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What is the Root Problem with Clemson?

There has been so much complaining on the boards, comments, and in articles around Tiger Nation that I think we need to refocus the anger at the right places to get the desired changes made to fix the various problems that we have. Its obvious to me that things are not going to right themselves this year and that Logan Thomas must play to the level he did weeks ago or Clemson is not going to win this weekend and will likely be blown out. Unless we get a truly physically inferior opponent in a whatever crappy bowl game we attend, we will lose there as well. Such is possible if we end up with a team like Louisville in the Orange, but if we face the kind of team we all wanted to play weeks ago, like an Arkansas or Oregon, we would be utterly destroyed. The question everyone asks himself is "Why?".

Why does this type of thing keep happening? A lot of folks blame the coaching staff, and they do get the blame no matter what I say. Some folks don’t realize the administration in Clemson running the AD or doing the hiring/firing is ultimately responsible no matter what. Even fewer recognize the fact that we simply can out-athlete many teams on our schedule, regardless of what scheme we run at them, despite having a terrible Strength & Conditioning program, and just-as-terrible fundamentals.

Unfortunately the latter two are the reasons why we are losing games now, and are problems that we have had here for over a decade that have not been addressed.

It is not that Chad Morris’ offense has been "figured out". This offense puts a premium on taking a small number of core plays and learning to execute them perfectly by repping them in practice non-stop. The Air Raid offense is the same principle. The Oregon offense is the same principle as well. There is nothing wrong with the scheme itself. There are issues with the playcalling in situations that I have had, but I believe these have been strongly influenced by issues ultimately related to S&C and fundamentals. It is our opponents who have learned a strategy that has seemed to work, and they won’t change it until you can beat it. Zone coverage, zone blitzes, and dropping 7-8 into coverage is not a magic recipe to stop this system. FSU did these things and we carved them up. It just happens to be what is working now and our guys have not defeated it.

In contrast, the Spence philosophy was the exact opposite, in that it tries to confuse a defense with so many formations and plays that there is no way they could possibly stop them all. Unfortunately it did not stand a chance of working here because we had no fundamentals and the mass of plays in the system wasn’t reduced to a level that could be taught, irrespective of any S&C program faults.

I don’t self-scout Clemson during the film reviews with the intention to count the number of Power plays or Zone plays in a game or a situation. That would require even more time from me and is something I have done for myself in the offseason that never gets posted. Counting the number of specific pass plays requires end-zone film that I don’t have access to any longer, but I have charted where Clemson attacks (short, middle, deep, left side, right side, etc.) before. However, I do get a feel for the playcalling and notice when plays are run too much or not enough. Some times there are good reasons because of what the opponents do by alignment or strategy, but in these last few games I don’t think its been as much due to the opposing defense as our own offensive line. Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed on offense:

Morris has gone to forcing Boyd to keep the ball to make him a running threat. The read option plays that look like zone reads are in fact not being read for the most part, and are called plays from the sideline. The DE is usually being blocked by the TE, as opposed to being unblocked totally in a zone read or inverted veer. In principle this is a good idea to make your QB a threat, because you want the defense to play you honest on the IZ staple of this system. Tajh is not going to be a great runner, but being merely effective is possible, if your OL can move people.

Because of the Guard play, many other plays seem to have fallen to the wayside. Power O was run heavily earlier, and rarely gets called now. Counters (and Counter H) get called more. The play I call IV Jet sweep, since it uses the IV blocking scheme (except that TE blocks the DE, so its not really an option), which is what Sammy used primarily as his run play, is nonexistent lately. It disappeared before the shoulder injury. The Trap is nonexistent.  We can’t run the ZR because defenses don’t respect Boyd. Currently, my feeling is that the IZ is our primary inside play and that we throw a bucksweep in for good measure. Our interior OL is not going to move people inside and the Guards don’t block half the time on the buck, so our run game sucks. I can’t really fault Chad Morris for not calling plays that he believes they can’t execute worth a damn, but I think he has cut it to the bone and didn’t need to.

Because of that, defenses can now easily take chances by dropping 8 into coverage and confusing Boyd with more looks. Why would they ever stack the box when the offense cant run the ball? Now they can bracket Watkins and Hopkins, and with others not getting themselves open, Boyd has to force balls into coverage or throw it away, if he has time to do even that. His IQ taking intermittent dips into the negative range doesn’t help, but he’d get into more rhythm and get better matchups outside if the offense could run the football.

As for why he still can’t throw a bubble screen above the ankles or a pass to Allen that isn’t 10 feet high, that is on his footwork fundamentals, and it is not getting fixed this year. His inability to properly read coverages is an indication of inexperience and overconfidence in his arm more than anything. Only film room dedication can fix the former, and correct prodding by Morris the latter. Once he hits a few passes and gets into a rhythm he is OK, if he has time to throw the ball. Morris has taken it upon himself to force that as well by calling more short passes and bubble screens, and I think Boyd wants to make a big play so badly that he is now pressing.

Other issues are coming back to a mixture of S&C and fundamentals. You have to have strength to fight your way through double-teams at WR. You have to hit harder than the other guy and get open. Route running is a fundamental thing, and we have improved there with the talent infusion, but its still not good enough for the younger guys. DeAndre Hopkins needs about 20lbs of pure muscle, and Batson isn’t going to get that on him. Bryant needs that as well, and eventually you would want to see Sammy put on good muscle and get faster and stronger as he finishes growing. Batson isn’t going to get that done here. In fact, I predict that with Batson’s training methods, Watkin’s shoulder issue will linger on much longer.

Our defense has a glaring and complete lack of fundamentals. The scheme Steele uses is just fine. He knows how to scheme to stop a zone read. We get beat by it because our fundamentals suck. If your LBs can’t fight off a block, much less evade one, then you have no hope of beating a running team. If you take pisspoor angles and then follow it up with no-arm hits that cause your DBs to bounce off the RB, or LBs that can’t wrap up at all, then you have no hope of stopping the run. Some of it is due to strength but most is due to poor technique and paralysis by analysis. I guarantee Steele told his defense SC was going to run Shaw all damn night. Technique is on coaching, but tackling and fighting blocks requires contact, and no-contact practices generates lazy fundamentals. Practice philosophy like that is the HC’s issue, not Steele. Steele knows how to fix tackling, and I don’t think he has been allowed to do it the way he wants.

The DL play is worsening due to tiredness and that is due to a lack of depth, but they weren't gap-sound against Troy or Wofford either. If the opponents can move you off the ball at their pleasure week after week, despite any coaching, your S&C program sucks. If linemen put on FAT during a season, then the HC needs a foot in his ass along with the S&C coach. I will bet that several guys put on weight this season.

The DBs cannot jam receivers properly because they have no strength to their punches and their fundamental hand placement is just wrong. They lose leverage due to poor footwork fundamentals, but you can redirect a guy with a hard enough shot that our DBs can’t give. One is coaching, the other S&C.

Our offensive line play has been bad for a decade. There is no question on this issue. The "oil change" we were promised is not working up front, and no offense goes further than the OL can take it. They do not fire off the ball explosively. They do not generate push against DLs they outweigh by 40lbs per man. They haven’t moved their feet to stop the pass rush and their initial punches have no effect. Several put forth zero effort altogether, yet still play 100% of the snaps. There is athletic talent, but no fire. We’ve had Ron West, Brad Scott, and now Robbie Caldwell coaching and the OL was either bad or average with the exception of the 2006 season (until we were exposed for no depth). This is a problem indicative of things beyond field coaching. I know Caldwell took garbage and developed a very good OL at Vanderbilt, so its not like he forgot how to coach.

Joey Batson’s program is the S&C problem. SC went out and hired Craig Fitzgerald 3 years ago, and they have physically whipped us up front all 3 years. That is no coincidence. Fitzgerald is a Dwight Galt student, who himself is a Gayle Hatch disciple. Galt whipped us, with less talent, at Maryland and Wake Forest in this decade. LSU has had Tommy Moffitt for a decade and his program turned the whole defensive line into beasts year after year. I would say Moffitt is the true source of Les Miles' ability to not take a dip when Saban left. Moffitt is a Gayle Hatch disciple. Saban begged him to come to Alabama, Moffitt said no, and hired his protégé Scott Cochran. Dooley begged Moffitt to come back to Tennessee and he said no way. Southern Cal has played as many freshmen as Clemson, and where are they now? They made Lane Kiffin look like a great coach this year. Their S&C coach Chris Carlisle is a Hatch disciple. Urban Meyer has gone on record as saying the two most important hires a new HC makes are his S&C Coach and OL coach. We have a common denominator here in this decade of softness and that is Joey Batson. He cannot survive here beyond this season.

We don’t put good weight on players that need to gain it, like Ricky Sapp. Will we put it on Hopkins or Bryant? I say no. We can’t get guys who are overweight to lose it. We only let our Linemen GAIN FAT during a season. We don’t blow Wofford, Troy, Coastal Carolina, Furman, or teams with 260-270lb fronts off the LOS. We have injuries that never heal here. All these things point to the whole S&C program.

Whether this defensive staff survives is not a question I can answer. One would think that with this being the worst defense fielded by Clemson in nearly 30 years that a head must roll. The fundamental instruction is a coaching issue. The amount of material given to digest is a coaching issue. You can give a defense more complex schemes if their fundamentals are strong, and going vanilla is usually a recipe for disaster.  If you give a complex scheme to one that has none, you get the 2011 Clemson defense that has made a star out of 3rd string RBs and QBs who can’t really throw against good teams. If Steele isn’t allowed to teach the way he wants, it’s a HC issue. If he is being allowed to do what he wants, then he should be fired. We knew the defense would take a big step back this year, but where they are is completely unacceptable.

So the problem comes back to practice philosophies, the lack of dedication to fundamentals, and a poor S&C program. You can catch fire and play well, like we did in 2000, 2003, the first part of 2006, or this season, but you’re doomed to have repeat performances like the 2nd part of 2006, 2nd part of 2000, and this season until this problem is fixed.

All can be fixed by Swinney if he chooses to move the right people out, or when we move him out.