We are now through the 2010 regular season, which means we have 12 games to judge this football team. I'll try to give a brief overview of each of the three phases then follow up after the jump with some specifics about how where we are in all aspects of the game heading into the bowl game. This will not be all-inclusive and will definitely not be the final word on this team, just a brief summation on the year that was.
Defense: Clemson improved overall defensively this season. Clemson had relatively tough outings against Auburn and Miami but has played well enough in each game this season to reasonably expect a victory. All season, but particularly after the Miami game, Clemson was extremely tough defensively and their efforts should have been rewarded with more wins. Kevin Steele utilized a stout defensive front, overcome some issues at the linebacker position, and enjoyed improvement out of the secondary as the season progressed. We still have some items that need correcting, but overall this defense put Clemson in a position to win each week of the 2010 season.
Offense: Clemson has an inexperienced offensive-minded head coach, a young offensive coordinator, and an inexperienced WR's coach. One would have to imagine that this "youth" contributed to the inconsistencies and relative lack of success the Tigers experienced offensively this year. Our offensive performance was, at a minimal, disappointing and can best be described as extremely frustrating. Clemson could not maintain any consistency on offense which was a combination of bad strategy/decision making and poor fundamental execution. I can best wrap this one up by simply saying that this offense kept the Tigers from winning football games this season.
Special Teams: This was a rocky road for Clemson all year. Clemson was respectable returning kicks and did a good job getting distance and coverage punting the ball. Clemson struggled snapping the ball and, thus, had unnecessary failures in the place kicking and punting aspects of the game. Clemson's place kicking on the year was unreliable and effectively a liability for the team. Missed opportunities due to unconverted field goal attempts really hurt the Tigers and contributed to more than one loss on the season.
Clemson had three (3) first team All-ACC selections defensively (DE Da‘Quan Bowers, DT Jarvis Jenkins, and S DeAndre McDaniel), with Bowers earning All-American honors. It is safe to say that Clemson played well (completely dominant at times) up front. Our staff got a much better effort out of this group--as a whole--than last season, which is encouraging definitely does not go unnoticed. Clemson's secondary had a lapse or two each week for the first couple games but was able to correct these (mostly decision-making) mistakes over the course of the season. Our linebackers still have some woes but were not as big of a liability as we feared. We still have "gap management" issues and need to improve the talent base but our mistakes were not nearly as noticeable out of this group another year into Steele's tenure and certainly were helped by good play in other areas. The defensive staff played to our strengths and mitigated weaknesses to put together good performances down the stretch, which is everything you can ask and expect out of these guys.
Offensively, it is tough to know exactly what to say. I'll start by giving credit where it is due and congratulate Chris Hairston for being named All-ACC this season. Clemson's offensive line, which still needs a lot of work, appeared improved at times this year. That being said, some of our guys still refuse to move their feet to get in proper position, allowing the opponent to either shoot a gap or run around the lineman. You don't realize how frustrating it is to see the opposition shoot a gap untouched and half of our offensive line just stands there like they just saw a freaking leprechaun skipping across the field.
Clemson's running game, at times, was a bright spot (especially) when Andre Ellington was healthy. Ellington was an excellent back before his foot injury and should have had many more carries and a lot more yards. Jamie Harper had us concerned tip-toeing around and dancing all over the place for the first half of the season but did improve, running the ball hard towards the end of the year. Any success that these guys had was limited, though, due our offensive staff's repeated refusal to run the ball and feed (particularly Ellington) the ball early and often and take advantage of the offense‘s apparent strength.
Clemson was extremely inconsistent in the passing game. I fully expected the Tigers to get the ball to Dwayne Allen more this year and Clemson shied away from Allen as the season progressed. Allen was only credited with four catches over the final four games. I want to vomit when I think of all the passes we dropped on the year as well as the poorly thrown passes in the 2010 season. The one encouraging item is that our young receivers have more talent than the seniors we are losing and there is no way they could ever perform any more poorly. Another bright spot is that it looks like we are getting help through the recruiting process. Hopefully some of these guys can come in and teach our receivers how to block, catch, and run routes because our staff has failed miserably with this group to date.
Our quarterback play was terribly inconsistent as well. Kyle Parker played almost exclusively this season and did not live up to his Sophomore hype. The young man turned down a lot of cheddar to come back to Clemson, so you cannot say that he didn't care but you can say that he probably needed more time over the summer with his receivers than was allocated. KP was the victim of a lot of dropped passes that probably effected the confidence level in the receivers. Otherwise, we saw a lot of the accuracy issues that plagued him in ‘09 arise again this season. Kyle never appeared comfortable in the pocket and often made poor decisions with the football. I guess I expected more development here and better play as the season progressed (mirroring my thoughts on the receivers' coaching).
This offense overall was choppy at best. Clemson still does not have a defined offensive identity and looks like a complete hodgepodge of plays with no coordination, continuity, or direction. Add to this mental lapses and inability to execute and you have what we saw this season, a piss poor product. Clemson was far too predictable as a whole and did not play to its strengths. These items all contributed to the poor output we saw out of the Tigers on the year.
A portion of Clemson's scoring drop-off this season was from reduced special teams firepower. Let me be the first to point out that we will probably never again see the kick return output that we saw last season from speedsters Jacoby Ford and C. J. Spiller. You simply cannot expect such. Marcus Gilchrist and company did a good job on the season returning kicks but this offense was not given the gift field position it had one year ago, which is an absolute credit to last year's squad and shows how fortunate these guys were to get this advantage in ‘09.
Special teams was a double edged sword for Clemson this season. Our return and coverage teams both did an acceptable job on the year. Off the top of my head I can recall several nice returns by Hopkins and Gilchrist. Punter Dawson Zimmerman also had a good year, averaging around 42.6 yards per punt. DZ probably saved the NC State game for Clemson by making an athletic play on a poor snap.
Speaking of snaps, Clemson was pitiful snapping the ball on the season. We mentioned the NC State game and also saw another poor snap against SC that gave the opponent and easy touchdown. Clemson often struggled snapping the ball on place kicking attempts. The most notable of these was the double clutch against Auburn that negated a successful overtime field goal attempt. If we are going to use a scholarship on a player who does nothing but snaps, we should have zero bad snaps on the year. Otherwise bring in another player who can snap AND contribute in other areas.
Place kicking was completely unacceptable in 2010. The Tigers were a combined 12 for 21 on field goals this season, including critical misses against in most of the Clemson losses. This may trump the offensive woes simply because of the low level of difficulty of a lot of these misses. It is especially frustrating to see FSU drill a 55 yarder to win the game and we, with our three scholarship kickers, have loads of trouble with kicks inside 35 yards. There is absolutely no excuse for these results, period.
To sum it up, this was a poor, poor effort out of the offense and placekicking unit. The defense played well and Kevin Steele's group deserved better than what they received from the other side. We will keep up with this team as it prepares for a bowl game and put together more comprehensive coverage through signing day. Our position-by-position evaluation of the coaching staff will be on hold until after recruiting is done for the year, as it could affect recruiting and a primary factor in our evaluation is the coach's recruiting haul.