Kevin C. Cox
Happy New Year to all. First and foremost, big win by our Tigers. I'll be the first to admit that I thought a win would be a rather long shot based on all I'd seen from both teams this season. I am very happy that I was incorrect there and that Clemson was able to pull this one out. Congrats to the players, staff, and all the folks who helped this team along the way-I hope you celebrated the win well along with the rest of us Tiger fans.
I will give a lecture in a minute but I swear if people talk enough trash, I will go all Michael PS Hayes on you:
I'd like to go ahead and bring up two points before getting further into the bowl discussion. First and foremost, this was indeed a big win for Clemson. It was, however, not the ultimate item-just a single game in a 3+ month season. While I encourage you to enjoy the victory, please, please remember that it is just one of thirteen games our Tigers played in the 2012 season. Even though the Sweatshirt took the national stage to blast us, that doesn't change the fact that we have issues in S&C-just to name one of the items that need improvement. We will get neck deep into these items with our position analyses. I think it is clear that Clemson still has many other issues to address before we can attain my next point.
The second matter is a glorious point and one that we here at STS will hold this staff and program accountable. Coach Dabo proclaimed this team of National Championship quality in his post-match interview with "Mean Gene." Those words are music to our ears and something we have been waiting on for some time. I almost ditched any reference to the Peach Bowl just to talk about this subject. Here at STS we toss around those two words a good bit, often to reader criticism, because we think the grand prize is something we all should focus upon. The fact is, we need to be chasing down MNC's-that is why you play the game. While I disagree that this Clemson team is of National Championship quality right now, that is the end prize and Dabo has officially initiated this conversation. We have always held this program to that standard but now, per the words of Coach Dabo, we are National Championship contenders...fine by me, that is everyone's goal and now there is no excuse for not putting on your big boy pants every morning and making the big boy decisions and playing the big boy football. These are things you have to do to be an MNC contender year in and year out. Nut up or shut up.
Let me also give everyone a heads up. We have caught absolute hell several times over our STS career. And we think we are correct. Anyone out there who wants to talk shit about STS or to any of our writers, we got two words for you:
Onto the actual Peach Bowl...I wrote a good bit of the bowl related stuff in this article following the Peach Bowl on Monday night/Tuesday morning. Thus, I think some of these items have been beaten to death since...I apologize if you've seen this before but don't think it unreasonable to request you suck it up and plow through if I become repetitive.
Everyone deserves a pat on the back following the Peach Bowl. Individual shoutouts are in order for Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins, the Clemson defense, Catman, and Spencer Benton in particular. The obvious credit goes to Tajh. He played one hell of a game and was tough as nails. I don't think I gave him the credit he deserved over the course of the season but the performance against LSU was something else and night/day different than what we saw out of him against Scar. He was able to overcome obvious shortcomings on our offensive line with his scrambling ability, fought for a lot of tough yards, and put the football in some tough places. Additionally, Nuk had a monster game and ripped it up. These guys did all this work without the aid of Sammy Watkins-moving the LSU secondary's bullseye directly on Hopkins. The Clemson defense stepped up-particularly the play up front and through linebacker pressure. All this helped the secondary which also played much better than we'd seen during the regular season. Garry Peters' play sticks out to me along with several nice plays from Travis Blanks. Catman put a blocked PAT behind him and was able to drill a pair of field goals-the latter being the deciding factor. Benton and the punt team will not be the first on everyone's praise list but they deserve their due. Clemson averaged 43.5 yards per punt and gave up only 5 yards per return on four returns. Keep in mind that LSU has a very dangerous punt return team.
"How did Clemson win?" you'll now ask. First and foremost, they took LSU's punches and didn't give up. Despite being down for most of the game, the Tigers kept playing hard. Clemson also assisted in 10 of LSU's points through unfortunate turnovers and failed to convert a PAT. The team was able to overcome these errors to pull out the win. Clemson, and Tajh Boyd in particular, overcame some poor offensive line play to eventually wear out the Bayou Bengals by running 100+ plays. I'll get into the specifics of that one in a bit. Clemson's defense was able to put consistent pressure on Zach Mettenberger and the defensive backs covered well-only giving up a couple 15+ yard pass completions. Overall, when all was on the line, Clemson found a way to win in the fourth quarter.
Our coaching staff did a better job than theirs. Dabo used timeouts wisely. The Chad should have run the ball with Ellington or McDowell more and less with Tajh IMO, but his style wore down the opponent and moved the ball outside of the third quarter. While we question LSU's offensive strategy, Venables' defense was ready and played their best game of the season. Conversely, Les Miles missed an opportunity to make Clemson punt at the end of the first half. Greg Studrawa played against their strengths and placed his bets on Zach Mettenberger. LSU's final offensive possession defies any logic. Why this team would throw the ball three consecutive times in such a situation makes no sense whatsoever...instead of running down the clock and/or at a minimum forcing Clemson to use timeouts, LSU's decision not to run the ball there is just stupid. John Chavis' defense gave us that soft Mustang defense we discussed in the preview on the final drive. This was another critical mistake and definitely assisted our Tigers in moving the ball into field goal range. Clemson's staff was able to take advantage of what LSU gave them, put their players in positions to make plays, and won with less overall talent than our Louisiana foe. The ultimate proof was on the scoreboard.
When I heard the announcers say that Clemson was nearing the 100 play mark, I really didn't think we were anywhere close. Our tempo didn't seem consistently fast with many check with me calls and progressions that went deep into the play clock. These snaps were aided by LSU and the Clemson defense as well. Clemson forced a ton of three and outs from the LSU offense and LSU chose to pass the ball more than anyone really expected going into this game. Passing plays to some extent extend the game by nature. The three and outs meant that LSU (A) did not methodically move down the field and (B) gave the Clemson offense more control over the pace of play. The combination of these things and several sustained Clemson drives quietly moved the play count up. At the end of the football game it was the LSU defenders who were falling out instead of our Tigers, a definite advantage over the Louisiana State crew and a byproduct of all those plays.
On the LSU side, I was vexed by their offensive strategy. Sure Clemson did stop them on several third and short runs but Jeremy Hill had 125 yards on just 12 carries. LSU scarcely used their bread and butter running plays emphasized here prior to the football game. I was sure that their meager use of the run in the first half would be corrected in the second half and LSU did respond with a long TD run off the isolation play to start the third quarter. They then continued to unsuccessfully throw the football and inexplicably abandoned the ground game. If they made a better effort to establish the run they would have been able to better control the clock and pace of play. This item definitely hurt them and helped us-no question about that item.
There were some glaring issues last night for our Tigers. Like my criticism of LSU, I am not sure why The Chad chose to ignore Andre Ellington and Roderick McDowell for large portions of the football game. Those two guys combined for 77 yards on 18 carries. I would have liked to see more of a commitment to the ground game to keep the LSU defense more honest and to pull some carries off the quarterback's back and back onto the runningbacks. Clemson has done this several times this season-most recently against South Carolina-so it is not new that we have concerns in this play calling area.
The Clemson offensive line got manhandled for most of the evening. Yes I understand there were some injuries, but injuries alone won't explain away most of the issues. LSU was constantly winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and kept Tajh Boyd scrambling around all night long. Yes, these guys were still standing at the end of the night but they were also overwhelmed for most of the game. Without watching film, the key culprits appeared to be getting lazy with the feet and repetitive explosive strength. We've complained about both here...particularly issues with our strength program. We also looked a little confused by presnap DL movement and some basic stunts. There were a couple plays that stuck out and LSU getting great pressure with a basic three man rush in the first half was one of those. We'll have to watch the film to fully understand all issues present in Atlanta.
The Clemson kickoff and kickoff return teams had a poor showing. Kickoff return was won by a very talented LSU kickoff team. In retrospect, we would have been much better off taking the touchback and the ball at the 25 instead of trying to make things happen. LSU simply swarmed our returners all night. The Clemson kickoff team gave up 91 yards to Michael Ford on two returns. We've had kickoff contain issues all season and these two returns gave the Bayou Bengals great field position to start drives. I will point out that Clemson was able to put the ball through the endzone on several occasions which is something I wish we could do more consistently.
Coach Dabo went his usual nuts after the game. I really don't care one way or another as I've grown used to such. Hell, if it helps on the recruiting train, keep on screaming, yelling, and kissing reporters. I was a little disappointed to see him use this large stage to defend his strength program-a program that is not even popular with some very important (and highly paid) coaches on the current staff. This is clearly an issue that the Sweatshirt dug his heels in and will not budge...and the outcome of this football game seems to give him ammunition to keep fighting this fight.
Outside of Clemson, there were some other interesting football games this bowl season. Duke's collapse made me want to vomit. They gave that game away. NCST was the embarrassment of the conference, getting curb stomped by Vanderbilt. I knew we could count on someone to get killed in such a fashion and NC State is an obvious choice-they weren't really that good to begin with and were playing with a temporary coaching staff in place following O'Brien's dismissal. I was impressed with Georgia Tech. While I don't think that USC really cared a bit about the Sun Bowl, at least the Yellow Jackets came to play and whipped ass. I can't stand Lane Kiffin and was happy they got taken behind the woodshed-particularly pleased that it was a mediocre/bad football team like Tech that did the beating.
In state, South Carolina squeaked one out against Michigan. The talk of that game was the botched first down followed by Clowney's game changing hit. Clearly poor communication on the offensive line and the result was near decapitation. Carolina loses a good bit on their defense so we'll be interested to see if they can continue the success they've recently enjoyed next season. Georgia also won their bowl game. This one was interesting and a back and forth affair between them and Nebraska until UGa pulled away later in the game. We'll all be interested in who returns to Athens for the '13 season. Clemson opens with them and having to break in new starters wouldn't be a bad thing for our Tigers. I think it is an advantage to get them early. Hopefully leaders at both schools can find a way to make this a permanent game on the schedule. It is silly that these two schools only play once a decade or so these days.
Florida State was able to take care of an unworthy Orange Bowl opponent in Northern Illinois. The BCS committee needs to address the circumstances surrounding this team getting into the Orange Bowl. If you are FSU, that is a terrible pull. You play Northern freaking Illinois. You beat Northern Illinois, well whoopty shit. You lose to Northern Illinois and, well, you've lost to Northern freaking Illinois. At least FSU showed up to pull away in the fourth quarter as anything less than a double digit win would have just sucked for them.
Florida/Louisville was nice for me to watch. While I question how excited Florida was to be in the Sugar Bowl instead of the MNC game, I do not question Louisville's desire to win that football game. Charlie Strong had his team well prepared for the Gators and really showed why (A) Louisville has improved dramatically under his watch and (B) why he is constantly mentioned for other jobs around the country. He cleaned up the shitstorm Steve Kragthorpe left there and is moving that program in the direction Bobby Petrino had it moving towards starting a decade ago. I am glad that the ACC-and everyone's favorite commissioner-finally removed its head from anus and picked up Louisville for our conference.
Let me go ahead and give credit to Coach Dabo. He finally hit the topic we all love. If we don't win a national championship, it is a failure. Your coach has said such. We love bitching and moaning about championship quality. We motherfuck each other on this site and get after each others' ass. The one thing that gets us all fired up is a national championship. Me and Dr. B agreed...Coach Dabo is on top of things and we will be sure that his effort is #1.
When you hear us bitch and moan, just remember...we asked for this years ago. The Sweatshirt has confirmed the precedent. It was set by Clemson's head coach, not myself or the rocket scientist. The expectation is a national championship. i am not making this up, your coach has set that bar. And we love it as we've been screaming MNC for years here at STS.
The expectation is a National Championship.