Ok, the post-FSU meltdown occurred and now it is time for all-things Clemson to go ahead and move forward. We will begin to examine Clemson's next opponent, the Boston College Eagles, take a look down the road at where this football team can end up despite the loss down in Tallahassee, and look at the program as a whole. I'll start with the last item first then work onto the other two.
I saw little attention made to this release and had heard rumors over the summer regarding Coach Swinney's contract extension. Via Freedom of Information Act, Clemson released terms of the contract to the media a week and a half ago. The buyouts for both sides are really high, meaning Clemson would have to shell out a chunk of change to get rid of Dabo and Dabo would owe Clemson a lot of cash should he leave the university. This (obviously) does not favor Clemson but is great for the coach as he is locked in for the next couple years. So long as Clemson does not extend this deal again, it likely shouldn't matter. The terms are stepped, so a departure in two years would cost significantly less than one today, three years less than two, and so on and so forth. We have pointed to 2013 as "the year," thus would not have expected or demanded any change prior to the end of that season anyway. I will go ahead and answer the question I've answered several times already, "Yes, Coach Dabo is much better than Tom Bowden. Much, much, much better."
The biggest concern I have following this season is when offensive coordinator Chad Morris will leave Clemson for a head coaching gig. I assure you his name will be a hot one this offseason and the only way that he will stay at Clemson for an extended period of time is if he were the head man (and we already discussed the fact that Swinney is locked in likely through the 2015 season, so that definitely is not happening). I hope we can keep him here through next season but fear that may not be possible. However, we know he's been asked to stay by his kids until they graduate HS. This plus a possible NC run should keep him through 2013.
As for our overall program, I believe we are headed in the right direction largely because the staff is pretty solid up and down, Swinney looks to be doing less meddling, and Clemson has been bringing in good talent through recruiting cycles. Again, we knew there would be a lot of growing pains this season. The combination of inexperience in critical positions along with a major defensive coaching change would present some issues for this team this season.
With all the issues previously discussed, Clemson still has an opportunity rack up a double digit win total. The rest of the schedule is very, very manageable. We head up to Boston this weekend. They are nothing special and should be a win. We get Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home. I will be honest, neither team has impressed me this season, though Ga Tech always gives us fits defending Paul Johnson's ground attack. VPI is not as good as they typically are, but have started slow before and picked up steam late in the year so I won't totally write them off but think they are very, very beatable. Wake Forest? Duke? Maryland? NC State? Clemson should be able to navigate through each of those teams with little issues.
However, we always manage to lose a game or two each year that we have no business losing so I wouldn't be surprised to see CU come out flat in one or two of those football games. That is where the real irritation occurs--not losing to a very good Florida State team but goofing around against a Duke or Wake. The last game of the year will be the only contest that Clemson is not automatically the favorite. South Carolina looked good Saturday though I still believe that Missouri is a bad football team as well. The fact that they looked capable of gaining yards through the air and on the ground concerns me, though we've discussed this issue off site and still are not sold that Carolina can stretch the field. That and their offensive line has been very unimpressive to this point. The point of this discussion isn't to break down all opponents but to point out that winning a lot of games--even with the issues we have--is very realistic because Florida State is the class of the ACC this season and Clemson is right behind them. After our Tigers, the gap increases dramatically. The Coastal is unimpressive to say the least. Anyone in the Atlantic not playing in Tallahassee last weekend is nothing to write home about.
More about our football team... Clemson has a lot going for it, particularly on the offensive side of the football. I still have concerns about the line but think they are improving and play well enough for the team to win a lot of games. Tajh is making better decisions and impressively has moved the chains this year by tucking the ball and running. Wide receivers and backs have played well to this point, but WRs must be more physical (see Batson). I will say that I would like to see more Andre Ellington rushes. 14 carries last Saturday was simply not enough. I understand that Clemson has offensive weapons on top of offensive weapons but you have to run the football to be successful.
Defensively, we are a mess. I've heard rumors that FSU's offensive line bragged that their scout team hit harder than our starters (see Batson). I know they are young and most have never been on such a big stage, but we absolutely have to get better up front. FSU, we thought, missed a lot of opportunities to simply line up and run Chris Thompson down our throats. The disparity between their offensive line and our defensive line is tremendous. Until we close this gap we will not be able to beat the big boys. You saw Venables trying everything he could think of to mitigate our poor play up front. We eventually settled on a three man front and used linebackers/DBs to try and put pressure on the FSU backfield. Our secondary is a mess as well, as we routinely look lost here. I expected more out of our linebackers as they have to get better overall, period. As a whole, we have done a terrible job the past several seasons of maintaining quarterback containment and Manuel had a big day running the ball because of this.
Special teams was up and down. The fake field goal early on was a call that worked out for the Tigers, though I believe we got a very favorable spot. Catman kicked fine. We got a break with an FSU punt fumble. Our kickoff coverage, though, has a lot to work on. Arguably, the long return in the second half shifted the momentum into Florida State's favor. Clemson has to do a better job running their lanes and keeping the opponent from turning these kicks into big returns. Ideally, we would kick the ball through the endzone each time but I do not think that is a realistic expectation based on some items we have heard from the coaches regarding inconsistencies from the kickers.
As bad as all this sounds, I believe Clemson's offense is good enough to carry this team. We will not play another team with as potent an offense as FSU the rest of this season and you have to think that there will be improvement from some young bucks. We'll still be cussing and moaning about the defense at the end of the season but I think other parts of the football team are good enough to overcome such poor play when the opponent has the football.
After Saturday night, we learned several things. First and foremost, Florida State more than likely will represent the ACC in the BCS. Clemson's defense has a tremendous amount of work to do, specifically up front, if we are to win big in the coming years. However, the season is not lost and our favorable schedule puts Clemson into a situation where 10 or more wins this season is a very, very possible objective to accomplish.
All this being said, our Tigers have to have a short memory and go ahead and get over this loss. While I am not impressed with BC to date, Clemson cannot go through the motions and must continue to get better each and every week. Also, I want to go ahead and warn BC fans. You are more than welcome to ask questions here and participate in civil conversations with the authors and other readers of this site. We will not, however, tolerate garbage. This is a Clemson-themed site, keep that in mind while posting this week.