After a couple of weeks in the hole and Dr. B solely holding down the fort, FF is finally back. Since my last post, Clemson went out last week and beat up on a poor NCST football team. This gives the Tigers 5 consecutive wins, with the Tigers scoring 38 or more points in each of these contests. This offensive surge comes just in time and puts this team in an excellent position for post season play, as the Tigers can make it to the ACCCG with a win this week over Virginia or a BC loss this week to UNC or next week to UMd.
Clemson football has a chance this weekend to complete what just a month ago seemed nearly impossible. When the Tigers rub the rock and run down the hill Saturday, this team will be able to lock up the Atlantic Division championship. While I will not say that this achievement is life-changing,it would be nice to see a Clemson football team finish strong and go to the ACC Championship game. Coach Swinney and staff have managed to turn this season from near disaster to something to be proud of if CU sticks a fork in Al Groh and the white meat of the ACC.
While a division championship will not in itself vault Clemson into the upper echelon of college football teams, it certainly would give this program something that it has lacked since '91, some sort of championship. This is a big game for Swinneyalso, as he does not want to be lumped into the same (choke) category as his predecessor. Needless to say, CU needs to finish strong and take it to the Wahoos this week.
What championship improvements have we seen out of the Tigers this year? After several weeks of complaining about the offense to begin the season (rhythm, play selection, WR play, offensive line, etc…), it appears as though Billy Napier and Dabo have this thing dialed in. Clemson has scored 38 points in each of the previous five contests. As you can see through our progression through the season, the criticism has been almost reduced to dumb situational formations (i.e., 3rd and short last week, and the Tigers come out in a 5-wide set). The offensive line has improved over the course of the year, although we still would like to see more push at the LOS. KP, as we predicted, has turned into a pretty good quarterback as he has gained experience over the course of this season. Dude has a cannon, and now I think he is learning how to utilize his feet and make better decisions to better manage the game and individual situations. Also, Clemson realized that Palmer may be the best all-around receiver on the team—out of the tight end position. The strategy to utilize the TE’s, Spiller, and Ford has paid great dividends. I have been pleasantly surprised by the play of Dye and Ashe, giving KP (finally) more than one receiver option. Ellington has shown flashes of brilliance this season (when he holds onto the football) and J. Harper appears to finally be running with some purpose. The musical chairs decision to move Cloy and Smith has increased depth at arguably the weakest position on the team (OT by getting Smith on the field and Lambert on the sidelines). Obviously, CJ Spiller has been tremendous even with a few injuries. Clemson has ridden the C.J. Spiller train all season. Spiller has solidly positioned himself on many Heisman lists and has been absolutely incredible all season. While I am not ready to anoint Dabo Swinney as the next Bear Bryant, we certainly have to agree that Clemson is a better football team now than it was last season or at the beginning of this season.
Now, on to Virginia. UVa is, well, a bad football team (how many times do I get to write that this season?). What is up with Virginia? One would think that Al Groh (sweatshirt extraordinaire) could get it going in Charlottesville…apparently not. Barring Thomas Jefferson rising from the grave and declaring Al Groh governor of Virginia,this will be the last time Groh visits Death Valley as the Cav's coach. This should be a cakewalk for the Tigers, entering as a ridiculous favorite and a relatively hot team. I expect this team to be jacked up and ready to go. I don’t say this often (especially when Clemson gets to play an important game), but look for the Tigers to beat the shit out of Virginia this weekend. Swinney has these guys up and excited every week. The Clemson offense is rolling right along, and even with the shaky linebacker play, CU gets a big win at home (and a big payday for Swinney and the coaches).
What we will be watching for is simple. Good position up front. I would like to see the OL finally get to the second level (but only after a completed assignment at the first level). It will be interesting to see this offensive line compete against UVa's 3-4 look. Virginia should give Clemson several different combinations up front, so we will be interested in the OL's calls and ability to work as a unit against this front.
I am really looking at the linebacker play this week. We have taken horrible angles and incurred bad penalties here all season. We have discussed this before, but Maye needs to calm down. He is a beast, and would terrify offenses in correct gaps and with correct pursuit angles. Hopefully the Tigers can avoid the petty penalties that occurred a week ago.
Kicking game: You tell me. How the hell we miss 4 extra points in 2 games is amazing. This is the one area we praised early on. Contrary to what I have heard lately, the ability to kick a 40 yard or less field goal is critical (just ask Coach Ford). Not only con we not kick (short) field goals, but both kickers are now missing extra points. I can’t decide which I hate worse, missed extra points or missed tackles, but do know that this is unacceptable and will kill Clemson if Swinney and crew can’t make it happen.
Bottom line here is this is a game that Clemson has to win. Virginia, for lack of a better word, sucks. Al Groh has fallen from NFL guru to getting jacked at UVa. Clemson can put the final nail in the ACC Atlantic Division race coffin with a win, and can avoid going all Tom Bowden and blowing it when opportunity arises.