Even though Clemson had a bye week, we got some information as to what we can expect over the next couple of months. Here is a little insight on what the fourth Saturday in September really showed us. We will start with an out of conference game that probably told us the most about our own team then will discuss conference foes to try and understand how this season may shape up.
South Carolina had a chance to beat Auburn Saturday but could not get it done. This was a back and forth contest that saw Carolina blow a lead in the fourth quarter while seeing repeated mistakes from the quarterback position. Auburn, to its credit, scorched the Gamecocks on the ground as Cam Newton ran up and down the field for the Tigers. Auburn's defense was able to hold Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore to 33 yards on 14 carries, proving that he can be stopped. On the night, Carolina ran the ball 28 times for 79 yards. South Carolina turned the ball over four (4) times on the night including two interceptions by Freshman Conner Shaw and a critical fumble by Stephen Garcia. Give Auburn credit for staying in the football game and making the most of their opponent's shortcomings to overcome a double digit deficit and win a football game for the second consecutive week.
This game may be the most insightful about the health of the Clemson football team to date. We learned a good bit about Clemson's team and a fair amount about the final regular season opponent of the year. First off, I thought last week that the Clemson fan base was giving Auburn too much credit. As stated last week, the Alabama version of the Tigers are probably the third best team in the West, possibly the fourth best assuming Les Miles continues utilizing his superb talent to overcome lack of in-game coaching and the Mustang defense (sorry to digress). Thus, Clemson still has a lot of work to do to get better and we probably are not as far along as most of our fan base would like to believe.
From the South Carolina perspective, they are probably in about the same boat we are with the exception being that they have an off-weak then will have to play the Alabama Crimson Tide in Columbia. South Carolina's first three opponents are, simply put, not an acceptable measuring stick for the this team. Honestly, Southern Miss and Georgia got more credit than they deserved going into their games (more on Georgia in a bit) and Furman is a very well coached fundamental team that simply does not have the talent to compete with the bigger schools. Auburn is a middle of the road SEC team that would probably be the second best team if it played in the East but is no better than the third best team from the West.
Don't get me wrong, South Carolina has some dangerous talent. Their two big receivers, Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley, will present matchup problems for their opponents all year. Jeffrey touched up the Auburn defense to the tune of 192 yards and two touchdowns. Another offensive player that I like is Ace Sanders. This kid is elusive, quick, and will make some plays this season for the Gamecocks.
I am not sold on South Carolina's offensive front as they were not able to run the ball against Auburn. I believe that Lattimore's big game against Georgia probably had more to do with poor play out of Georgia's defensive line than great talent up front for the Cocks. Do not take this criticism the wrong way. Lattimore is a really good running back who has been impressive when you look at his entire collegiate body of work to date. I just think Carolina still has a long way to go up front if they want to run against better opponents.
I am also not sold on the quarterback position. Garcia had a decent night throwing the football but was benched late in the game because he could not hold onto the ball. Getting benched at the most critical time in a football game for a Freshman? That tells you how much confidence the ‘Ole Ball Coach has in his Junior Quarterback. I expect that we will see a lot of Conner Shaw as this season progresses as Spurrier appears to have had enough of the Stephen Garcia experiment.
Carolina's defense was pathetic last night. Billy Napier, listen up: LINE UP AND POUND THE BALL WHEN WE PLAY THESE GUYS. They got touched up for nearly 500 yards total offense against Auburn with two Auburn players rushing for at least 100 yards. The year may change but the formula never changes. Run the freaking football!
Georgia Tech: Tech has fallen dramatically since winning last season's ACC crown. The Jacket's defense is a joke. Look at what North Carolina State did to this defense yesterday, touching up the Yellow Jackets to the tune of nearly 530 yards (around 160 on the ground and 368 through the air). Yes, GT gave up 45 in this loss. Giving up such large chunks of yardage and an extreme number of points is tough on their offense. Saturday, Tech was forced to attempt to throw the ball because they were down big. Josh Nesbitt was 5 of 18 for 116 yards and a touchdown. GT looked extremely uncomfortable throwing the ball and will not win a lot of games if Nesbitt is asked to utilize the forward pass extensively this season.
What does this mean for Clemson? Surely Georgia Tech is a beatable football team. They looked terrible all around Saturday particularly on defense. Clemson should be able to line up and attack their defensive line. I would not be surprised to see Clemson rush for 250 yards against this team if they play in the same fashion as they did against NC State.
NC State: We will play a much improved NC State squad this season. I am not sure if Tom O'Brien is finally getting through there or if having a healthy squad is making the difference, but State looks much better so far this season than they have in years past. While I am not ready to crown the Pack as the class of the ACC yet (I was amazed at how many of the talking heads Saturday were ready to place them atop the conference already), I will say that Russell Wilson has played extremely well to date. His TD to INT ratio (11/1) is the first thing that catches my attention on the stat sheet. I guess I should note that his lone interception was a pick-six Saturday against GT that really did not effect the outcome of the game. His pure athletic ability and evolution into a more mature signal caller have gained my attention.
Effect on Clemson? The Wolfpack have Virginia Tech, East Carolina, FSU, and Boston College between today and Clemson's game so we will get a few more good looks at this team before they come to Death Valley. This team looks improved and will give Clemson a tougher test than they have over the past few seasons...how tough of a test is still to be determined.
We had a few comments on the Miami Hurricanes yesterday. The "U" is talented but has already lost a game (Ohio State) with blunders from QB Jacory Harris. Harris will make mistakes and Clemson must capitalize on some of his poor decisions/poor throws. Else, Harris has all the talent to make some amazing plays so we absolutely have to take advantage of his in-game errors. We will have more in-depth insight this week as the Canes travel to Death Valley for a Noon game this Saturday.
North Carolina rallied in the second half to squeeze out a close one against Rutgers. I really don't know how useful it is for us to talk about this team when I am still confused about who is eligible and who will play when we meet them in a few weeks. We will obviously be focused on UNC's available personnel as we get closer to our trip to Chapel Hill.
Florida State whipped Wake Forest 31-0 yesterday. While the ‘Noles may not be back, the folks in Tallahassee had to like the shutout pitched by the FSU defense. We all knew that Florida State's offense should be pretty good coming into this season with the majority of their offensive questions pertaining to player dismissal issues. I admit I may have been a little bullish in the offseason saying that Florida State will jump to the top of the ACC with a regime change, but still think they are moving in the correct direction. Wake Forest is moving in the opposite direction.
In terms of Clemson, this game showed two teams on different ends of the spectrum. Wake, which has been a thorn in the Tiger's side for quite some time now, is not the team that challenged and won an ACC Championship several years ago. This team can definitely still run the football but has definite shortcomings in all other offensive and defensive areas. Anyone who gives up nearly 50 points to Duke needs to get their act together defensively. While there is time for improvement, I don't think that this team will provide too much completion for the rest of the ACC.
Florida State must demand attention. Oklahoma really exposed this team all around, but I think that the ‘Noles are better than the score indicated in that one. Christian Ponder is (obviously) a fantastic quarterback. Clemson gets the ‘Noles in mid-November. I really would have preferred to play these guys earlier in the year because their defense will surely get better as these players get more experience running a real defense (unlike what we saw last season) and the offense, I would imagine, will be clicking after playing the majority of the season. FSU goes down to Miami on October 9 and has a Thursday night game at NC State between now and our trip to Tallahassee. We should have a better idea of what they have after the "U" game as it is always nice to compare the two teams against a common quality opponent.
Maryland struggled early before pulling away from FIU.42-28. Maryland is a bad football team that will likely be looking for a new coach after this season. Maryland has not impressed me all season. They were very lucky to beat Navy and were taking some early against Florida International yesterday. Clemson should come in focused on this game largely because of the egg the Tigers laid in College Park last year. The one advantage that the Terps will have going into their contest in Clemson is the benefit for an off week prior to the contest.
The final shoutout here goes to our favorite Dawgs. Georgia is a bad football team, as illustrated by Mississippi State dropping the hammer on Georgia last night. Georgia's defensive effort was nothing short of pathetic. Georgia looked lazy and apparently have not been taught how to tackle. This is exactly what Mark Richt deserves for refusing to get rid of Willie Martinez. Yes, I know that Martinez is no longer in Athens. However, the legacy that he leaves behind will take a minimum of two years to undo. Let this be a lesson to coaches around the nation: When one of your coaches becomes a liability and does not positively contribute to your team, immediate action is necessary. You cannot allow such a coach to remain on staff and yearly effect your team. Five years ago we all spoke of the Dawgs as one of the nation's best teams. Georgia's only saving grace this season is that Tennessee is probably a worse team and they get to play their annual in-conference games against Vandy and Kentucky.