The Tigers will hit the field after what (hopefully) has been an evaluation break for the coaches as well as the team.
What do we know?
Well, we do know that there is some sort of disconnect on offense that is not allowing Clemson to play with continuity and fluidity. We also know that there are issues with the wide receivers, offensive line, and quarter back play through the first portion of the season. We know that Clemson's defense has played pretty well to this point and that the guys up front and in the secondary are capable of helping this football team win some games. We know that kick returning is probably CU's best offense to the is point, that Richard Jackson has a tremendous leg but needs more accuracy, and punting miscues have hurt the Tigers. Finally, we know that there are inexperienced members of this program right now that will need to improve over time.
What can we do?
Continuity and fluidity start from the top and start with play calling. I will not expand on the possibility of a rift between head coach and offensive coordinator except to say that a boat with two captains sinks fastest. Arguably, the most complete drive Clemson has had all season was the opening drive of the game against TCU. One possible explanation of this that most football coaches like to script the first series (or at least the first few plays) to open ball games. This generally is used to set the tone and see what kind of looked you are getting from your opponent out of certain formations and scenarios. Clemson was balanced and utilized everyone on this drive, with the only disappointment being CU had to settle for a field goal. I am by no means advocating a fully scripted game, but wondering if this scripting concept can be expanded upon to keep the staff moving and thinking in the same direction. The other item that Clemson can address is to try to attain manageable 3rd down attempts. I know this sounds like an obvious statement, but 3rd down success is a function of 1st and 2nd down decisions. We would like to see the Tigers keep the ball on the ground more on 1st & 2nd downs (3-4 yards on 1st down, 3-4 yards on second down would make me extremely happy) to set up 3rd and 3, 3rd and 4. This is extremely critical for the Tigers, as it is tough to be successful with a freshman QB in such situations.
I am really not sure what Clemson can do personnel wise at this point in the season. CU obviously cannot pick up players off the side of the road, so we have who we have. What Clemson can start doing offensively to help with the struggles up front and drops by the receivers is utilize the TE's in a more efficient manner. Initially, we would agree that another TE would be a lot of help for either Lambert or Walker. These guys have looked like matadors at times this season, and a TE would help either a lot. We have discussed better use of the TE here on numerous occasions, as Palmer and Allen can both catch the football. Apparently Billy Napier has gotten more positive about using Allen, stating in a recent P&C article that Allen has nice upside potential and that the Tigers will have to find a way put the ball in his hands. (Note, P&C may be driving this bandwagon, with another article emphasizing TE play being run today). I am also a big advocate of a double TE set. Other than being utilized for spacing, the WR's have been more of a liability than an asset this year. If you have to, flex Allen out with Palmer in a 3-pt stance. He is a big target and would make a pretty good match up for CU in many cases.
Clemson's defense is the least of my worries. Steele has done a pretty good job to this point. If there is one spot I would like to see more consistency (and depth), it would be the LB spot. However, this unit has given the offense plenty of opportunities and has played pretty well all year. Overall, this is about what I expected out of this group--overall performance--with a lot more intensity than the past few seasons.
I would be surprised to see many opponents kick the ball to CJ for the rest of the season. His ability to take one to the house is incredible. There is no need for me to continue to state the obvious. With Spiller/Ford returning the football, Clemson is in good shape.
On the other side of the return coin, Clemson has done a better job of kick coverage this season. Most of the problems in this department have been poor luck/somebody not paying attention to what is going on. The big ones include the Georgia Tech and Maryland returns for big gains (GT went to the end zone, Maryland to the 1) that both ended up giving the opposition 6 points. We have beaten the GT bonehead call to death. What we can do is assure that the ball is kicked well and realize that there is no need to get froggy on kick team. Just kick the ball and make tackles...no other bs.
I think we may have given Richard Jackson a little too much hype early. While you cannot deny that someone who banks home 50 yarders at will is impressive, Richard has to become more dependable on short- to mid-range kicks. This is particularly true when the game is still in balance. Regardless, Clemson should not need Jackson to kick 5 field goals a game. Overall, with all of the questions coming into the year, I have more confidence in the kicking unit than I thought I would...but we still have a ways to go.
Inexperience is pretty obvious, particularly on the offensive side of the football. Let's go ahead and get the QB spot out of the way. Early on, Parker looked like he was well on his way to Death Valley glory. He was making all the right decisions and throwing the ball with authority. Even against GT, he stepped in and was able to make decent decisions and deliver the ball when necessary. Since, he has looked more and more like a freshman. Parker is rushing to get rid of the ball and has gotten into a bad habit of not stepping up and stepping into where he needs to throw the ball. Couple that with dropped passes, and you have a young QB who seems to be reeling.
What can happen to improve this play is for Parker to stop getting excited and quit trying to guide the ball. I would also like to see Parker run with the ball more when given the chance, particularly when he can pick up a first down without putting the ball in the air. The GT int throwing across his body to an open Ford is a prime example of this. While Ford was open, this was a difficult 3rd down pass to complete The freshman could have easily tucked the ball and gotten the short first down to keep the drive going.
Finally, we can slim down the playbook even further to ensure that Clemson is only running base plays. Pros to this idea is that we can actually execute a handful of plays, our players are not overloaded with extra information, and we get more reps in practice. Minus is you become more predictable. See the preseason post re Spence's complex offense to get more insight here. I am all for executing fewer plays properly as opposed to having more plays that look like crap.
WR's doing a better job of bringing in more passes would (OBVIOUSLY) help this position also. If we still cannot get things going, then you have to think about really shaking up playing time between Parker and Korn. Will Korn looked determined and ready to go in his lone series against the Terps.
The other inexperience lies in a first-year coach/first-year OC combination. We have all heard a lot about this situation, and I will not get into any hearsay or speculation, only look at the facts of the situation. First off, the decision to allow the program's two best recruiters to take over the football program was a big risk on TDP's part. In short, he gave up little in guaranteed cash to retain an unproven, yet popular coach in Swinney. This is a real risk for the former OSU front-man, especially coupled with the debacle known as extending Tom Bowden's contract several times over the past few years/not letting Arkansas overpay for his services. Long and short, TDP put Clemson in a situation where they will be paying TB a lot of money for quite a while (all during the worst economic period in 80 years). Thus, you don't need crystal ball to figure out what happens should Swinney fail...TDP catches it also. Phillips realizes that it will take time for Swinney to win...he is just hoping that Swinney's coaching abilities will catch up sooner rather than later.
I don't need to remind anyone that it is difficult to move from being a position coach to running the whole program. The second portion of the equation is Billy Napier as offensive coordinator. While I don't have a problem with younger guys being coordinators, it is tough to have a young coordinator with a young head coach (mainly because both really need time to mature in the current roles and more of a mentor). If you are going to have a young offensive coordinator, it is always nice to have an experienced coach to allow the OC to be creative, yet reel him in and keep him moving in the correct direction (as dictated by the HC). Since Swinney has no head coaching experience (nor assistant head coaching experience, for that matter) it is tough for his team to have an identity and vision this early in the game. This may trickle down to less experienced assistants going through similar growing pains...
The long and the short of it is what we have all known for the past year...Swinney is a rookie coach and is going to make rookie mistakes. All we expect here is realistic improvement from week to week, and understand that becoming a good football coach is build on experience. Swinney's decision to bring in an experienced defensive coordinator has worked out well. The inexperience in offensive game planning and play calling is showing itself in the early-going. The best we can all hope for is that these two gain valuable experience and move forward as the season progresses and get over the early rookie woes. These guys have largely been given a pass so far this season, but will need to steadily improve to escape some criticism here.
With a slew of less than impressive opponents (minus Miami) left on Clemson's ACC slate, there are quite a few winnable games on the table. However, this team must improve drastically to turn these opportunities into W's.