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The Oculus Falls: Pittsburgh Defeats Clemson

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Pittsburgh v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Oculus has fallen for the first time.

I was going to write a post that was doom and gloom, scorch the earth kind of post. Then Washington lost and Michigan inexplicably bit the dust. That made me feel better. I’m trying to have perspective and remind myself that it has been an amazing ride—and Clemson is still in prime position to make the playoff, if not controlling their own destiny.

I’ll begin and end with this reminder—Beat Wake (not one team went undefeated last year, even Bama lost once last year).

But make no mistake, this was a tough game to watch. We played horribly against NC State and deserved to lose that game because of turnovers, but this is the first game where the defense got beat. This is the first time this season that the defense got out-schemed and the first time in a long time where we got beat up front on both sides of the ball for a lot of the game. How can a team with this much talent lose to Pitt (and really should have lost to NC State)?

POSITIVES

If the committee sticks to its criteria, Clemson is still in the playoff. We have a head-to-head victory against Louisville and we will ultimately have a conference championship over them if we win out. Michigan and Ohio State still have to play each other and Washington has an awful OOC schedule (the committee already penalized the Huskies for in Week 2 of the rankings). I think UW will drop another game, probably the Apple Cup to Washington State. AP and Coaches poll voters are not making reasoned logical decisions when they rank Louisville ahead of Clemson. Louisville’s coastal foes have been UVA and Duke—both have losing records. GT and Pitt have winning records. Marshall and Charlotte have losing records. How is this even a discussion? Beat Houston and Kentucky and then maybe you have some semblance of an argument—not now.

Win out and we should be in per the committee protocol of valuing head to head and conference championships. Clemson also has 4 AP top 25 victories, more than any undefeated or one loss team. Things get weird if Penn State gets in the mix or the ridiculous Oklahoma love reaches a fever pitch. Still, Pitt beat Penn State and Oklahoma doesn’t have a championship game.

The real question is whether or not Clemson can beat Wake, USCjr, and VT.

Let’s try to remember this down the road. Clemson can be beaten by any team, any week. I backed off of saying anything because I thought the blowout against Syracuse proved that we were going to out talent everyone on the remaining schedule. Looking at the game now, I think we had a superior defensive wrinkle and benefited from the injury to their starting QB. This team has significant flaws.

When in doubt, just throw it up to Mike Williams already. If you are going to throw it in the endzone, put it up in back corner to MW.

Sorry, those are all my positives.

NEGATIVES

Oline

Lack of an interior run game. Lack of a run game.

I thought we went away from the run game a bit too much and should have tried to loosen up the interior with some more runs to the perimeter—quick pitches, jet sweeps, etc. You just can’t throw 70 times. Obviously, the DW injury hampered the run game, which really hurts our offense because our Oline can’t block anyone in the A gap without the zone read threat. But the reality is when we needed a yard, a single yard up the middle—we couldn’t find it. We haven’t found it all year and it ain’t the RB.

What is the problem? One problem is a predictable scheme and play calling. We need to pay someone a lot of money to help ScElliott with breaking tendencies and coming up with some creative new plays and packages. Elliott seemed to revolutionize the offense when he made his splash against Oklahoma and last year the stripped down scheme worked because we had more talent and folks didn’t adjust. Well, they had all offseason to key on what Clemson was doing. We have not adjusted.

Might I suggest we steal the Canada Pitch right away and implement it against Wake. Pitt runs the same jet motion that Clemson used to run (we used to have more eye candy and motions and shifts like Pitt used against us but we totally stripped that away).

The next problem is the interior line players. We had some hiccups in the game with two freshman tackles starting (can we please have a recruiting class of more than 15-16 players!! Can we not get it up to at least 18??), but the problem was once again the interior of the line getting no push. On the most important play of the game, fourth and 1, who falls down once again flat on the ground—allowing his man to go and make the tackle? I can remember at least 5 short yardage falls/fails. Its unacceptable. Hearn should start splitting reps with Simpson.

The Leggett blocking was bad.

Remember when our line was supposed to be one of the best in the country?? Laughable. We are 86th in the country in rushing. That is bad and then you add in all the penalties. Holding calls and hands to the face from Morris. Just a bunch of miscues.

Rest of the Offense

We threw a ton and caught a lot of balls, but we also had some easy catches that were dropped. RayRay had one on an easy third down late in the second half go right through his hands. Scott juggled a couple down the field. MW and Cain both had a drop. We were awesome on offense until the 4th quarter, don’t get me wrong, but we still shouldn’t be dropping easy balls if we are truly WRU.

How could we not score in the 4th Q after Pitt’s best secondary player Whitehead went down to a gruesome injury with 10 minutes left in the 3rd Q? Can’t get the ball kicked to the plus side of the field, the 40 and not turn it into points at the beginning of the 4th.

RayRay can’t give up field position on those punts.

How about this, on the first and goal play before the interception, Gallman is stacked up in a giant pile. Clemson could have collectively moved the pile (everyone can push the pile in college football, QBs, TEs, WRs, everyone) and Gallman falls forward to the 2 yard line, but Pitt stood us up. Pitt was stronger and more physical than our offense.

Refs

Here it is. The worst call of the season.

I’m not even going to talk about the Boulware call (a product of hypersensitivity after the suplex) or some of the other questionable PIs. The above is one of the worst calls I have seen in a really long time.

ACC crews, after the Louisville game and the Petrino whining about the refs, believe that the Clemson secondary commits a lot of pass interference. As if the book it out or something. We play too physical and don’t get the benefit of the doubt on calls. The Fields hold, the Smith PI, Tank PI, etc. all borderline calls and the players must adjust (of course this wasn’t going both ways and Clemson can point to Renfrow being held in the endzone as an equally egregious no-call). But, man, so many 3rd down calls...wow...

The above Wallace call is indefensible.

This was the same crew who called our GT game. I don’t think some of those refs should be calling games at the Div. 1 level (to be clear, it is a couple of refs on the crew and not the entire crew, and no I’m not getting into the conspiracy theories swirling—if you watch the crew multiple weeks, it’s just bad refereeing). I think the ACC should look into dismantling the crew at the very least (and I will leave it at that).

Defense

No one could stop the shovel pass. It really isn’t on the DE who is playing the QB and pitch. The Safety is in a tight spot because they have to stay disciplined on the back end but must attack immediately when the pitch happens. LBs must recognize when the Olineman kick out and not get blocked.

It is not like the TE or FB were more athletic than our guys. We just got out-schemed and our guys couldn’t adjust in-game. OC Canada, to his credit, didn’t run the play once or twice, but kept going back to the well.

We got the reason why Muse isn’t playing more, busted coverage on the second Pitt TD. If it wasn’t him it was Joseph’s responsibility.

Overall the linebackers looked horrid. If it wasn’t Ben Boulware looking completely lost in coverage, it was Boulware and Joseph getting caught in the wash or ineffectively blitzing (the TE got a bit of a push-off on the TD catch to be fair to Boulware). I think it is time to explore more Dime looks that get Boulware off the field in passing downs. Joseph lost the TE on the 4th down TD before the half (either it was him or Jadar or both).

Can we not cover a quick TE screen to the flat??

Van Smith also had a bad game. He had a ton of awful run fits and was getting confused with some of Pitt’s looks. I’m hoping that Jadar Johnson was just feeling the effects of the calf injury because he got beat in the open field a few too many times.

The defensive line was pretty good but gave up a ton of yards on the ground. You have to acknowledge that Connor is a great back, but I can see some of the younger guys hitting the wall. Albert Huggins needs to stop eating snacks if he wants to play.

Coaching

I’ve already gone after both staffs, but Dabo has rightly accepted a lot of the blame. I don’t understand the third down and fourth down calls or the play design though. On the third and one play, you have Leggett and Milan Richard as your primary blockers in the hole. Leggett misses his block and Richard gets pushed back a yard. The only person sustaining a block is Garrett Williams on the outside. Then on fourth down you get a toss stretch play where Wilkins gets to block the smallest guy on the field and everyone else can’t even lock on a man. Leggett gives bad effort, Hearn falls, Williams is on the other side of the play and can’t do anything. If you go jumbo, put them in the phone booth. How about we slip Leggett out down the field on that play? All 11 men on defense were at the line of scrimmage. How about a bootleg there for a one yard QB run? How about we use the jumbo on third down and punt it on fourth?

Just a frustrating outcome for a team busting at the seams with talent.

But, hey, according to GA folks we lead for White and TL. It’s not all bad.

Yeah. Time to move on. Beat Wake (remember, not one team went undefeated last year, even Bama lost once last year).