The Clemson Tigers that beat LSU on December 31st are the same Clemson Tigers that lost to USC to end the regular season. The players are the same, the coaches are the same, and the fans are the same. Bowl games are a unique situation in football. Except for the season opener, this is the only time a team gets such an extended period to prepare for one opponent. It is basically like getting a second training camp, and teams often look completely different, for better or worse, in a bowl game.
Too often everyone places a surreal importance on bowl games. Look at Southern Cal this year. Based on a few games at the end of the season they were crowned preseason number 1. Then they lost to GT in the Sun Bowl. Bowl games have to be viewed as one of 13-14 games in a teams season. There is nothing wrong in being excited about a great bowl victory, but we can't get carried away and act like it completely changed the season. Doing that only sets you up for failure next year.
If the bowl result is similar to those of the rest of the season then feel free to be confident or panicked. If the win comes in a different way or is completely out of nowhere, be very cautious what positives you take from it other than how great a victory it was, or how depressing a loss it was.
Heck look at Clemson’s defense for example. This year it went from ugly to pretty decent in the span of a month. No one can honestly say that our defense is good, just that they spent a month getting up for this one game and it worked out well. If we played LSU a week after USC it might have been an absolute dumpster fire complete with a homeless guy laughing at us.
On the opposite end, go back to last year’s Orange Bowl fiasco against WVU. I don’t think Clemson was 37 points worse than the Mountaineers, but we weren’t ready to play that game after a month layoff. If Clemson plays WVU a week after the ACC title we may not have won, but it wouldn’t have been as embarrassing as that screwball comedy was, and it wouldn't have colored the whole offseason.
Even in our Peach Bowl victory the issues we have talked about all season were still there, the only difference was they were minimized due to Tajh and Nuk playing for keeps, and Les Miles being outcoached by Les Miles. Yea, let’s think about that one for a second.
Our DB’s still had trouble covering receivers when we couldn’t get to the QB. Mettenberger had several wide open completions and several wide open receivers he missed due to incompetence. On a few receptions the DB’s weren’t turning their heads to look for the ball either.
The offensive line was an absolute sieve. Some plays would have had more success if we used a blocking sled as lineman. LSU absolutely abused our linemen, and if Tajh didn’t pull out his greatest game as a Tiger things would not be so pretty around Clemson. While conditioning was good, these lineman still need to have functional football strength. Honestly before that they need normal strength, and our thoughts on a new S&C philosophy will not change.
The coaching staff also had some problems, particularly Chad Morris. In both of our losses, as well as several victories, Morris got away from the run and it created some problems. Once again he did it in the 3rd quarter after we gave up an early touchdown. The big difference this time was our defense stepping up to get off the field, and a slight increase in runs outside of the classic zone read. The next step in Morris’ development is to try and change what the offense does when things don't go so well. Until the last 5-10 minutes of the game you can still run the ball and honestly you need to. In our offense, theres no need to abandon the run even late in the game. Just sub in another RB and snap the ball.
Now in fairness, one thing that did look a heck of a lot better was the DL. They looked hungry and were able to generate some great pressure on LSU even taking into account the poor pass protection LSU has. They've improved greatly since the FSU debacle, and Dan Brooks hopefully retires a Clemson Tiger.
As mentioned before, Tajh’s performance was fantastic. He had a few WTF moments, but pretty much every QB does and since they worked out we can’t blame him much. Nuk also showed how to play wide receiver with the big boys, and could you imagine him playing catch with someone like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? That would just be silly.
Also I have to give some props to Dabo. He managed the end of the game well, did his part to make sure we had all 3 timeouts at the end of the half, and coached about as perfect a job in this game as he could. The press conference was classic Dabo, but after winning I have no problems with a coach going nuts, especially at the end of the season after such a big win.
Just remember that everyone needs to take a deep breath and remain calm. One game does not make a season, and it does not fix all of the problems this team has. The win was certainly a big step, but there are several more to go before we get where we want to be. Thankfully, we get a full offseason to begin working on changes ahead of a big season opener against Georgia.