Auburn is in the books, and it is time to look forward to conference play. While losing to the Tigers in retrospect is disheartening, from my preseason predictions it was not unexpected. I have discussed our shortcomings until I am red in the face here, and would like to talk about some of the things that went right last Saturday then focus on what Clemson needs to do to win at least 10 games this fall.
Clemson looked really good early on. If I had to guess, our staff prepared the first drive of the Auburn game all offseason and did a very good job. Clemson was quick to move away from what did not work into what did work. We got the ball to our best offensive players and were able to finish off the drive. Clemson came out and brought the war, which was nice to see. Clemson was also able to control the ball the entire first half. This was refreshing to see. There is no doubt that this team is better off now than it was 2 years ago but still has a lot of work to do to improve and meet our expectations.
Andre Ellington is the back that I said he would be. Over and over this offseason I said that he was a better running back (not athlete) than C. J. Spiller and he is making me look good. No doubt CJ is the man and is better in open space, but Ellington sees the holes and hits them extremely effectively. Ellington has great vision, makes a single cut, then hits the hole. This is essential when running the ball behind zone blocking techniques.
Jamie Harper showed off the soft hands that Dabo talked about all offseason. His TD catch was fantastic and one of the best ones I have seen this season. Harper needs to work on utilizing his big body to get North/South to get simple yards. Harper will be a fantastic back if he can learn to get to the hole quicker and not dance around. I think that he has the talent and that a little more film study and discipline getting upfield will get him there. With Clemson's woes catching the ball, I also would not mind seeing Harper flexed out to give us more threats in the forward passing area.
Kyle Parker played well against Auburn. He missed a few but really stuck in there on third down attempts and kept Clemson in the game late. We are fortunate that KP decided to come back to school and hopefully can build some leads this year so that Boyd gets some quality snaps. In no way does last week's loss get put on his shoulders, as Kyle was on target most of the game and kept on cruising through thick and thin. Kyle was constantly under pressure but was able to stand in the pocket and deliver the football.
Clemson played really well up front defensively in the first half and at the end of the game. Bowers got it going realy and helped keep the Auburn Tigers in check early. The big complaint that I have about our DL is that we seemed to get a little fatigued in the second half. Our pad level rose and we lost contain at times. Otherwise, we did a better job than most expected against Auburn.
The whole Clemson team had issues in the third quarter. I am not sure whether this can be attributed to Auburn's adjustments or Clemson's complacency. Either way, we have plenty to fix this fall and cannot endure lapses like this. As I have mentioned before, Dabo played for a legend and has a legend who lives just down the road. He is a sharp guy and will hopefully get advice on how to get the troops to maintain the killer instinct for 60 minutes. We are better off today than we were two years ago but we need to keep progressing if we hope to become a consistent force in college football.
I really hope this loss is a learning experience for the young guys on this staff. I thought that the Georgia Tech and Maryland games last season were learning experiences, so hopefully we will take the shortcomings of this contest and use them effectively in the future. Again, we got cute at an inopportune time and again it contributed to the final outcome of the football game. I hope that we realize that we can compete with others without resorting to trickery.
Like I said earlier, we have a lot of things to work on if we want to be a good football team. We played tough on the road in front of a big crowd and were not intimidated to open this one up. I am not really sure how good Auburn is yet. I still have them pegged as the third best team in the West (behind Bammer and a talent-rich LSU squad).
The two glaring issues offensively for me are up front and at the wide receiver position. We have improved up front but still made mental errors when it counted. Clemson's receivers were less than impressive. To be blunt, we have all heard about the talent that we have here and I expect more consistency out of this group at this point.
This season is far from over after one big game. We can fix some of these items (WR performance is up there) and pray that we stay healthy on the offensive line. Clemson needs to develop depth up front but it does not appear that this will happen this season. We will have to improve as a team. We will need to feed Ellington the football and toss Harper the ball. Dwayne Allen will, as we predicted, need to be featured in this offense until our receivers can become consistent contributors to this team. Our defensive line will need to maintain focus for a full game and avoid fatigue and complacency issues like raising pad levels. Our linebackers will need to overcome some early injuries and provide more proper gap control. Our secondary must grow up but, I feel, will be jam up as we get deeper into conference play. Special teams needs to maintain composure every time the ball is kicked. We cannot afford ANY goofs here.