Here we go with items that we have been following all season. After the Tigers' run this season, this seems like a good place to start the self-evaluation going into the Tech game. I will evaluate the season to date overall, with an emphasis on the team's play since visiting the "U" in October.
This team has gotten tougher over the course of the season, and battled back many times. Clemson kept on fighting against Miami, FSU, and withstood an early game run by Virginia. Clemson was able to win 6 of their last 7 games and secure an Atlantic Division Championship after a disappointing 2-3 start to the season. All and all, I am happy that this team will not give up and has fought back from adversity. Clemson did not, however, show these traits last week against the Gamecocks, getting caught with their pants down in Columbia.
All in all, this team has improved attitude wise and aptitude was since Tom Bowden was last running down the hill. However, I am never pleased with the Tigers getting beat up in the trenches, as tough teams don't get whipped up front. Clemson has done a pretty good job down the stretch of winning battles up front, until the SC game. SC beat Clemson all night at the point of attack. Thus, I think this team is tougher overall, but still is not where it needs to be. That also starts with the coaching staff. Clemson's offensive coaches must not have thought that the Tigers could line up and win battles up front and between the tackles (even going into the weakness of the USC defense). If we are going to be critical of one, we have to be critical of all. Clemson has got to get better (and meaner) up front. I would like to see the coaches stop getting all cute on us and just line up in a running formation and try to run the ball consistently, because that is what tough teams do.
Kyle Parker has progressed well over the course of the season (as we predicted). Parker has all the physical skills (cannon for an arm and can move pretty well) to be a top notch QB. It is obvious that he is progressing from week to week as he gets more comfortable in the backfield and gets better adjusted to the speed of the college game. Parker did a better job down the stretch looking off safeties and making correct decisions. He had a few problems last week when pressured and forced to pick apart zone coverage. I think that we are all pretty pleased with the progression at signal caller to this point and all expect better things and fewer mistakes as KP continues to mature and gain more experience in the college game. (We are all probably secretly hoping that Kyle does not get drafted too high this year in the baseball draft, as we are all eager to see this guy on the football field again next season).
The players were ready to play each week but the last one, with this staff bringing home some sort of title (which is more than West, Bowden, or Hatfield post-'91 could do). The offensive staff appeared to mature between the UMd and Carolina games, with Napier getting into a much better playcalling rhythm as Clemson rolled to 6 consecutive wins. However, against USC as well as early in the year, this offense was choppy. I think Napier (like Parker at QB) is still learning the ropes and sometimes tries to out-think everyone instead of putting the Tigers in a position to make basic plays. This staff seemed to press way too early in the season finale, and it really hurt against one of the better passing defenses in America. Clemson defensively has looked pretty good on defense. There have been fundamental and mental lapses on the part of the players at times, but I feel the coaching staff has been prepared and made appropriate in game adjustments all season. There are a few areas (QB keepers, Wildcat offense, etc...) that have irked me all year and the Tigers have not been able to stop. There is improvement here and I think we are moving on the right path. The young staff has learned a lot all year, with valuable lessons coming each week. Moving forward, the coaches will not get passes for the team not being prepared or being too cute. To this point, I would say the coaching is acceptable, particularly because Clemson will be in Tampa Saturday.
This one has been love/hate all year. PK Richard Jackson has shown off his leg all season, and played really well early on. After a poor game against FSU, then another unacceptable outing by Spencer Benton against NCST. The Virginia and USC games were ok. Yes this team should have won more games in part due to missed FG's. We have to get more consistent with short/medium range kicks and extra points. Defense and your field goal kicker can win you a lot of football games. Kick returns all season have provided the Tigers with quite a few unexpected points. We will surely miss the return tandem of Spiller/Ford next season, as these guys are exciting and can provide a spark on any kick return. Kickoffs scared me at times this year, but did not seriously hurt our efforts. The punt team has made a few mistakes. Overall, Clemson is a lot better off with Andre Powell as dedicated special teams coordinator.
Overall, Clemson is better offensively, particularly up front, when compared to last season. That does not mean that Clemson is good up front, but at least has shown some improvement. That being said, the beating that this offensive line took at the hands of the Gamecocks was unacceptable. The line was thoroughly dominated and really had no success against the quality ends and blitzing linebackers from Columbia. While Clemson may have been handicapped by playcalling, providing zero protection for your QB raises lots of questions, especially after I became more and more confident after several weeks of pretty good pass blocking. Clemson refused to try to pound the ball against Carolina, but has done a better job down the stretch of opening holes for running backs, then utilizing play action. Michael Palmer has played extremely hard all season, and is a go to guy on this offense.
Defensively, we play hard but lack some fundamentals. We do not wrap up particualrly well and still take poor angles to the football. We miss gap assignments and often take ourselves out of plays. Clemson's secondary, though is one of the best I can remember having. Clemson has picked a lot of passes off and has done a fine job pressuring quarterbacks. Clemson has, though, been eaten up in various fashions with basic midline and zone read plays combined with the Wildcat formation. Clemson must do a better job tackling and stuffing the run.
This team is better than it was last season, even though it did not look like it at times this year. Clemson is a hungrier team with better leadership on and off the field than it was last year. While I am not pleased with many portions of this season, there is no doubt that I like Swinney, his style, his passion a lot more than his successor. Clemson played hard all year and continued to improve over the course of the year, which is all you can ask for out of a first year coach. We will continually be evaluating the team and raising the bar. I can guarantee you that fewer free passes will be given from here out.
What are everyone's opinions on these topics? Are we vastly improved this season? Should we discount the shortcomings on the year, or emphasize them more? Which direction is this team, staff, and program going?