Now that I have completely dried out and returned to the Midwest, I wanted to take some time to offer a few thoughts on Clemson's win.
Kudos to the coaching staff for the scripting of the first two drives. We did an excellent job of exploiting the ND defense and getting on the board. Couple that with how our defense started the game, and things couldn't have started any better for us, certainly a huge turnaround from the last big game here—FSU in 2013.
Everyone may claim that Watson's knee is fine, and he certainly looks good when running, but something is wrong when he throws the ball. Ignoring the weather and the poor receiver play, Watson was not stepping into a lot of throws when he had time. He seemed content to sling from his back foot, and I think that is what's causing his accuracy issues, especially on timing routes or those that require some extra touch. Maybe it is just mechanics that he needs to work on, but it may also be that something with his knee isn't quite right yet. Hopefully, they can get it fixed over the next week or two because Watson is going to have to win a game for us with his arm, and I'm not sure it can happen right now.
That said, someone has to step up in the receiving corps. Right now, we do not have the best group of WRs in the nation, maybe not even the top 10. We have a huge amount of potential here, but that means nothing if we can't execute. Yes, I know it was wet and windy, but we had several easy drops from guys, a few of them game changing. If the ball goes through your hands, then I'm inclined to blame you more than the weather. With Mike Williams still out for an undetermined amount of time, this group needs a go-to guy. Charone Peake is not that guy and has actively hurt this team. Before the game I was hoping Ray Ray or Cain could step up, and maybe they can with some decent weather. Wide receiver play is still going to be a concern going forward.
Big kudos to Andy Teasdall on punts Saturday night. Yes, he got some good bounces, but even when we were stalling in our own half of the field, he put together some great punts, with a good enough hangtime that Notre Dame wasn't trying to return many of them.
On FG kicking, I think Saturday reopens the FG competition. That was an ugly miss by Huegel in the second half, though he did well on the 35-yard FG. I think there is now an opening, and Lakip will have a chance to win the job. I'm not sure he wins it this week, but there should at least be a competition now.
I was fine with our conservative strategy at the end of the game, I just didn't like the actual plays that were called. Our offense was going into the wind, and it was gusting up to 20 mph. That's not weather you can easily throw in, doubly so when the rain was really coming down. Staying conservative was the right move, but we have to be better about the plays that we call. The counters and delay counters were rather pointless, as were the designed runs for Watson. I'd rather see Brooks get a counter and maybe get lucky for some extra yards because of his speed.
Failing that, give Scott the ball on some sort of sweep play. Yes, it is technically a pass, but in this situation I think he could have gotten to the edge and stayed in bounds. That would have been the most "passing" I would have done on those last 2-3 drives, but that is a function of weather and what the receivers have shown.
The defense, there really isn't enough to say about them. The rushing defense was fantastic. Even when we tired late in the game, they still did well. But depth is going to be a concern the rest of the season. The first 11 guys are great, but once number 12 steps on the field, you can see a drop off. Ideally, we get Reader back at some point. That alone would help us a lot. But we still only have 2 quality LBs, and the secondary can be a little thin too.
I was surprised Notre Dame didn't call a single tunnel screen until the 4th quarter. You would have thought someone would have seen the UNC game last year and tried to do it a little more often, even with the weather. But it played into our favor.
We got a little lucky in pass defense. They dropped a lot of gimme catches, and Kizer was not accurate at all. Even a fraction of those miscues becoming catches would have changed this game, though we certainly had some of our own. The weather did make me wish that we could see these teams play in good weather, but I'll certainly take this result.
Can someone slap the student section upside the head? Apparently they missed the memo that you only make noise when the defense has the ball. There were several drives where our offense had a 3rd down situation and all of sudden the student section started going nuts. It didn't make a difference, but it was still weird to see.
Ultimately, I think we have a very talented, but flawed, team this season. We have the ability to beat anyone, but we can also lose to anyone. The lack of depth on defense is going to cause problems at some point, but given how good our starting 11 is, those problems could be mitigated. On offense, we are doing everything well, but not excelling at anything in particular. The good news is this team has plenty of room to grow, especially on offense. I don't think Clemson has peaked yet, and that could be a very good thing for us.