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2012 Football Season Review

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: Season Review posts are intended as summaries of the season for use as a single reference later, not exhaustive review posts. These are team-written.

2009, 2010, 2011 Season Reviews.

Our plan for the future with respect to football is to begin releasing position-by-position reviews and prospectus. We think it is best to evaluate the coaches based on their entire body of work, and this involves recruiting. The ones who are gone will not be affected and we doubt what we have to say will truly influence any recruits before signing day, so expect to see them in the next two weeks.

This post is intended as a review down the road, in case we need to look at what happened in the past, so short synopses are given, and we specifically track the QB play, OL play, defensive performance, etc. to see how they varied throughout the year to tell a short story of the 2012 season.

2012 Season Schedule & Results
Opponent Score Opp Final Record Standing
@ Auburn - Atlanta W 26-19 3-9 Last SEC West
Ball State W 52-27 9-4 T-2nd MAC West
Furman W 41-7 3-8
@ FSU L 49-37 12-2 ACC Champions
@ Boston College W 45-31 2-10 Last Atlantic
Georgia Tech W 47-31 7-7 Coastal Champs (UNC/Miami excluded)
Virginia Tech W 38-17 7-6 4th Coastal
@ Wake Forest W 42-13 5-7 4th Atlantic
@ Duke W 56-20 6-7 5th Coastal
Maryland W 45-10 4-8 5th Atlantic
NC State W 62-48 7-6 3rd Atlantic
SC L 27-17 11-2 3rd SEC East
Peach Bowl: LSU W 25-24 10-3 T-2nd SEC West
Final Record 11-2 86-79 Sagarin 61st-ranked SOS

Biggest Win: Victory over LSU in the Peach Bowl stands as the lone quality victory over a good opponent.

Worst Defeat: Clemson's loss to FSU and SC are equally bad in their own ways. Clemson lost a 2 year home win streak against SC, and the 4th in a row. Clemson's defense put up one of its worst performances in history at FSU, and it cost us the chance to win the ACC.

Record in Death Valley: 6-1

Final Ranking: 11th AP, 9th USA Today

Game -by- Game Reviews

Clemson 26 - Auburn 19 - Game Film Review - Stats

At the time most Clemson fans thought this was a quality win, even though no one predicted Auburn to do well in the SEC West. I thought they were a 7-5 type of squad. It turned out not to be one, given that Auburn finished as one of the worst teams in the SEC. There is always the possibility that a loss knocks a team off-kilter and they cannot recover, and this may have been one of those for Auburn, though we wouldn't say so. We will say that Clemson has to start sometime when reversing our trend of disappointments in Atlanta and this was a step in that direction. Clemson was 0-for-6 in the previous trips to ATL.

Clemson won the game 26-19, but really should've won it much more handily. It should not have come down to one TD difference. Had Clemson's WRs been able to more consistently catch the ball, we'd have had another TD. If Clemson had stuck with the running game that was destroying Auburn early, they would've won by 2 TDs.

The most encouraging aspect of the game was the OL play. Clemson ran for 320 yards on the night, and Ellington gashed the Plainsmen, though Boyd scrambled for a good bit of this. The game was played without Sammy Watkins in the lineup due to a marijuana possession charge. Auburn's DL is talented and were thought to be one of the better in the SEC coming into this. Corey Lemonier recently declared for the NFL draft. Clemson's offensive line did fairly well against them; we ran the ball well and the offensive pace (87 plays) neutered the pass rush by the 4th quarter. Auburn's DEs were very aggressive, almost too aggressive. They gassed themselves, but did end up with 4 sacks. They were speed-rush all the way and zipped deep into the backfield to force Boyd to step up. The only problem was that their DTs were getting mandhandled. Auburn's bad DT play was very surprising to me; they stunk. It wasn't all our OL.

However, Auburn's defense turned out to be pretty awful in the end in its first season under Brian VanGorder. They were far worse than this quality coach's usual performances.

Tajh Boyd won this one, it was a complete performance by the Junior QB. He had lost 20lbs from the previous Orange Bowl, and was very nimble and elusive as a runner. We were looking for better passes to the flats, given that he had always overshot them in 2011. He improved his footwork and those came down, and there weren't any brain farts on his part. The lone INT was on Sam Cooper, not Tajh. Auburn made a point of trying to rip his helmet off, causing him to be sidelined for a play. Strangely enough, few other opponents deliberately tried to remove the helmets this year.

Clemson's defensive line was pretty pitiful in the pass rush. Vic Beasley showed some flashes but no one else could get anything done. Malliciah Goodman had lost 10-15lbs in the offseason and was still slow, and still let himself get reached. Corey Crawford showed that he was not ready for primetime. The DTs were all new as fulltime players and we thought they'd need more time to form an opinion, but it was already apparent that the DE position would not be good for Clemson in 2012.

Clemson's defense did tackle fine, once they made contact. LBs were not great at gap control, though they did get better after the half. It was the angles that concerned us, especially from the DBs. This turned out to be a big problem all year in the secondary.

Everyone who watched this game, especially those who saw it in person, remarked on how Auburn's WRs were basically able to run free through the secondary. The play was atrociously bad overall, and if the Plainsmen had had a QB of their own who didn't just "wing it", they still could've won the game. At the time I thought the coverage problems were due to the new scheme and not being properly adjusted to the formations AU presented, but this turned out to be a developing problem for the entire season.

Clemson 52 - Ball State 27 - Game Film Review - Stats

This was Clemson's first home game and first huge blowout of the season. Clemson came out firing with 45 of its 52 points in the first half of play. I'll note Spencer Benton's 61 yard bomb of a field goal that ended the second quarter of play. Man that was one heck of a kick. Ball State was simply overmatched by Tajh Boyd and Nuk Hopkins-though the offensive line was not as impressive as they were the previous week against Auburn and the Clemson defense showed a lot of foundation cracks that became a theme for the season.

Concerns loomed on the offensive line front. While Clemson had well over 150 yards on the ground, we didn't get the push we go the previous week and Andre Ellington was limited to 41 yards on 13 carries on the afternoon (though I will note two of those carries were for touchdowns and his long carry was 11 yards). Clemson's struggles were amplified up front following an injury to David Beasley. It seemed as though we were unable to ever knock Ball State off the ball when we needed to after he went down, being replaced by Kalon Davis.

The defense was not as good as the box score indicated. While they did hold a Ball State team known for its potent passing attack to 128 yards through the air, a big reason that number was so low was mistakes by the Cardinals. This is the game, you'll likely recall, that the opposition's highly thought of quarterback was not able to grip the ball and had it slip several times. He could never get the ball to the WRs where they could catch it.

The run defense was alarming--giving up over 250 yards on the ground on 40 carries for a stout 6.3 ypc. Not good at all with issues up front and defined linebacker problems. Clemson got gashed by a back who was able to effectively make cuts against linebackers who were out of position. Usually the cutback lane was wide open because the backside LB overpursued. He flat out made our second layer look silly. We mentioned at the time that the Rush D problem must be fixed before any Passing D problems, and thankfully it was in the 2nd half of the year.

The staff did show a dedication to getting some of the younger guys into the game. While we had to play a lot of the starters up front for most of the game, the staff was committed to getting Cole Stoudt snaps along with a lot of the receivers and backup running backs. It appears as though the overall staff realizes the importance of getting the younger guys and the backups game experience so that they aren't shell-shocked later on when pressed into action. At the time we asked for this:

I think Travis Blanks has earned a right to play more, and Xavier Brewer should just move back to Corner. Actually Shuey has earned the right to play a bit more, even though he is too slow for every down duty.

Clemson ended up with 500 yards on 80+ plays, and this turns out to be our 2nd best win of the year. It was the only victory over an opponent who finished with 7+ wins.

And Raycom still sucks.

Clemson 41 - Furman 7 - Game Film Review - Stats

Clemson picked up its second home "tune up" win as our Tigers cruised over a bad 1-AA Paladin football team. I am sure everyone was happy this one was over early but not sure that anyone was particularly happy with the overall performance.

Up front Gifford Timothy played a mere 11 snaps and David Beasley sat out the entire game to recover from the previous week's injury. To further complicate matters, Tyler Shatley suffered an injury and spent the majority of the game on the sidelines. I'll point these issues out because I know everyone will say there were injuries-and there were. Regardless, Clemson should be good enough down its depth chart to push around this opponent. We did get a bunch of snaps for reserves, which was good, but did not get the big ground game we would have liked to see. Clemson had over 180 yards on the ground but a large chunk of those came from Sammy Watkins in his first game back. Ellington was held to 59 yards on 15 carries (again under 4.0 ypc though I should point out that two carries were for touchdowns). Zac Brooks showed out against a tired defense and Stoudt added 17 yards on three carries. Following the manhandling of Auburn, this was the second straight week against inferior competition that we were not able to get the push up front we expected. At this point in the season, we were getting very concerned about the effectiveness of the Clemson running game moving forward.

The passing game was a big bright spot. Tajh had a nice game, throwing for 310 yards and spreading the wealth around. Nuk and Sammy combined for nearly 150 yards total on 11 combined receptions (Sammy also had the big 58 yard TD run as well). Nine different Tigers registered a catch. We are always pleased to see more players rotated through in these type games and that is what we got here-which was good and does help build depth through experience.

Defensively, we struggled at times against Furman. They were able to move the football better than the final score indicated, putting over 242 yards up through the air against the Clemson defense. Furman was successful completing the short balls--particularly between the 20's. Jerodis Williams had 87 yards on just 19 carries (4.6 ypc). None of this is acceptable and provided more heartache regarding the defense in general. The big positive, though, is that the coaches were able to get more players experience.

Xavier Brewer, as I’ve said all along, should not be moved around too much. I don’t think he’s a good safety and never have. I think he can be adequate at CB, but only with reps there and not reps everywhere. He is no Darrell Crutchfield, and definitely not yet to the Amityville Horror level of the Ford twins, but when he gets moved around week to week he’s horrible. Two years ago he was weak to start off at CB, and we burned Robinson’s redshirt as a result, but he came around down the stretch. Robinson ended up with almost no snaps and a wasted year. Last year we started moving him around, because Jenkins was playing better, and he got worse. This year we’re moving him and he’s bad. Put him at CB/Nickel and leave him.

FSU 49 - Clemson 37 - Game Film Review - Stats

This game was the worst defensive performance I have ever seen from a Clemson team. 9 yards per play allowed means it was a complete shitstorm. Nobody played well on the defense, period. By the end of the game we could not stop them from getting 10+ per play on simple IZ runs.

Before the game, I did not expect Clemson to win in Tallahassee. Many FSU fans cried "Clemson will not even score on our defense!" and expected us to not even break 21. Well Clemson did, and lit up the Seminole defense again. However, all big games come down to the trenches, and Clemson did not win there. This is the root cause of why we lost the game. Our defensive line was dominated from start to finish. If Fisher had stuck with his run game, it would've been a bigger gap than it was.

FSU runs 8-deep with NFL talent on the defensive line. Basically every one of them could end up playing in the NFL. Our OL did a pretty good job to get seals on the edge players and run the ball outside, and Clemson abandoned it. The regular inside zone/counters were not working at all, but sweeps and the occasional outside Power did. Why The Chad quit doing it is beyond me.

By the end of the game though, when Clemson had to pass to win, our OL couldn't keep the pressure off of Tajh Boyd, who had a hell of a game overall despite the protection. Clemson's WRs were unable to generate any distance from defenders because they were unable to defeat the jams by FSU DBs. Sammy Watkins was revealed to have a serious health issue and played through it, but spent some of the next week in the hospital. His play certainly looked like he wasn't 100%. FSU showed a 2-deep and the MOF was open, but the WR play was so weak that we could never hit it.

But the playcalling by The Chad was awesome other than abandoning the run too early. Everyone questioned about the defense and how it could be so awful, which is a complicated issue to be sure. I expected them to get better over the 2nd half's weak schedule, and they did, but that doesn't mean this ever became a good defense in 2012.

Clemson 45 - Boston College 31 - Game Film Review - Stats

Well a Win is a Win, but it was ugly as all hell. When you are up 45-31 on somebody, the game should be decided and not still somewhat in doubt that far in the 4th quarter. Still, we rarely play that well at BC and I'll take it. I just have a sour taste in my mouth again.

It wasn't very pretty, and wasn't quite as big a spread as the score indicated. The team was a little hungover from the emotional loss to FSU, and this was a classic trap game we usually lose. if not for Nuk Hopkins, we may not even win this game. Tajh was just OK, clearly a little off but not bad. He only had a couple of dumb throws, one being turned into an INT as he threw back across the field to Nuk.

This was one of the early games where you could tell something wasn't quite right with Andre Ellington. In the earlier wins, he couldn't get anything going thanks to the OL, and the high scoring caused the staff to play safe and sit him more, but he clearly wasn't right. He had some bounces and cutbacks open that he just didn't hit with his typical crispness. As usual though, BC beat our OL up front with inferior talent and we barely got any push off the ball. We're just so good at misdirection that we continue to rack up yards.

Clemson's defense, particularly the interior DL, really stepped their game up in Chestnut Hill. Before this game, I was told that Clemson had many full-contact practices. We could see that they had been coached up by Dan Brooks and Marion Hobby in this one, and the DTs picked up their end bigtime. We did an outstanding job of getting off blocks, even the LBs did better. BC didn't have a good OL or running game coming in, but thankfully they didn't get any better here.

The secondary was garbage, leading to the 31 points BC scored. Chase Rettig cut them up despite having no good WRs to stretch our defense. Darius Robinson in particular was being ripped to shreds so badly that he was benched at halftime for Garry Peters. LBs continued to show a real problem picking up anyone in the hook/curl and flat zones of the defense.

Sammy Watkins, Kalon Davis, and Martavis Bryant were all out with injuries in this game.

Clemson 47 - Georgia Tech 31 - Game Film Review - Stats

I don't understand why it is, but Clemson is sure to always find a way to keep GT in a football game until the very end. We seem to play our worst against these guys on defense every year, and then the offense will make a critical mistake and we lose. We made the mistake, but bowed up with the Safety. Any win over Tech I'll take just to be done with them for the year.

Neither defense really came to play here. I'd argue that once again Paul Johnson does some crazy shit with playcalling in Death Valley, but we did stop the ones he did call towards the end. Clemson's defense was bad from the 2nd drive and were on their heels until the 4th. Johnson should've scored at the end of the 1st half and the 4th, and stopped himself with some stupid Ski-gun stuff that his players obviously hadn't repped in practice enough.

Clemson played basically the same scheme we have always played against the Flexbone. DL all have dive-first with DEs playing Dive-to-QB and OLBs QB-to-pitch. Secondary had pitch when the MLB couldn't flow over. We didn't trust the scheme once again, and as usual Christian cannot play his responsibility on the outside. He (and others) had killshots on the QB and didn't take them. Tackling was bad. Angles were worse. Shuey's play for the Safety wasn't even his primary responsibility. We did not evade cut blocks well, even after I had heard we repped them heavily in practice all week. We did, however, get off blocks well.

Boyd had a great game overall, but forced a few more balls than he should've. He appeared to press. Chad came out throwing when GT was giving us a front conducive to running inside. MTSU had destroyed GT on the ground in the previous game, and we could hardly get Andre (still banged up) or Hot Rod going inside. Our All-ACC/All-American Center could not handle the 0-technique for the 500th time.

47 points is great and Al Groh sucks, but this offense morphed into something more on the backs of Tajh and Nuk than it should've been these last few weekends.

Clemson 38 - Virginia Tech 17 - Game Film Review - Stats

The VPI contest was a lackluster performance that concerned me from the start. In a twist, it was the defense making big plays and forcing turnovers that sparked the Tigers to the win over the visiting Hokies. Clemson came out flat and gave up an early score to VPI. Tech looked to be in position to put more points on their next drive but the Clemson defense put together a 4th and 1 stop at the Tigers' 18 yard line. The game was all Clemson from then out.

Offensively, we were unable to get Tajh and crew into a rhythm throughout the first half and we blame that on playcalling. Boyd is a quarterback who, if you get him going early with some easy passes and runs, will light up an opposing defense. That clearly was not the case and we point to the playcalling as the culprit here. We should have hammered VPI with Ellington but really didn't get him going sans a couple big runs. We were unable to get short yardage as well, which you can attribute to lack of push up front against the worst Tech defense in recent memory. For this offense, or most any other offense for that matter, to be really dangerous you have to have a legit running game-even if that means forcing some things the way The Chad forces many of his passing playcalls. Clemson was fortunate to have the better athletes and field position all afternoon.

The Tigers opened the game with a three and out-aided by a first down sack. Clemson's next two offensive drives to open the game and both went deep into opponent territory. The first ended with a floating interception, the second with a Catman field goal. Clemson took advantage of good field position set up by a Meeks interception and punched it in for a touchdown to start the 2nd. The last drive of the half was another three and out. Two more three and outs opened the third quarter before Clemson was able to put another TD on the board to put the Tigers up 24-10 on a 50 yard drive. Clemson hit a long one to Nuk to effectively put the game away going into the final period. It was then more 3-4 play drives before Clemson put the icing on the cake with a late TD.

Defensively, we saw some improvement up front-particularly in the second half. After getting rolled for 250 yards in the first half, the defense stepped up and limited VT to 150 yards in the second. Still, the big gains on the ground by Logan Thomas were concerning (he ended up with 99 yards on 21 carries) but did do a good job against the rest of their stable of backs. The guys up front showed improvement and Shuey played very well. The secondary could have gotten torched by a good quarterback so be thankful Thomas was on the other side of the ball. I'll note that VPI's playcalling was disastrous and definitely aided the defense. Overall tackling was very poor. This is a sticking point here and really could have been a bigger deal than it ended up being in this contest. As the old saying goes, an ugly win is always better than a loss.

Clemson 42 - Wake Forest 13 - Game Film Review - Stats

Clemson came off a short week and traveled to Winston-Salem for a Thursday night contest with the Demon Deacons. Clemson started off sluggish offensively before a late 1st/2nd quarter explosion of 35 points. The team as a whole was extremely lackadaisical in the third quarter and coasted to the finish, scoring a mere seven fourth quarter points.

Overall, the defense played pretty well. Wake did drop 239 on us through the air but there was decided improvement on the defensive line. Shuey and Willard played well. Travis Blanks saw a lot of plays due to Wake's offensive strategy but he missed several assignments, which was all the more disappointing because we had been asking for more PT for him. The secondary was average at best. Though depleted from injury (in fact, Adam Humphries was inserted into the defensive backfield at one point here), these folks continued to miss tackles and left receivers open often. This type of play caused Venables to go nuts...the getback coach definitely earned his pay-somehow keeping Brent from running onto the field at several points in the game.

Offensively, Tajh and Sammy stole the show, setting school marks for passing yards (428) and receiving yards (202), respectively. I also believe Watkins had three grabs for over 50 yards, which has to be a single game record. I will question the decision to leave Tajh in the game so late considering the contest was over. The coaches readily admitted he was in there to boost stats, though I would like to assure his health AND get Cole Stoudt more snaps to assure his experience should he be forced into meaningful snaps later in the year. I will say that I was happy to see 11 different players touch the ball. Outside of Watkins' performance, I was most pleased with the Martavis Bryant sighting (3 catches, 82 yards) in a return from groin injury. This guy has all the physical skills but has been largely ineffective both catching the ball and with his overall physicality.

Clemson still was not rolling on the ground. Again Tajh had more carries than Ellington. Andre had 61 yards on a mere 15 carries that night, well below the number of attempts he should have in a game. If you're up big, just work on the running game when you know you've got a great chance against a weak opponent. Don't kill the QB for the next week by giving him more carries than the main RB. The decision not to run the ball along with the minimal substitution patterns and lack of trap/counter-type plays had us postulating that the guys up front just weren't far enough along for Morris to trust them pulling across a formation. The offensive line, in my opinion, deserves criticism here as I thought that some of their ineffectiveness here (and at other points in the season) caused Tajh to become more nervous in the pocket and quick to either sling the ball or just pull it and run. The offense definitely was improved from the VPI game but still has things to work on-including feeding AE and progressing up front.

Clemson 56 - Duke 20 - Game Film Review - Stats

Certainly, Duke is Duke, but somehow they managed to make this a night game on ESPN at Wallace Wade, and yet we can't get one at home?

Clemson had a big, big offensive day against the overmatched Blue Devils. For the second consecutive week, Tajh threw five touchdown passes in a big Clemson win. Andre Ellington tweaked his hamstring early in the game and was largely absent. This gave the bulk of the running back carries to Hot Rod, Howard, and Brooks. While none of us want Ellington out of a football game, I thought it was important to give some of the other backs carries and was awesome to get those guys involved in a conference game that ended up being a blowout. As opposed to the previous week, there was a definite movement towards giving the backs the called carries instead of Tajh.

Clemson essentially came out and had all their dirty work completed by halftime. After a 42 point first half, Clemson was able to cruise through the 3rd and 4th quarters to take care of business up in the Triangle. Had Morris wanted, he could have threatened all the Clemson offensive records. Duke stupidly gave us C1 or C0 most of the night and Clemson drilled them for this. FSU can try this crap, not Duke, but they stuck with what they do. Clemson was able to get a lot of offensive linemen in the football game and these guys dominated the LOS all night. There is not a lot of complaining to do with the Clemson offense except the pass interception taken away from Sam Cooper. His effort was piss poor...the Duke defender just wanted the football more than Cooper and took it out of his hands.

Clemson had 379 passing and 339 on the ground. This is an outstanding effort. Howard, Brooks, and McDowell each averaged five or more yards per carry. Nuk had four catches for nearly 130 yards on the night with three of those catches being touchdown grabs. Sammy had nearly 100 through the air. The Tigers spread the catches around and many players got their names on the stat sheet during this one.

Defensively, the line kept improving-though they got off to a fairly slow start. The secondary struggled with this slow start but everything started coming together about a quarter or so through the football game. The Tigers gave up 250 yards plus through the air and 85 on the ground. The rushing numbers are great and we really expected the Cutcliff offense to do some damage through the is their strength and our weakness.

There was little to be upset about this night and we saw a lot of good things-particularly in the OL and DL categories-against Duke. The competition wasn't the best but improvement is much better than the alternative.

Clemson 45 - Maryland 10 - Game Film Review - Stats

Clemson rolled a decimated Maryland team that featured a linebacker at the quarterback position. Clemson came out extremely flat and simply glided to victory over a very bad football team. I am sure you are a little vexed that I will describe the start as slow as Clemson put 21 points up in the first quarter and 35 in the first half. Even with the poor play we saw early out of the offensive line, Clemson was able to get theirs early and often.

Out of UMd's 10 points, seven were set up by a muffed punt return by Adam Humphries. Otherwise, Clemson simply overmatched the Terps all afternoon in route to the school's 12th consecutive home victory. The offensive line featured starters all day. We struggled here early but ended up with a couple backs who averaged well over 4 ypc. Maryland's defensive front was better than I expected but-like the rest of the team-simply wasn't good enough to overcome Clemson's clear overall talent advantage.

Tajh and the receivers didn't have their biggest statistical day but were extremely effective in spite of the lackadaisical line performance. Boyd spread the ball around well. Watkins and Hopkins combined for nearly 120 yards. Clemson was able to get Martavis Bryant a couple grabs including a 49 yard completion. Charone Peake had three catches for 24 yards and Humph pulled in five passes on the afternoon.

Though Clemson was committed to keeping extra bodies in the box due to the lack of a Maryland passing threat, UMd was still able to produce a 100 yard back. That isn't necessarily saying the CU defensive front played poorly but we must concede that Brandon Ross is a good back and Clemson still had some things to work on here. Shawn Petty at quarterback simply will not cut it for the Terps. Clemson provided some openings for the Turtles through the passing game but Petty was unable to take advantage. The Tigers limited UMd to just 41 yards on a 6/12 passing effort from Petty on the afternoon as Clemson stifled the Terp offense all afternoon.

Clemson 62 - NC State 48 - Game Film Review - Stats

Offensively, the 2nd best performance in Clemson history in terms of yardage. Defensively, a damn dumpster fire. However, Clemson registered its first 10-Win regular season since 1981, and the first 7-win ACC season since 1983.

Mike Glennon was one QB we were quite worried about facing with our poor secondary play coming into this game, and he made us look like a JV team back there, and this without WRs who could consistently catch the bullets he threw. Clemson's DL got plenty of pressure (4 sacks) but the DBs were jumping underneath routes without any safety valve to protect them, usually because the man jumping it was the safety valve, and he just lit us up as a result for 496 passing yards. We stopped the run well enough, and I question why Dana Bible even tried to run after a certain point when it was obvious he was killing us in the air. Even though we found out that Shadrach Thornton and Tobias Palmer were good players, there is no excuse for being as bad as we were at home in this game. Palmer himself was responsible for 496 all-purpose yards. I take this as evidence that Clemson's statistical performance improvement on defense over the games since FSU is more a product of a pisspoor ACC strength of schedule, supported by the W-L record you see above. If we played in the Big XII or Pac-12, I don't even want to think about how bad our defense would be.

After this game we had to call for Charlie Harbison's firing. The deterioration was too evident.

David Amerson keyed Nuk Hopkins like glue, and jumped most of his underneath hitches and slants. Nuk didn't end up with a great statistical day even though the offense was electric. Amerson jumped one too many and Nuk busted him on a hitch & go, but that was the highlight of the day for the NFL-bound WR.

The rest of the NC State defense was a sieve. Clemson piled up 754 yards: 328 rushing and 426 passing. Tajh Boyd ran for 100 and hit 30/44 with 5 TDs. Our OL kept him pretty clean and gashed NC State's DL. There was no repeat performance of the previous season happening today. Tenuta was overaggressive in coaching up his LBs and we killed them with Counters because of the poor pursuit. Andre Ellington racked up over 100.

SC 27 - Clemson 17 - Game Film Review - Stats

Clemson again came up short against the in-state rival, ending the school's longest home winning streak and exposing areas that must be improved to take the next step. This was an entire team loss from top to bottom. Defensively, Clemson could not get Scar off the field and Carolina was able to keep the chains and the clock moving. Dylan Thompson, who got the start due to an injury the previous week to Conner Shaw, was able to manage the football game by dinking and dunking up and down the field. South Carolina did a nice job of assuring they were not stuck in many long 3rd down situations and were able to convert over half of these attempts.

Clemson got off to a nice start, scoring 14 in the game's opening quarter. The offensive effort fell off for the final three quarters and Scar was able to put up 27 in the ten point win. Clemson's offense didn't appear eager to run the football or conflict Scar's ends-both terrible ideas. On the other side of the football, Clemson simply couldn't make the big play to end Carolina drives. Poor tackling again plagued this unit and the Gamecocks were able to take advantage of these gaffs.

The Clemson offense looked very choppy. We commented that we were not pleased with The Chad's offensive philosophy. We were not able to get Tajh into a rhythm and made little effort to keep running the football. We avoided the short passes and screens that typically get Boyd into a groove. Boyd was running for his life because the offensive staff refused to double or even chip Clowney. I still don't understand that decision and their defensive line made Clemson pay dearly for implementing such a strategy. Clemson also abandoned the zone reads and did little to conflict the end. We were successful running the ball at times but abandoned it as the game progressed. I would have liked to see AE get 25 carries--he did have 15 carries for 72 yards so he was very effective when fed the rock. The other aspect that I did not understand was the pace of play in this one. Clemson went to a lot of "Check with Me" which slowed down the pace dramatically. Clemson should have been geared up to turn this into a track meet in an attempt to tire out the SC defense. We have the skills depth and our line has been able to run a lot of plays earlier in the year...keep up the pace.

Scar wasn't able to line up and run it down our throat, and that was refreshing. However, as we've discussed here, they were certainly able to get just enough yards to sideling the Clemson offense. I thought that Steve Spurrier outcoached Dabo and was able to utilize his resources better than Swinney. Clemson got away from a lot of the things that generated success over the season and Morris looked keen on throwing the ball. Tajh's two touchdowns, Clowney's big night, and Scar's ability to keep their offense on the field (especially late) got Carolina their fourth consecutive rivalry win.

Charlie Harbison accepted a position working under his friend Ellis Johnson, who took the Auburn DC job after being fired by Southern Miss.

Peach Bowl: Clemson 25 - LSU 24 - Game Film Review - Stats

This wasn't a game many thought Clemson would win, including us. LSU's defense had multiple players who have since declared early for the NFL draft, with 10 overall for the team. LSU had a dominant running game coming in with a weak passing game, and even though our defense had improved against the run I saw no way they would stop LSU's ground game. They didn't, but LSU played right into Clemson's hands with the inept playcalling, and we forced 8 3 & outs in the game. It was probably the best Clemson's defense had played all season, and a good note to end upon.

The game started very poorly for Clemson. Sammy Watkins was an integral part of the game plan coming in, and it was the healthiest he had been since the beginning of the season. However, Morris called a counter handoff to Sammy, and Barkevious Mingo shot past the pulling Beasley and tackled him for a loss. He fumbled, and LSU recovered. Sammy fell on his ankle sideways and was out for the rest of the game. A couple plays later, Jeremy Hill took the ball in for a quick 7-0 lead. It felt like Alabama 2008 at that point.

But Clemson fought back and scored quickly. Even though Gifford Timothy could not protect Tajh from Mingo, Boyd managed to get the ball moving down field well enough to rest the defense. Eventually Timothy went out to injury, and Brandon Thomas slid over from LT to RT. Isaiah Battle came in to replace Thomas on the left side and did an admirable job against Sam Montgomery and Mingo. However, Tajh was running for his life for most of the game. Only towards the very end did LSU's defensive line run out of gas, as our Tigers racked up 100 snaps -- at least another quarter's worth of offensive plays compared to most teams.

Nuk Hopkins, despite good coverage, played a great game as well, and his 4th down catch in the final minutes of our final scoring drive is a play for the ages that will always be remembered. LSU had the ball under 2 minutes with a chance to ice the game with run plays, and never called them. We forced a 3 & out and the offense took the ball down the field to set up the winning FG by Catman 25-24, our first lead of the game.

Summarizing Thoughts

Before the season, we asked the fans what they felt were reasonable expectations for the final results in 2012. Most folks felt that 8-4 would be the final regular season record. I thought that with what we had coming back offensively, and how shitty the ACC is, that 10 wins is the bar from henceforth, considering the possibility of an ACCCG and a bowl, and we reached 11 wins. From now on, 10 is the bar and anything less is a failure.

The standards we hold to for success are 3: Win 10 games. beat SC, win the ACC. In the preseason I said this:

I won’t be happy unless we do all 3, and somehow manage not to have a "WTF" game like NC State or West Virginia where we get embarrassed again on a national stage or look like we haven’t practiced the game of football in a month. Take those two losses off, or even make them close losses, and the 2012 season looks a lot better. Take SC and WV off and you'd see the mouthbreathers proclaiming us 2012 national champs. I’m not expecting to win the ACC this season, but we have the best shot behind FSU, and it will probably come down to that game in Tallahassee. Some will say that the BCS NC should be the standard, but realistically we cannot expect Clemson to challenge for national championships every year, and we won’t this year. However, 2013 is looking like a possibility. Unless 2012 is a train wreck, our standard will probably go up for 2013.

If my expectation is that we will not win the ACC, then I may need to back off 10 games, but 10-3 does not look terribly unrealistic given the road schedule and our usual home success, plus a bowl game. It may be slightly optimistic, but not beyond reason. A 4th straight loss to SC is not acceptable under any circumstance, and if Dabo hasn’t been taking them seriously before, then he better get with it now. I don’t see how he could survive 4 years of losing to SC here, unless we’re just whipping everyone else’s ass on the schedule.

Clemson did only 1 of the 3, and after looking at that pitiful schedule strength above, its harder to gauge how good this team really was. We played 3 good opponents and beat only 1 of them, but whipped everyone else on the schedule.

We didn't think Clemson would win the ACC title this year. It basically comes down to whomever wins the FSU/CU game as to who wins the Atlantic. I thought, given that it was at Tallahassee, and given what talent they had, that a win was not going to happen this year. Once you say that you believe we lose the deciding divisional game, a real expectation of winning the conference should go out the window. FSU can always choke, and nearly did, but they won the ACC as they should've.

It is the bedwetting against SC that will stick in our craw for the 2012 season. I would not have a problem calling this season a resounding success if we had not been outcoached here. We also lost a home win streak. If Chad Morris had come in with a good gameplan, and if the defense had gotten off the field on a few more 3rd downs, it may have turned out better. But, in the end, how we lose it doesnt matter when its 4 in a row. Four losses to SC is unacceptable. Dabo had better fix it. We do not want our own John Cooper.

However, I'd have a problem calling the season a failure as well. It wasn't. We improved on offense, and hit the goal of finishing in the 10-20 range in total offense. We registered a good bowl win, and didn't have a WTF game against a shit team like Wake Forest that we've usually had happen. We didn't "pull a Clemson" this year, and that goes a little ways to removing that stigma and improving our national image. We just have to continue doing so.

So overall I'd call the season a success. Successful in some areas, unacceptable on Thanksgiving weekend or on defense overall. I'm content with it.

The question is whether the expectation should rise in 2013, now that Dabo said we're a National Title contender. If he says that, we are going to hold him to that standard. This is the reason for the poll below.


We also speculated on what the final statistical numbers should be, again given the ACC schedule and the talent we had coming back. Our biggest question marks on offense were the OL and backup RB.

Last season we probably got in 70-75% of the playbook, and this year will likely be no different just because of the OL’s youth and inexperience. Last year the sack rate went from 26th to 86th nationally, with a veteran OL. So what is the expectation for improvement here?

Last season, Tajh Boyd completed 59.7% of passes with 12 INTs and 3800 yards passing. The yardage should go up along with the completion percentage and the INTs need to go down. Overall we finished with the 21st ranked passing offense and 36th in efficiency. If the OL were veterans, my hope would be for 4000 yards, 6-8 INTs, and over 63% completion. The offense would put up about 300yds passing per game. I doubt it gets there with this OL. The best I think I can hope for is to duplicate 2011. If we beat that we're golden.

The rushing offense put up 155 ypg, good for 60th nationally. We know this should’ve been higher with a veteran group of OL. In Spiller’s last year it was 170pg, 40th nationally. I think the goal should be to get there or higher, but again with this OL I’m not sure it will. If Ellington gets hurt, it will probably drop big time.

The 2011 Tigers finished 24th in scoring offense, at 33ppg. I think Top 25 is again attainable given the weapons we have. Top 30 might be more realistic, which should still be over 30ppg. The goal though is to be Top 10-20. If the 2012 team finishes in the Top 20 offensively, we should be very happy considering the OL inexperience

Well we hit those marks, so one has to call The Chad the greatest offensive mind to ever call plays at Clemson. This season's offensive numbers were truly exceptional. There is the possibility that they even improve further next season with a lot more depth on the OL, a senior QB, and a stable of impressive WR talent. However, given that we are losing Nuk Hopkins and Andre Ellington, one has to think that if we just hold where we are statistically that we'll be just fine.

Tajh Boyd finished with nearly 3900 yards and a 67% completion rate, 321 ypg, but with 13 INTs. We review the film each week, and I'd put a number of those picks on receivers and not Boyd. We'll review this in the QB position review.

Rushing yardage went from 156 to 191.5, and 36th nationally met the goal of Top 40. It was mostly on the back of Tajh, which really shouldn't continue. A trend away from giving carries to the RBs is going to put your QB at serious risk, and lets face it, Tajh makes the offense go. If we lost him at any point, we would not have finished 11-2.

Below you can see the statistical improvement since the 2009 squad. Everything is better except for the sack rate, which is due to several factors. Clemson's RT position is not a strong pass blocking spot; Gifford Timothy is not a great player, merely serviceable at this point. Clemson still has trouble picking up twists and defensive stunts, along with blitzes up the B-gaps. We blocked with 5 in situations where we obviously should not have (Auburn, FSU, LSU and SC being prime examples). Also, considerable blame can go to Tajh Boyd in this area, as he often walked into a sack or failed to recognize a blitz to help his offensive line out.

2009-2012 Offensive Statistics
Category 2009 2009 Rank 2010 2010 Rank 2011 2011 Rank 2012 2012 Rank
Rushing Offense 170.36 40th 139.0 79th 155.85 60th 191.5 36
Passing Offense 192.0 88th 195.62 78th 284.77 21th 321.2 13
Pass Efficiency 127.09 67th 115.3 100 142.32 36th 163.0 4
Total Offense 362.36 74th 334.62 88 440.62 27th 512.7 9
Scoring Offense 31.14 28th 24.0 86 33.62 24th 41.0 6
Sacks Allowed 1.36pg 31 1.38pg 26 2.31pg 86th 2.38pg 85
Overall turnover margin .43 28 -.23 69 .15 T-45th .15 T-50th
Offensive FEI Rank 32 56th 22nd 13

What more can be said about the statistical offensive accomplishments of the 2012 edition of the Clemson Tigers? Tajh Boyd and Chad Morris led crew exceeded nearly all of the benchmarks set forth. Of course, the statistical accomplishments are only enjoyable when they lead to wins. While some of the blame can be put on the defensive unit for the two losses, the fact is that the offense fell short in the 2nd half of both of those games. The offensive line still needs improvement--85th in the nation in sacks allowed and 36th in rushing. The 3 games against the big bad SEC were the 3 games with the lowest scoring outputs--the pundits always talk about SEC speed, but frankly it's the SEC brawn that caused the Tigers issues. In fact, nearly half of the sacks allowed this season came in those 3 games. This is something to keep in mind with Georgia first up on the 2013 schedule. The line must get better and more physical and keep Tajh cleaner while in the pocket in every game next season--not just the games against the middle tier ACC defenses. Below is a graphic detailing our goals, based on the 2011 yardage marks, along with this season's rankings in the final column.



We are not impressed with the defensive numbers. We expected the defense to finish within the Top 40, and take a TD off the scoring value. I don't care what offense we run, these expectations are not going to change. We hit neither mark. From the preseason:

The killer for us last year was rushing defense, which allowed 176ypg (86th nationally). Pass defense finished 50th, at 217ypg, in a run-oriented conference. I think the talent and coaching is here to hit Top 40 this season. I'm just not certain there has been enough time of on-field coaching to get them any higher. We should be able to knock a TD per game off the scoring defense, from 29ppg to about 21-22ppg.

But that is not really the standard for good defense. Clemson defenses should be in the Top 20 every year. We have way more talent on defense than most of this schedule does offensively. Additionally, championship defenses can stop the run, and historically that is what Clemson does. Bad defense is unacceptable to me.

These are my own thoughts on what good defense looks like: On 3rd and short, I think we need to be 40% successful in every game. Hopefully 3rd and long will be 70% for the year. Scoring defense on championship teams should be in the 14-15ppg range. Total defense should be under 300 yards allowed. NO more plays over 25 yards allowed, and sacks should come up to 1 out of 10 attempts. Interceptions should come at a lower rate, maybe 1 out of 15 attempts. Even though I am not a stats guy, these numbers would indicate good defense is being played.

We didn't either of the two main marks. The other goals are long-term goals and markers of excellent defense. We're also not budging on this, because we play in a very bad offensive league. Most of the teams on our schedule are pretty poor in talent comparison as well. Scoring went from 29 to 25, a FG or so higher than it should've been. Total defense only improved a handful of spots relative to the nation, and notice the yardage still went up.

Truth be told, our numbers below look better than they really should. This was the worst Clemson defense in my memory. Reggie Herring's defense looked better than the 2012 defense, and played better competition to boot. If we were in a better conference this defense might actually show statistically that it was the worst ever. We ended up 72nd in the FEI S&P rating.

Thankfully the rushing defense did improve over the season, and it was obvious they were being well-coached at DT especially. Once Spencer Shuey was put in at MLB in place of Stephone Anthony, the gap control improved and gains started to show themselves. It was still bad, but it did get better, which was something I was hoping to see. That means we do have some coaching going on.

The pass defense was awful, in part due to Harbison's lack of development of experienced CBs and Safeties.Several regressed over their Clemson careers, and you can see the evidence below. A change needed to be made and we'll note next year whether Mike Reed is the answer.

2009-2012 Defensive Statistics
Category 2009 Ntl Rank 2010 Ntl rank 2011 Ntl Rank 2012 Ntl Rank
Rushing Defense 151.50 67th 128.46 28th 176.86 83 156.0 58
Pass Defense 162.79 7th 191.85 22nd 217.5 50 240 73
Pass Efficiency Defense 110.88 21st 116.24 27th 133.47 74 131.2 62
Scoring Defense 20.43ppg 25th 18.77 13th 29.29 81 25 46
Total Defense 314 20th 320.31 19th 394.36 71 396 64
Sacks/Gm 2.57 27th 2.38 32nd 1.85 76 2.6 22
Sacks 36 13th 31 T-28th 24 76 34 T-12
Tackles for Loss 7.29pg 12th 7.38pg 10th 5.07pg 86 6.7 29
Interceptions 21 5th 15 34th 14 31 13 T-43
Defensive FEI 16 15 50

What is really interesting when looking at the defensive stats is how the Sacks ranking ended in the Top 25, considering this was an area where the defense struggled for most of the season. However, in the final quarter of the season, the Tigers D started getting to the QB a bit more often. The one negative is still that on plays where they didn't get a sack, it seemed like there was very little pressure--kind of a boom or bust scenario. We can hope that this isn't just a fluke and that we can rely on the front 4 can generate a pass rush consistently throughout all of next season. Sack rate ended up being 8%, just less than the 10% goal. The Interception rate was very poor, just 3%.

Getting off the field on 3rd downs was a strength from the beginning of the season and ended with a great performance against LSU--8 three and outs and less than a 25% conversion rate...two very big reasons for the Tigers were able to beat the Bayou Bengals. Overall, the stats back up what we all saw throughout the season--not a good unit, but there was improvement through the season.


On to Special Teams--I figured it would be ugly, but didn't know just how ugly. Amazing we were able to win 11 games with the defensive and special teams performances that we saw this season--just reinforces how incredibly dominant and important the offense was to reaching the 11-win season. As a quick explanation, the yards per kick stats take the total return yards divided by the number of kickoffs--so, because just over 50% of all of the Tiger's kickoff resulted in a touch back, the average yards per kick ranking is far better than the average return yards. Ranking 112th in kick off returns of 30+ yards allowed and 109th in average yards per return is unacceptable. Further, while allowing big plays against, few if any big returns were generated--ranking 91st with only 4 returns of 30+ yards and ranking 82nd in average yards per return. A quick peek at the punting stats doesn't alleviate the concern with special teams--97th in punting average and 109th in punt return average.

This is unacceptable in the long run. It didn't matter so much this year, and you didn't notice it because we were still racking up points, but ST is just as important as the other two categories, and Danny Pearman did not get the job done here.

The bright spot was certainly the field goal kicking, ranking 9th in FG percentage, 22nd in FG's made and an ACC record kick to boot (pun intended).



We'd like to hear your summary thoughts on the 2012 Tigers. Are you happy? Content? Satisfied? What do you think the 2013 team can do?