Winning on the road on a Thursday night is never an easy task. The national spotlight is on you, the crowd is amped, and when you're the number three team in the country that bullseye becomes even bigger. It wasn't surprising then that Thursday night in Raleigh you saw a sluggish, out of sync Clemson squad in the first half. What Clemson has done as well as any team in the country though is make adjustments at halftime, and that was on display in a big way. Tajh, who looked flustered all first half throwing high and behind receivers, settled down and ran the offense with more precision, patience, and technique. Outside of a few lapses, the defense looked fairly solid. Safety play is still a big question mark (who is going to step up?), but I've been pretty pleased with how the front seven has faired through the first three games, and there's plenty of time and room to improve.
What it means: The ACC still has a national title contender. For years, the ACC has been its own worst enemy, as Florida State and Clemson have been notorious for losing games they shouldn’t (See: vs. NC State 2012, 2011, 2010). This was the classic trap game for Clemson, but the Tigers avoided the upset, didn't "pull a Clemson" and, in the process, protected the ACC’s improved image -- and its hopes of producing an undefeated team.
Turning our attention to week 5 and the Tigers find themselves back at home, which is always a good thing. Win ugly on the road and take care of business at home can be a nice recipe for success for this program. This week Dabo's team plays host to Wake Forest, a team struggling to say the least. Losses to Boston College and ULM have been ugly and Grobe's team is struggling in a bad way on offense. Against ULM (at home), the Deacons racked up a whopping 15 rushing yards, for the entire game. This wasn't an anomaly either as their offense put up a similar performance in Chestnut Hill with 55 yards of offense. This is something that will certainly play into Venables' hands this weekend allowing him to do more on defense knowing that Wake's offense has been so anemic on the ground.
Brutal Passing. I've said this before, but our air attack was uncharacteristically ugly today. Gotta fix that up the rest of the year.
Missed Opportunities Again. One missed chip shot field goal and one interception in the end zone. That's 6-10 points off the board right there. Can't let that happen. There was also a fumble that could've easily led to Army points at the end of the half.
Giving Points At The End Of The Half. Speaking of, perhaps the one major pockmark against the defense in this game was on the second to last Army drive of the half, where Wake gave up a 51 yard rush that helped lead to an Army field goal, literally immediately after Wake went up 10-2.
Clemson opened -28.5 yesterday offshore at CRIS and that number has bounced around a little and currently sits at 29 points. That's a big number and from a gambling perspective you're always worried about a backdoor cover (something that seemed to happen all Saturday a few days ago). Dabo has shown a commitment to not running up the score and putting in backups when the game is out of hand, which is part of the reason Clemson has failed to cover the spreads against NC State and South Carolina State. The difference this weekend is Wake just simply doesn't have the offense to come back and cover late in the game, so I think if you can get Clemson at -28 or better, it's probably a decent bet.
I was in Raleigh on Thursday night to watch Clemson take on North Carolina State, and I was expecting to see the #3 team in the country. What I saw was a fairly pedestrian offense and a defense that is susceptible to big plays. Tajh Byd was throwing off his back foot even when he wasn't pressured that often and that caused him to miss a lot of opportunities. I also saw an offensive line that was missing blocks and not allowing Roderick "B Button" McDowell to break loose. Martavis Bryant stepped up as a reliable wide receiver and had a sensational touchdown grab. Clemson should handle Wake Forest fairly easily next weekend, but I think Florida State will beat them when these teams play on October 19th.
What does Wake Forest do well? Well, for starters their defense is solid. It doens't have the caliber of playmakers that Clemson will see from Florida State in a few weeks, but they are stout against the pass and force turnovers. Brandon Chubb, the sophomore LB, has emerged as a leader on that side of the ball, and has an impressive 27 tackles (15 solo) already on the young season. He's joined alongside by LB Mike Olson whose been a model of consistency (34 tackles). The defense will present some challenges for Morris this weekend, but the hope is we see a more focused Clemson offense with the luxury of being back at home.
D-Line Domination. Our defensive line in this game...good gracious. Nikita Whitlock was especially freakish, as was Zach Thompson. Any time you can have more YPC than a service academy, that's some good defense right there. I will say that if the rest of the team could always play with the intensity that the D-Line does, we would be in a good spot. The defense also held Army to 5-17 on third down. That's good stuff right there, keep it up.
Now begins a long stretch of ACC games. With a tough, ugly road win to get a W in the conference win column, theTigers must now focus mentally for two months of ACC football. These are the types of games you have to win. There are lofty expectations for this program this year and not all of them Clemson is going to have the opportunity to be 4 touchdown favorites (in fact they will likely be single digit favorites against Syracuse, Maryland, and FSU). This is a chance to put a thumping on a team that has been struggling and build some confidence on both sides of the ball moving forward.