Monday Notes: The Aftermath of Wofford

For the second week in a row, Clemson came out flat, this time to a significantly inferior opponent, in a game they had to win in the fourth quarter.  These first two games on Clemson's schedule should have served as simply a tune up for week 3 when Auburn comes to town, a team that itself is susceptible to giving up a ton of points yet keeps on winning, but instead Clemson spent the majority of both games fighting for a win.  

Auburn coach Gene Chizik saw some improvement along his defense Saturday, but his overall Sunday assessment didn't change much from Week 1 to Week 2.

"We're not physical enough up front consistently. There is so much room for improvement defensively," he said.

"There were parts in there that we played pretty well on defense. We're just too inconsistent right now. Third downs are most glaring. We can't get off the field," he said.

"I thought there were times when we played well on defense, but overall we're not anywhere close to where we need to be."

The offense?

"That being said, that goes for the offense, too Offensively, there's a lot of room for improvement."

For this game, we wanted to see a Clemson front come out and assert itself against a far less talented Wofford defense. That didn't happen.  We also wanted to witness a Clemson defense exhibit better tackling and containment, but we didn't see that either, as the Terrier offense racked up nearly 400 yards of offense, doing so over 33 plus minutes of the game.

Paul Johnson is rubbing his hands together with glee watching Clemson game film. So is Gus Malzahn: Clemson’s defense has looked utterly mortal over the first two weeks, giving up 399 yards to Wofford and keeping both Troy and Wofford in the game into the second half. Saturday, it gave up several key busts, allowing Wofford passes for 61 and 66 yards...Clemson’s line went without a sack for the first time in over a year, a function of Wofford’s option scheme, but they had only one against Troy.

For Clemson, it's alarming, especially with the difficult three game stretch coming up that includes three 20 top teams, one of which will be in Lane Stadium, a place Clemson was physically abused last time they traveled there.  One glaring weakness that was again demonstrated on Saturday was Clemson's defensive struggles to stop the run.  The defense followed up a first game in which they gave up 4.6 yards a rush, with a similar performance, yielding 272 yards on the ground and 4.7 yards a rush.  There is little time to work on correcting this before a much more talented Auburn offense walks in Death Valley having just accumulated 235 yards on the ground against an SEC defense. If the Tigers cannot solve their issues against the ground game -- Clemson is allowing one yard more per carry than a season ago -- life will become difficult with Auburn, No. 5 Florida State and a trip to No. 11 Virginia Tech up next on the schedule.

"I guess we are going to have to start scrimmaging on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to make sure we don't miss tackles," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said.

There were issues through the air, too.

Wofford (1-1) had just two pass completions, but the catches went for 127 yards and a touchdown. Clemson's secondary was loaded with inexperience as safety Rashard Hall was held out (knee) and starting cornerback Xavier Brewer was serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.

"I don't know that I've ever been in a game where I've seen two passes completed for 127 yards," Steele said, "but I don't know that I've been in a game that I've seen two guys that wide open."

At this point, blame for Clemson's back to back lackluster performances rests squarely on the shoulders of Head Coach Dabo Swinney.  The lack of toughness his offense front exhibited is going to have to be fixed, and quickly.  Offensive efficiency, specifically on third and fourth down, has continued to plague the Tigers, and it's inability to stay on the field and sustain drives will take its turn on a young and not very deep Clemson defense.  

The Tigers had hoped to carry momentum against the Terriers and put them away in a hurry.

Instead, Wofford's pesky triple-option attack had the Tigers' inexperienced defense on its heels much of the opening quarter. After Clemson fullback Chad Diehl was stopped on fourth-and-1 at midfield, the Terriers took just five plays to break on top as Mitch Allen finished the drive with a 27-yard TD run.

The 35 offensive points put up on Saturday came as a result of young players, particularly freshman, stepping up.  Perhaps this year, unlike any other year in recent memory, we are going to have to rely on these highly skilled, but highly inexperienced players, to carry this offense if the veterans continue to not produce.  

Clemson got those points thanks to a 42-yard Boyd to Martavis Bryant pass, a 74-yard Andre Ellington  touchdown, a 38-yard pass from Boyd to Sammy Watkins, a five-yard Boyd touchdown and a 17-yard pass to Hopkins.

After game one in which Clemson was solid on special teams, they were anything but in game two against Wofford.  A team that is struggling to defensively stop anyone right now and an offense that has struggled to sustain drives, the Tigers can not afford to be anything but consistent on special teams.  At some point it's likely we will rely on both punter and kicker to either save a game or win one for us.

Special teams? They looked awful shaky Saturday, giving up a long fake punt, muffing an extra-point snap and running a very ill-advised (and ill-fated) fake field goal deep in Wofford territory.

And to wrap up, the most telling quote of the weekend goes to Wofford senior quarterback Mitch Allen:

"We knew we could play with these guys," Allen said.  "When we do what we do, it's hard for teams to stop up."

That's the sort of mentality we expect from Clemson, not the little Southern Conference school that walked into Death Valley as three and a half touchdown underdogs and gave the Tigers all they could handle.

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