There are plenty of good things to take from this contest and plenty of things the Clemson football team needs to improve upon.
What does this win really mean? We saw Clemson make plays late in a close game to preserve a victory. Learning to win tight ball games is important for any team that wants to win a bunch of ball games, so yesterday was definitely a step in the right direction. There was some improvement by our offense and some holes that have to be filled in other areas. There is no doubt the win is a quality "W," but I am not certain just how good this FSU team is due to some key missing players. Thus, I am cautiously optimistic following the ACC opener.
Tajh Boyd is developing well and is clearly getting better and better each week. Tajh contributed more to the offense this week running the football on both designed runs and after getting pressured out of the pocket. Boyd was mostly accurate on the afternoon and threw some nice touch passes in addition to some zingers across the middle of the field. Boyd improved on his progression reading and played well overall but still underthrew some of the long balls. The INT returned for a TD was a fluke play. Boyd must be alert enough to just eat the football in some situations. I agree that he deserves some grief, but won't sit here and harp on this too much after this paragraph. The Clemson QB must identify when a situation is so bad that you take your medicine and live to die another day. (I liken this to hitting an errant drive into the woods. Typically the best/smartest play is to pitch the ball out and continue to play the hole rather than trying to advance the golf ball and ending up in much worse shape than you were originally.)
Clemson's receivers are playing very well, all of them. Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins are clearly the headliners of this group but the Tigers got quality play out of Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown, and Adam Humphries as well. Sammy Watkins is straight up diesel and probably the best freshman in America. DeAndre Hopkins is just doing his thing and doing it well. We saw Bryant stretch the field, making a 33 yard reception and forcing a pass interference penalty against the ‘Noles Saturday. I will go ahead and throw Dwayne Allen in this group and give him his praise. Allen is an absolute matchup nightmare, as shown on his TD grab and a pass interference call he drew that was largely unavoidable due to the matchup (either the defender interferes or gives up a huge gain).
I continue to stay excited about the wide receiver and tight end blocking. Allen does what is needed at the LOS and does a good job in the open field. Our receivers did a good job again this week blocking for the swing and screen passes and are light years better here than one season ago.
The offensive line did a decent job against the pass rush Saturday. Boyd was pressured at times, but I expected such against a talented FSU defensive line. Phillip Price got beaten a couple times but, all in all, the walk on played well against some talented FSU ends.
I am still very concerned about Clemson's ability to run the ball, specifically between the tackles. Clemson created little room A-gap to A-gap which has handicapped this running game to date. Clearly Chad Morris was not confident the Tigers could overcome the speed and athleticism of FSU and chose not to run to the perimeter often, even limiting Sammy to three catches on the jet sweep. I will say Dalton Freeman's lack of attention at the goal line caused my blood pressure to rise (uncovered receiver at the bottom of the screen with Tajh yelling for him to snap the ball). While we did eventually score on that drive, better awareness by the junior center would have resulted in a gimmie TD (this after a Freeman ricochet off Tajh's facemask on a premature snap earlier in the game).
Special teams was absolutely abysmal and poor play here nearly cost the Tigers a lot of points and potentially the football game. Chandler Catanzaro was absolutely horrid on his lone field goal attempt. Missing field goals does a couple things. First, it keeps points off the board. Second, it switches momentum. Third, it creates doubt. In Clemson's case Saturday, the lack of confidence in Catman to convert a key kick kept him on the sidelines and the Tigers attempted a 4th down conversion inside of field goal range. For the record, I completely agree with the decision not to kick there because I don't have any confidence in our placekicking either. We simply have to do a better job converting 3-point plays because this crap is going to lose us a game at some point if it is not corrected.
The kickoff team did a poor job all afternoon. The players appeared to get out of their lanes frequently and missed a ton of tackles. We were fortunate that a big return was negated due to penalty, but holding and illegal blocks don't cause missed tackles and poor positioning.
Thanks to poor blocking, punter Dawson Zimmerman is injured. I have not seen the film to note where the deficiency lies, I can tell you the punt there should have been blocked (I am not sure how the defender missed the football) which would have resulted in points for Florida State. We'll look for the deficiency and point it out and will follow Zimmerman's injury. The senior is a very good punter and a very important part of this team.
You can bet Virginia Tech will watch this film and salivate thinking about how many points they can score against the Clemson special teams. If we do not make adjustments in our kicking game we'll continue to squander scoring opportunities and give the opposition opportunities to put points on the board while the defense is on the sidelines.
Defensively, we have issues. Florida State was one-dimensional yesterday and CU still gave up 23 defensive points. Florida State never enjoyed exceptional field position and a freshman quarterback dissected the Clemson pass defense to the tune of 336 yards and three touchdowns. Coty Sensabaugh has been picked on all year and got picked on yesterday. Simply put, Steele cannot put him in a man situation without safety help. Coty's size and ability to provide run support keep him closest to the boundary. Sensabaugh wasn't the only defender who had issues against FSU. Darius Robinson got beaten for a touchdown as well (although he had no safety help and Trickett had time to allow the play to evolve and the receiver get loose downfield).
I'll sum the concerns up by looking at FSU's circumstances. Florida State has not run the ball well all season and its leading rusher, QB E. J. Manuel, was injured and did not play. Because Manuel did not play, freshman Clint Trickett was forced into his first collegiate start. The ‘Noles had a ton of receiver injuries headed into this game. Even though Kenny Shaw played and scored a touchdown Saturday, he still looked timid at times after suffering a concussion last week (he had a key fourth quarter drop that looked like it was directly associated with "hearing the footsteps" as Rashard Hall was speeding over to lay a hit).
All wasn't lost on defense. While FSU has been pitiful running the ball all year, they did throw a wildcat wrinkle at our Tigers and Kevin Steele and company were able to make adjustments to mitigate this direct snap running attack. While I pointed out that FSU's starting QB was sidelined due to injury, Freshman Trickett played very well yesterday, IMO, particularly with so little in-game experience. That is two weeks in a row he has played well and Clemson was still good enough defensively to get the critical stop when it was needed.
As stated earlier, there is reason for cautious optimism. Clemson is 4-0 and has won the first two of a tough three game stretch. This definitely relieves Terry Don as his job at Clemson likely hinged on Clemson's success here. Again, we'll give Coach Swinney credit for the off-season staff changes and more props for identifying Chad Morris and taking the risk to hire him. Morris has molded Boyd into a good quarterback, particularly when you look at his game experience prior to this season and where he was one year ago. Morris brings a more objective view and a no-BS approach that wasn't there a year ago. Simply put, The Chad doesn't put up with a bunch of crap, requiring excellence in all facets of the game in order to see the field. This week his offense put up 35 and gained a ton of yards on a pretty good Seminole defense.
The other item Dabo gets the positive nod on is stout recruiting. Sammy Watkins' freshman year performance has, to this point, has been the new spark that really has this offense moving. Without Sammy, the opposition could focus solely on Nuk and Allen to better mitigate the HUNH attack.
We will be looking at Virginia Tech all week. Certainly their 4-4 "G" morph will give the Clemson offense a new look. The concern I have with VPI is their rushing attack and if Clemson can shut this down. Obviously a rushing attack sets up downfield passing through play action, which is what I have seen through my limited viewing of VTech so far (mainly through highlights). We'll see how tough mentally this team is this week in Blacksburg because, as many of you know, that is one of the toughest places to play at night in all of college football.
See highlights below followed by the Tigernet clips.
ESPN Game Highlights
More Game Highlights
Clemson Runs Down the Hill
Boyd TD Run>
Hopkins Long Catch in Traffic
Allen TD Catch
Watkins TD Catch