Yesterday's game was tough to watch. The combination of poor play in the secondary, a defensive line that is terribly green, unnecessary trick plays, frustrating special teams, and questionable decisions from our sidelines made you just shake your head. Before I get too deep into this one, I will go ahead and point out that, yes we were able to win and win in a place that we struggled at historically. There is a lot to be said about that and a lot to be said about Clemson following a tough loss last week with a victory.
Yes, Nuk had a monster game. Yes, Tajh played extremely tough. Adam Humphries keeps on surprising me-that guy is tough and flat out wide open all the time. He is someone you look at and say "I wish we had a team of Adam Humphries" just because of the effort and desire with which he plays. Travis Blanks, that young man is a football player. This team still has a lot of work ahead of it but, fortunately, can still win a bunch of conference games.
We'll start with the good. DeAndre Hopkins is a beast. If he is not as fast as Sammy, he is just a fraction of a step behind. The long pass that many of you say he got run down from behind on would have been a touchdown if the ball was thrown a touch further down the field. All the offseason football related work he put in last winter/spring/fall is being put on display every week. He gives a tremendous effort and works his tail off each and every play. His 197 yards receiving set a school record. Through just five games (two of which he didn't play but a half) he has over 604 yards receiving. With seven left, he'll easily get over the 1000 mark.
Tajh at times telegraphed some passes and had a couple passes I wish he wouldn't have thrown but, all in all, played well. I was impressed with how tough he ran the football today in addition to the 370 yards and 3 TDs he had through the air. His 42 yards on the ground were critical at times and the steamroll job he put together in the second half to get a key first down was very impressive. You would not have seen a lot of this last season and we need his legs as a weapon to keep drives going as this season wears on. You don't however, want him to take too many shots-only when absolutely necessary-but do want to be confident he'll put his head down to get you that extra yard.
We told you we thought Travis Blanks was the biggest signee of last February's cycle. He came through with quite a few big plays Saturday. He did make some mistakes but he is a freshman and his talent/athleticism is something special. He is the real deal and will turn a lot of heads before he is done in Tigertown.
While we are discussing defensive backs, let's just say that Peters and Brewer better be starting at the corners next week and hopefully get the vast majority of reps. Keep Robinson off the field. From yesterday's game, I have no clue why he was in there over Peters to begin with. Keep Brewer out of the safety position.
I thought Peters played well enough today to get the key snaps. He made a couple really good plays on the football and looked like he actually knew what was going on. His interception late in the 4th should have sealed the deal. Along those same lines, Rashard Hall is much better at FS than Brewer (and Brewer better at CB than most of our roster corners). Hall is now a 4th year starter and should be better equipped to play the position anyway. I only wish he didn't suffer such an intense injury last season because he was impressive in 2009 and '10.
Now the bitter pill: This secondary is simply not good as it stands today. I am not sure how much better they will get this year, especially when you consider how little we really know about the consistency of our front four to date. That is not an excuse for our secondary, just a valid point. A front four that can effectively put pressure on the passer makes the defensive backs' jobs much easier. The DBs again looked lost and could not account for the Rattig's main receiver. How you allow Amidon to rip you for nearly 200 yards is inexplicable. 42 of those yards were a touchdown catch in which the Clemson secondary was completely suckered by play action...from a team that totaled 22 carries for 61 yards from their only running back (and 30 of those yards came on one play). Your safety cannot get sucked in like that, especially when you are in what appears to be C3. The man over the top absolutely has to provide help to the corners who are responsible for their deep portion of the field. This crap has been going on all year and is flat out unacceptable. We have seen it against all of our opponents sans Furman and have to get a handle on this crap if we are to beat another team not affiliated with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The jamming of Boston College receivers? Still non-existent. Jamming receivers properly redirects the receivers' routes, throws off timing, and flat out pisses off the offense. You won't jam in C3/C4 looks, likely M2M or in a hard C2. The most obvious place to jam is on the goal line to establish inside position and take away the quick slant/seam/timing routes that will kill you deep inside your own territory. Press M2M is another common and effective place to jam. Watch the defensive backs on Sunday and you'll see this week in and out. You'll recall FSU was widely successful being physical with our receivers last week, throwing them off their routes in the five yard contact zone around the LOS. No jam gave BC an easy pitch and catch for a redzone TD yesterday. If you are more interested, here is an article we wrote about basic defensive back techniques including the jam.
I don't even know where to start with our defensive line other than to just hope that they are green and hope they will develop in time for the '13 season. Goodman is the most disappointing of the group. He may have gotten worse over the course of his college career. He definitely is slower and got blown up by a running back yesterday. That is pathetic. While we played better here yesterday than we have most all year (probably more so inside), we are still severely lacking and I am not sure how good of a measuring stick BC is for this unit. This season is nothing more than a development league. That last statement is the combination of recruiting strategy and a severe lack of defensive line rotation last season. We pointed to this all year last year.
It is a little humorous to look there and see 225 lb Vic Beasley lined up opposite a 6'7" 325 lb offensive tackle. Then you quit laughing because you realize your end gives up 100 lbs to the opposition AND Beasley has only been at this spot for a few months. And this is no knock on Beasley-he has been moved all over the place and finally placed in that role out of pure necessity. We were unable to full these roles year in and out through recruiting so you end up with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores with little experience then have to fill holes with after moving a player to three different positions.
Offensive line recruiting is about as ridiculous. How we don't fill these roles each and every cycle is inexplicable. We will take one offensive lineman this cycle. That means we will likely have another dropoff/mass-rebuilding campaign again in three years.
While the offensive line is much better than the defensive line's progression in my opinion, it still presents questions. I was sorely disappointed with the interior blocking. Sure Ellington got his 130+ yards, but a huge chunk of that came on the late-4th quarter scamper. I got no problem with Ellington. You know I think he is a jam up runningback. He is lightning quick through the hole and has good enough vision to find even the smallest crease. So when he starts getting shut down, it is because there is nothing to get. We have been ineffective running A-gap to A-gap (as Morris really wants to do). That was apparent today and was the reason you saw so many jet sweeps and iterations with Sammy last week-to try and keep the defense off balance. A lot of that is from necessity because the OL could not line up and create a crease without such items.
Again, this I hope is just a product of inexperience AND Clemson's offense is good enough with its skills players to put a lot of points on the board without a stud OL. They will get better and I am more encouraged with this group than the DL. I certainly like their effort and attitude compared to some we've seen under Brad Scott. It is not their fault they are inexperienced and surely not their fault that we have one senior and one junior on the line (excluding Shatley, who had to switch sides of the ball out of necessity). We have to do better filling those roles in each recruiting cycle. I understand the issues involved with the '09 class (we even took two linemen that year--unfortunately J.K. Jay is no longer able to play football), but that should be a perfect example of why it is important to maintain consistent numbers at every position in every recruiting class--to avoid ebbs and flows due to attrition. That and we don't now have players who half try and piss away their raw talent.
Some of the decisions just had me scratching my head. I still don't understand the need for all the trick plays. Are we so rough up for yards that we cannot just line up and run the basic offense against Boston freaking College? I thought this offense was supposed to be hell on wheels? Do they really need trick plays? We had 576 total yards yesterday...there is no need to get cute to move the football. The decision to call a trick play in the first half killed momentum and really gave the opponent a shot in the arm. Clemson had them reeling with their base attack and could have slammed the door shut in the 2nd quarter with a scoring drive that was in enemy territory.
Also, up 14 and deep into the 4th, I am not sure how you do not punt with the ball so far into your own territory. Punt the ball and make the opponent drive to beat you. I understand the desire to hold onto the football but the risk I don't believe is worth the reward. We call a fake field goal and cannot get it off in time. I know, these are the plays that make coaches either goats or heroes. I just think that Clemson is good enough to beat BC with their base stuff and that a mistake with one of these cute plays could really blow up in your face and allow an inferior football team a break that they don't deserve.
The other item of concern is the roller coaster ride Coach Dabo gives this team. I understand he is an emotional guy and have no problem there. It is one of the reasons he ascended from walk-on to head football coach and there is nothing wrong with emotion. The item I have is extreme highs and lows this brings. His job is to manage the game and it is very, very tough to make good decisions with so much emotion involved. To his credit, Dabo has filled roles around him well and has learned to take a step back and lower the amount of meddling. I don't want Swinney to lose passion, enthusiasm, etc...but do hope he can temper the highs and not take the lows so personally. This would likely improve game management. Shit happens. This is football. There are gonna be good things and bad but there is always the next play and another decision that has to be made. He is the head man and must make the critical gameplay decisions, especially those involving what to do in 4th down situations.
So, where do we go from here? I don't believe the defense can improve enough to win us football games by itself. This is essentially a learning year for a large portion of this unit and I hope the coaches see it for what it is. Our secondary can marginally improve with personnel changes mentioned earlier and with improvement in technique. We saw tons of bad things there yesterday that have to be improved. We have to get a deeper rotation on the DL to gain experience and assure those guys are not worn down at the end of football games. Linebackers have a ways to go. They are fundamentally lacking-not so much from a skill standpoint but more from an understanding and strategy implementation standpoint. Too often they position themselves out of plays by doing things like being in the wrong gap, getting washed out on counters and the like, and ineffectiveness implementing basic items like scraping. We have to get the right players in the right positions and assure people know their assignments. Like the DL, we need to assure we get youngsters in the games so we aren't playing a bunch of green players in '13. The safety position is of particular concern because both Meeks and Hall will be gone in a year.
Offensively, there is no lack of fire power at the skills position as we all know. I would like to be able to give Ellington more rest through substitution but think we're fine there. We use enough spread formations that the WR rotation and talent at the position makes this the deepest on the team. Tajh is evolving into a more complete player and the work he put in the last year and a half has been noticed. That leaves us with trying to improve the guys up front and they will get better. We all would like to have two deep quality depth and see a deeper rotation up front. Otherwise, I believe The Chad can get a little pass happy at times. I guess I cannot blame him after praising the receivers earlier and do think he is the reason Clemson is a Top-15 football team right now.
Next up is Ga Tech. We'll be reviewing their offensive strategy this week and referencing items that explain how Paul Johnson's attack really works. Their defense is crap and we should light them up every time Clemson has the ball. Their offense, however, will be geared towards keeping the ball away from Tajh and crew. I can't blame them.
As you all know, there is Neckcar, Falcons host the Panthers, and the Ryder Cup concludes today. I am hoping Dale Jr. can put together a couple good finishes over the next few weeks and get back into the hunt. Dirty Birds will soar this afternoon. However, my main focus will be on the golf. What a weekend it has already been for the Americans! Mickelson and Bradley have simply rolled their opponents so far with the ridiculous 7-6 win Saturday morning over Westwood and Donald. They were simply on fire. The most incredible single performance was in the Woods/Stricker match Friday afternoon. The Americans put together a magnificent round only to be beaten singlehandedly by Colsaerts. I believe the European was 9 or 10 under by himself and drained bombs from all points of each green. It was likely the best single performance I've ever seen in Ryder Cup play and equates to the someone winning a wrestling "handicap match" against two fantastic players.
Otherwise, the Americans have flat out dominated, leading 10-6 going into Sunday's singles matches. Match play golf is very exciting and we will see some battles here. Eventually, though, you must think that with the raucous home crowd behind them, the US representatives will bring the Cup back to the States. Four points is something that is almost insurmountable-especially if the Americans keep their excellent play going.
Now the event itself is something special. Most golfers consider representing their country in this event one of the most important things they can do in their careers. Unlike most golf tournaments that are proper with whispers and brief clapping, this event is the equivalent of a pep rally, tailgate party, and golf exhibition all rolled into one. There is a definite home field advantage. The crowds are out of control. The players get rowdy. The caddies will be waving flags around and talking trash. In a nutshell, this is all about whipping ass for your country-proper decorum is not required. I love the traditionalism and "stuffiness" that sometimes accompanies the game but this event is out of control and just fun to watch. So don your favorite American Flag tank top/swimming shorts, get the Stars and Stripes ready to wave, and pull on your country to a big victory later on today.
Watch the Americans Act a Fool on the 17th Green During the '99 Ryder Cup