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In-Depth: Clemson Survives Against the Wolfies

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NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Win and survive. The media and rival fanbases will moan and wail about Clemson not being a playoff team, but if you stay undefeated then you are in. Regardless. We shouldn’t have won this game and we shouldn’t have lost this game. Both teams can kick themselves for missed opportunities.

Four turnovers? After five against Louisville? The Gallman hit was targeting (explained below), but that is one you just applaud the other team and move on (if the targeting rule didn’t exist). Watson just made a mistake on the pick-six and didn’t see #2. Tyshon Dye fumbling on the goal-line is inexcusable. Mike Williams fumbling in the red zone is also inexcusable (he had a similar fumble against Auburn). The entire team needs better ball security.

I am going to rip into this team in a moment, but I don’t want to forget that when that NC State kick sailed wide, sending the game to overtime, I got a bit emotional. This team is just too talented and so many of us have so much invested that it was hard not to feel like something was unfairly getting yanked from our souls as the defense gave up first down after first down on the final State drive. It felt like a Tommy Bowden era moment, where you keep scratching your head, wondering how the game got to this point.

I need to talk about this first though. I don’t often complain about targeting. I personally think the rule is subjective and poorly enforced unevenly across college football. But the rule is the rule. You can’t lead with the crown of the helmet and make forceable contact to the neck or head area. If you lead with the crown and make contact with an opposing players helmet—it is targeting. NC State has a bunch of close calls in the first half.

But more importantly NC State was absolutely going for kill shots, head hunting much of the game. Again, I’m all for a physical brand of Boulware football, but kill shots are kill shots. In the first drive you see RayRay (10:31, 1Q) take a hard shot to the head neck area from the opposing players helmet, but that is a hard football play. No call needed. Then two plays later #4 for the Pack goes for DW with the crown of the helmet (9:43, 1Q), but misses when DW slides. This pattern continues the entire game.

As a refresher, here is the targeting rule as it currently stands. Also remember that when in question—the rules state it is a foul if the player uses the crown.

No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul.

No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent (See Note 2 below) with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul (Rules 2-27-14 and 9-6). (A.R. 9-1-4-I-VI)

Note 1: "Targeting" means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball. Some indicators of targeting include but are not limited to:

Launch—a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area

A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground

Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area

Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet

(9:04, 1Q) Gallman is hit violently with the crown of the helmet (the top of the helmet), which hits Gallman’s facemask and helmet. I’m not the only one saying this.

The rules clearly state that you can’t make forceable contact (did you see Gallman’s head?) and you can’t hit with the crown of the helmet. You don’t need to prove a launch or crouch or anything else. If you use the top of your helmet then you are toast. You don’t have to like the rule, but that is the rule.

I feel like this is entering whiny territory if I post more examples (one of Choice getting cracked and a couple others). The one above is the clearest. Moving on...

DEFENSE

The defense only gave up ten points against the Wolfies. We need to keep that in perspective. We got two interceptions against an efficient QB and blocked a kick. Not a bad afternoon.

The crowd deserves credit here. Three false starts on the opening drive, despite the noon kickoff. We came out flat on defense. We didn’t tackle well all game and NC State was using good design to get favorable matchups and out flank us.

This was a tough matchup for Clemson because our LBs, and Boulware in particular, struggle in man coverage. We didn’t shoot gaps effectively and didn’t get many TFL. In the fourth Q the LBs were tired and not able to stand Dayes up. That drive was a nightmare for the LBs and the DLine. You can blame it on being tired, but it was crunch time and we needed a third down stop. Their QB picked us apart on that drive and on third and short most of the afternoon.

The Dline played its worst game of the season. We didn’t get our normal push and wore down as the game progressed. NC State used a quick passing game, which negated our pass rush and gassed the big guys far too quickly. But when State did run, we weren’t winning at the point of attack like we normally do. On stretch running plays, Dayes was finding cutback lanes, which should scare us to death with FSU coming.

This wasn’t a great offensive line coming into the game, but our guys got handled for the first time this season.

We just haven’t figured out exactly who can help us with the Nickel coverage. I was shocked to not see Korrin Wiggins in the game (no idea what is going on there). K’Von Wallace had the nice pick, but continues to have a few growing pains. Carter played really well on some plays, really well (he blows up screens, but gave up some pass plays). Hines and other receivers dropped balls that were on target that could have been TDs.

Van Smith also had his worst game. He missed a lot of tackles, including getting beaten by State’s QB Finley in the open field. Guys had dead legs and poor tackling technique late in the game.

Doeren has an OC in Drinkwitz. Doeren also has the core of this team coming back next year (they only lose Dayes, WR Cherry, and some Oline—and whoever goes to the NFL). Won’t be pretty in Raleigh next year.

OFFENSE

We really didn’t play that bad on offense overall. We just turned the ball over. This was a good front for NC State. Hill, Street, Chubb, and Roseboro (a guy we recruited but could never gain his interest) were getting a lot of penetration and stuffing the run without Gallman.

Deshaun threw his first pick six. Awful throw and read. He threw a couple balls in the dirt and shouldn’t have thrown one on a blown up screen, but overall he played well. This wasn’t on him. He led multiple sustained drives that methodically moved down the field, only to have the offense screw up in the redzone. He did overshoot Cain once on a clear TD. Why aren’t we taking more of those shots in the game? Stretch the field vertically.

DW converted on third down after third down and came through in the end, despite all the miscues. I would like to see the team have a drive where they use the two minute drill mentality some time in the first half. Run more tempo and let DW open things up down the field. He is so effective in these situations, and it is not just because of prevent defense.

Don’t let Tyshon Dye run the ball in the redzone until he can prove he can hold on to the ball. That is his second redzone/goal line fumble (just because the refs blew the whistle against Troy doesn’t mean he didn’t fumble). You drive the entire length of the field. Convert a series of third downs and then fumble it on first and goal. I love the recovery story, the heart and everything, but remember CJ Davidson costing us the FSU game? It just can’t happen. Coaches can’t allow that to happen.

And really? No Feaster, at all? I know the majority of the game the RB was blocking and Feaster can’t be trusted to leave DW vulnerable. But we can’t use Feaster out of the backfield in a package or as a decoy? We have weapons and talent on the roster for a reason. Can we not use them situationally?

The talent gap between Gallman and the other RBs is glaring. Gallman masks the deficiencies in our Oline. Regular RBs look pedestrian because we can’t open up consistent running lanes against decent lines.

The offensive line again struggled to get any push. Third and 2? Stuffed. Third, fourth and goal from the one? Stoned.

At the 7:48 mark in the 4th Q Leggett gets called for a bogus holding call. Without the penalty Clemson is on the 15 yard line. With it, Clemson flails and moves itself out of field goal range.

RayRay McCloud had an excellent day as a WR. Didn’t drop a ball and made some nice catches on the sidelines. The return of Hunter Renfrow. Goodness. It is amazing to see what he does for the offense and DW. His hand is not fully healed and to catch like that is nothing short of amazing.

Overall, we had a lack of execution in the redzone. Simple as that.

Special Teams

Don’t squib kick late in the half if you can’t get the ball past the 30. Apart from that, I was ecstatic that Huegel was able to kick it deep into the endzone. Hines took one back last year and is a dangerous returner.

Punting has been atrocious this year. We are currently 113 of 128 teams in cfb in punt yards average. That is unacceptable. The short punt of just 18 yards, with no pressure on the last drive in the fourth quarter, was pull your hair out kinda bad.

Greg Huegel didn’t miss any extra points. Got to have those in critical games and he delivered.

RayRay muffed another punt, but Clemson was able to recover. Would have been another disaster.

The Rest of the Way

The schedule continues to be very favorable for Clemson. FSU will not be an easy game to win in Tallahassee. But Clemson should win the game if they can stop the run (those stretch runs with Cook cutting back could be killer for Clemson), not turn the ball over, and expose the flaws in the FSU backfield. FSU wasn’t impressive on offense against Wake.

Other than that, you have two home dates against Pitt and Syracuse where Clemson needs to have a good effort. Babers is a good coach (said it when he was hired) and he can make that team dangerous if they start playing defense. Pitt will be motivated and is a tough team/out.

I am not liking the prospect of playing UNC again in the ACC Championship game.