Sapakoff: Ideal incline schedule climb for Clemson

Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott (3) celebrates after scoring a touchdown with teammate Sean Mac Lain (88) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wofford on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

It didn’t matter that Wofford had 15 players on the field. The efficiently swift Deshaun Watson/Artavis Scott duo simply connected for a 35-yard Clemson touchdown and head coach Dabo Swinney happily declined the penalty.

The overmatched, injury-riddled Terriers eventually nudged into the end zone. But only after Clemson fourth-string punt returner Hunter Renfrow fumbled with the Tigers up five touchdowns in the second quarter.

“Very clean execution for a first game, not a lot of mistakes,” offensive co-coordinator Tony Elliott said. “That’s just a testament to the young men, that they prepared with purpose. They went out and had effort with technique.”

Other than that, No. 12 Clemson’s 49-10 victory Saturday before a sellout crowd at Death Valley wasn’t any more high-profile than a Lindsay Graham For President rally. Raise your hand if you prefer prime-time caliber football drama to the college version of NFL exhibition games.

But Saturday was the first step on a custom-order incline of a schedule for a team in that space between fragile and national championship contender.

Clemson has new offensive coordinators, Watson coming off knee surgery, rebuilt lines and question marks at kicker and punter.

The Tigers also might be favored to win every regular-season game.

The gradual increase in degree-of-difficulty goes well with this year’s orange and purple fall collection.

Next week: A slightly tougher assignment against Appalachian State, the former Southern Conference member that is now an FBS team good enough to wangle a home game with Wyoming.

Sept. 17: At Louisville on a Thursday night. Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals are currently unranked but you never know what might happen at or aside Churchill Downs.

Oct. 3: Notre Dame at home.

“Anybody we put on our schedule has a chance to beat us if we don’t show up to play,” Elliott said, “so we focus more on Clemson.”

Of course, that’s easier when Clemson isn’t opening against Georgia, as it did with a win in 2013 and a loss in 2014.

Significant parts of this roster are like the experimental crop field a few blocks down the street. One more injury or defection and defensive coordinator Brent Venables will take to the intramural softball fields searching for backup linebackers.

But Venables was in a good mood late Saturday.

“I like the guys; they just haven’t played very much,” he said. “They got to play (Saturday) and they did well so I’m OK with it as long as we stay healthy.”

A 49-10 game allowed backup quarterback Nick Schuessler to get in for five possessions (two touchdown drives) and freshman QB Kelly Bryant to take over for the last two.

Freshman Mitch Hyatt had time to get comfortable at left tackle after a nervous ceremonial intro.

“The hardest part was trying not to fall coming down The Hill,” Hyatt said.

Watson showed he hasn’t lost a step from the most dazzling plays of his abbreviated freshman season. But he didn’t have to force things (two runs for 22 yards).

Five running backs carried the ball.

A dozen different players caught passes, including sophomore Seth Ryan, son of Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan.

A total of 75 players saw action, including 13 true freshmen, the most for Clemson in one game since 1943.

Clemson ran 80 plays, one more than Elliott and Jeff Scott called in their co-coordinator debut, a 40-6 victory over Oklahoma last December in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The snaps looked like they were coming even faster than under Chad Morris, the highly paid coordinator who left to become the head coach at SMU.

“There was an emphasis in trying to call it as fast as we can,” said Elliott, a James Island High School graduate, “but at the same time trying to call the right plays in the right situation.”

Mistakes — three fumbles, two lost — didn’t hurt that much against Wofford.

Clemson survived a 41-yard wide receiver pass to the backside.

“We’re going to see that again sometime during the season,” Venables said. “Those are great teaching points for us.”

Venables isn’t looking ahead to Louisville, or Notre Dame. But a game against Wofford lets him look at a lot of Clemson players on tape with more teaching opportunities coming up against Appalachian State.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff