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Clemson Loss Is All About The Run Game

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I had a chance to finally get to a game this year. Of course my good fortune at seeing Clemson wins in person couldn’t last, here are a few thoughts as I was marinating on the flight home.

Let’s be honest, every one of us knew a loss was coming at some point. Clemson has played with fire too many times this year to go undefeated. Yes, the Tigers got through the hard parts of the schedule so far, but it is easy to get up for big games. Executing in smaller games is where we’ve had problems and it finally hurt us on Saturday.

Now there is a lot to be upset about, but despite the refs, the interceptions, and even the playcalling late there is one big culprit to Clemson’s vulnerability, terrible run-blocking on the OL. That is the list. If our run blocking was even fractionally better Clemson wins this game and looks stronger in every game we’ve already played.

This weekend Dabo said that 30 of Watson’s 70 passes were originally runs he optioned into a pass. That is stunning and based on the game probably the correct decision. But that should tell everyone just how terrible our run blocking is. If the QB doesn’t have faith in the run game and is willing to throw the ball 70 times you know it is bad. Oh and for good measure, Gallman still got 18 carries, he just only went for 36 yards and then entire offense only rushed for 50 yards on 25 carries.

Now I do want to mention the refs. Yes, they seemed bad, at least from my vantage point at the game. And several of y’all have mentioned the announcers bashing them. But even if they spotted Pitt 14 points or so it doesn’t matter. We were in a position to win the game several times and we didn’t. There were probably 4-5 opportunities where we were up 7 or 8 and couldn’t score to extend the lead. That’s on this team, not on the refs or anyone else. Go up by 14 or so and Pitt likely quits a little bit.

Normally I am leery about complaining about playcalling. None of us are in the room when the gameplan is being developed and we don’t have access to the conversations coaches have during the game. Not every play is designed to exploit a weakness. Sometimes coaches are trying to set up a look to exploit later in the game, or keep the defense off balance so they can try something on the next say.

That said, the 3rd and 4th down calls on Clemson’s final drive were absolutely inexcusable. We were absolutely killing them in the passing game and on 3rd down the decision is made to run the ball? And run a toss at that? That has to be one of the dumbest play calls I’ve seen. Either run the ball up the middle and pray we get the push, or spread it out wide in the air. Personally I would have taken my chances by throwing the ball.

For those that worry about the clock, it doesn’t matter. Pitt had 2 timeouts before the 3rd down with 1:11 left on the clock. If Clemson converts 3rd or 4th there would either be 1:05 or 1:00 left on the clock. The clock would likely keep running on 1st down and the game would be over. Even if Pitt used both timeouts Clemson would run the clock out. But instead on 3rd down we used some junk call that last failed us against Auburn in a similar situation.

And then to top it off we went and ran it again to the opposite side on 4th down. I’ve seen some talk about how we should have punted. If we punted we would have deserved to lose the game. If we are lucky we pin them back another 20 yards on their own 15. But I’m not sure we get that lucky and I’d rather a coach go for the win every time. It is better theory, especially when before this try Clemson was 11/16 on 4th downs. That’s a pretty good percentage and I’d rather trust my offense every time, especially when our defense isn’t exactly playing well. But again the play call was terrible and ruined any chance of Clemson converting. The toss gave Pitt’s defense an opportunity to identify and attack the ball carrier after blowing the line. If we just run it up the gut there is at least a chance that we get just enough push to move the ball 1 yard.

Oh and I’m not sure who made the decision to try and return the kick, but that was equally as bad. Cover the ball and run a final play. With Watson and our receiving corp the odds of success are infinitely better than a bunch of lateral nonsense. But that final play did sum up the game pretty well.