No. 12 Clemson on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

Trailing just 3-0 late in the first quarter, Appalachian State (1-1) had the ball on the Clemson 24-yard line after a beautifully executed screen pass from Taylor Lamb to Terrence Upshaw. However, Clemson (2-0) would go on to intercept three of Lamb’s next four passes to turn what might have been a 7-3 Mountaineer lead into a 17-0 deficit in the span of just 6:29.

Clemson’s first interception came on the play immediately following Upshaw’s long gain on the screen pass. Lamb escaped what looked like a sure sack and threw on the run to tight end Barrett Burns in the end zone. Six-foot-five Clemson safety Jayron Kearse trailed Burns by several yards when the ball was thrown but made up the ground and made an incredible leaping interception to keep the Tigers’ 3-0 advantage intact.

Appalachian’s defense forced a punt after Kearse’s interception but three plays into the ensuing drive, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins dropped into coverage and picked off a pass intended for Simms McElfresh in the middle of the field. After his first-career interception, Watkins rumbled 15 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead.

Two plays later, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware intercepted a pass to give Clemson the ball at the Appalachian 27-yard line. The Tigers needed only three plays to make the Mountaineers pay for their third miscue, as Charone Peake hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to stretch Clemson’s lead to 17-0.

App State’s defense, which was spectacular for much of the afternoon, would give up two more touchdowns in the second quarter and Clemson took a commanding 31-0 halftime lead. The Mountaineers’ taxed defense withered late in the first half, as it was on the field for a whopping 18:57 before halftime, including 9:37 in the second period alone.

Clemson extended the lead to 38-0 early in the second half before the Mountaineers battled to make the final outcome respectable.

Appalachian State got on the board late in the third quarter on a 31-yard field goal by Zach Matics and scoring its lone touchdown one possession later when Lamb found Burns for a one-yard touchdown pass to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive.

Aside from the second quarter, the Mountaineers played evenly with the 12th-ranked Tigers for much of the afternoon. Clemson finished the day with a 392-298 advantage in total yardage, but the majority of the damage came in the second period, when the Tigers outgained the Mountaineers191-38.

The story of the day was Clemson’s magnificent pass defense. The Tigers limited Appalachian to just 95 yards through the air, which was App State’s lowest passing total since it managed only 98 passing yards during a driving snowstorm in a 44-0 win over Georgia State on Nov. 1 of last season. The last time that the Mountaineers failed to reach the 100-yard passing mark during normal weather conditions was on Sept. 6, 2008 when it threw for only 92 yards in a 56-7 rout over Jacksonville (App State passed for just 47 yards during another snowstorm against Western Illinois on Dec. 4, 2010).

Additionally, App State was intercepted three times for the first time since a 66-13 loss at No. 13 Virginia Tech on Sept. 3, 2011. Coincidentally, that was the Mountaineers’ last game against a nationally ranked NCAA Division I FBS squad and an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent prior to Saturday.

Appalachian State enjoyed some success on the ground, rushing for 203 yards. Junior Marcus Cox reached the 100-yard plateau for the 16th time in 26 career games, finishing with 104 yards on 25 carries. Upshaw added 69 yards on 11 rushes (6.3 avg.) to go along with his 27-yard reception.

Defensively, senior defensive lineman Ronald Blair tallied a game-high eight tackles, including a career-high-tying two sacks. Sophomore cornerback Latrell Gibbs and junior inside linebacker John Law each had interceptions for the Mountaineers. Playing just five days after the sudden death of his 11-day-old daughter, Noelle, outside linebacker Devan Stringer recorded six tackles.

Appalachian enjoys the first of two bye weeks next Saturday before returning to action on Sept. 26 at Old Dominion. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Foreman Field in Norfolk, Va.

NOTES: The loss snapped Appalachian State’s seven-game winning streak, which was the fifth-longest in FBS … Appalachian went 336 days between losses … the Mountaineers’ last loss prior to Saturday was a 55-48 overtime defeat versus Liberty on Oct. 11, 2014 … Appalachian State fell to 0-5 all-time versus Clemson … Cox became the seventh student-athlete in App State history with 2,800 career rushing yards … in 26-career games, Cox has rushed for 2,874 yards … Saturday’s sellout crowd of 81,467 at Memorial Stadium was the seventh-largest to ever see Appalachian State play … the Mountaineers fell to 1-12 all-time versus nationally ranked FBS opponents … App State has not beaten a nationally ranked FBS squad since its historic 34-32 win over No. 5 Michigan on Sept. 1, 2007.

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