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In-depth: Clemson handles Demon Deacons

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Clemson clinches the Atlantic Division

Clemson v Wake Forest Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If you told me last week that Clemson would beat Wake 35-13 and clinch the Atlantic division—I would have been ecstatic. If you told me at the beginning of the season that Clemson would be 10-1 and either #3 or #4 in the playoff rankings, controlling their own destiny to the playoff—I would have been ecstatic.

The tough thing about this team is the way they seem to get things done. This week we completely dominate the first quarter and run up a 28-0 score, only to have Wake claw back to a 28-13 game. This season we beat Louisville and go on the road to beat FSU, only to lose at home to Pitt after not being able to gain a yard.

Brock Huard was spot on. Clemson fans should be enjoying this ride and should be enjoying having Dabo Swinney as our coach. But it is also fair to remember that we are a missed FG away from being on the outside looking in and wondering how could this happen with all the talent on this team.

Just like last season, South Carolina is going to come into this game fired up, hitting hard, and thinking they can win. And this team, although totally flawed, is much better than last year’s team that lost to The Citadel.

The Clemson crowd was amazing on the road. Kudos to all the fans who braved that weather.

SPECIAL TEAMS

RayRay, you are making this tough.

Everyone knows I am big on his talent and skillset. I am surprisingly with Dabo, I think RayRay has the chance to be one of the better returners in CFB. But you just can’t have all of these fumbles. I’m not big on Scott as a returner on kickoffs (he is good but I think others could be elite), but he is solid on punt return. I want to simply chalk this up to bad weather, but I think RayRay needs to be down to his last chances (he did fumble twice...). As the margin for error slims, you just can’t have special teams turnovers.

The weather was crazy bad so I will refrain from commenting on the kicking and punting. I will only say that Teasdall has a sub 40 punting average on the season. Yes, I know he doesn’t give up many returns, but I’d like to see that number bumped up five yards.

Chad Smith with the blocked kick! Perfect example of a player who doesn’t get playing time despite being highly recruited, but buys in. Great special teams player, such a valuable part of this team.

I also loved the onside kick from Dabo. If guys are offsides, you have the wind to kick it deep.

DEFENSE

Things were looking amazing.

Mark Fields played his best game of the season. He played with confidence with the ball in the air and tackled well from the CB position. I loved his corner blitz in the 3rd Q, he just beat the Tackle to the QB. On another blitz (the play before the sack, he blitzed twice in a row), he ran the QB down to push him OOBs—great effort. We need him to continue to improve opposite Tank this year and heading into next year. Unfortunately, Mullen keeps being hampered by a calf/ankle injury (I think it is achilles soreness).

Kendall Joseph got the defensive player of the game. Sure, he had some great sacks and blitzes, but his blatant holding on Serigne wiped out a Cordrea Tank interception and he completely busted on the long TE Serigne reception (Boulware also didn’t track him). Can’t have those busts. I also saw too many times our LBs try to blitz and get bounced straight back. Too many times in the second half, our LBs got pushed forward. Can’t happen against USCjr.

The stop before halftime was really important. Wake had the ball at the 50 yard line and had been driving all 2nd Q, but the D stepped up. Joseph made a great sack to shut down the threat.

Austin Bryant needs to set the edge better. He is still rounding into shape and needs to regain some lower body strength.

Carlos Watkins has developed into an elite pass rusher. 7.5 sacks on the season.

Dexter Lawrence was in a protective boot on Monday (he will likely play against USCjr, seems to be precautionary) and seemed to grab his leg at the 11:30 mark in the 3rd Q. He played the rest of the game after spending some time in the tent.

I was going to say that Dorian O’Daniel seemed to have another great game, but then he goes and whiffs on an open field tackle and the entire defense decides they don’t want to tackle anymore at the 6:31 mark in the 3rd Q. You have the blown TE pass and this play where you shake your head.

The defense held Wake to a FG, but Wake really blew it. Tre Lamar had great coverage on Serigne (some of the best LB coverage all season), but the ball hit Serigne in the hands and then the QB just missed a wide open slant route Jadar Johnson didn’t cover close enough.

Richard Yeargin had a nice game, TFL and a sack. He is making strides and should see his play count tick up. Very explosive, just needs to hold up against the run a bit more. Should be a breakout player next year. If Lawrence is injured then I would put Wilkins back inside.

OFFENSE

Yes! We were committed to the run. Wake isn’t a bad defense, certainly not a bad run defense, so this was really important. Wayne Gallman got his 100 yard rushing game and broke a couple of long runs for touchdowns (something we haven’t seen enough of this year).

But Huard is right when he says our run game is extremely vanilla. Inside run, inside run. We don’t show much diversity in the run game, especially if we never pitch on the jet sweep or have the QB run on the zone read. Having Watson keep a couple of times opens everything up. We should be able to consistently pound the A gap, but loosening things up with a few perimeter runs is important. Tempo also helps the offensive line. We saw a bit more tempo early against Wake. I don’t think we’ve had a series the past couple of weeks where we were consistently snapping the ball before the 28 second mark on the play clock.

I did enjoy the DW runs to the perimeter at the goal-line. I also loved the DW run on 4th and 1. Those were great play calls.

I’m with Huard, though, run the super jumbo on a second down. Do whatever you need to do to add just a few more looks for the defense in the run game. Did anyone else see the lovely shovel pass? Lets try to run that with RayRay or Scott next week. It reminds me that ‘The Chad’ actually did have a bunch of interior, shovel pass plays in the book, but after Sammy got injured early in the LSU game those were somewhat abandoned.

I also loved the pop pass to Leggett in the first quarter. I wish we went back to some of these calls with more frequency, especially if corners and LBs are crowding the flats and slants (I’m happy with any play that takes advantage of the holes in the middle of the field). Run that again on 2nd and short. I want to see that play against USCjr.

I wasn’t against using Feaster in the run game. He needs his reps and needs to learn for next year. I was against his pass pro...yikes. He must do better than what we saw, but failure is the best teacher, right? Can we design a play or two to get Feaster in space, in the flats, catching the ball on a third down? Put him in position to showcase his talent.

We still miss Peake’s presence in WR blocking. None of our players block all that well—Leggett had a great game but still doesn’t give you any physical presence on the outside. Richard got blown up one of the few times he was blocking outside, which was disappointing to see. I did like Garrett Williams getting some reps out wide, hopefully we can see more of that.

The Oline was humming at the beginning of the game. Gallman had some huge holes to run through. The first time we have seen that all season. Crowder had some great block but also missed a couple later in the game.

No one fumbled on offense, no interceptions.

Not sure why DW threw the ball away OOB’s on 4th down.

In the 3rd Q, Clemson just lost some key execution. Multiple 4th and long failed conversions. Cain with a 3rd down drop. At the end of the 3rd Q we have three straight runs (totally fine with that), but can’t convert a third and one (glad to see some of the Oline was trying to finish their blocks and push the pile). Can’t have that lack of execution.

On the flipside, I’ve given Jordan Leggett a lot of grief over the years, but man, oh man, at the 14:21 mark in the 4th Q...Leggett made the play of the game. 3rd and 11 DW goes to Leggett as the check down option (good read and progression) and Leggett powers for the first down as he reaches the ball out. That is simply good stuff.

REFS

This game was called much better than the Pitt game. You finally saw some holding calls (they flagged Hyatt for a minor hold) and a PI call against Wake. Good job overall.

The refs get on Clemson DBs for grabbing, I don’t think Henderson ever let go of Mike Williams jersey at the 7:05 mark in the 1st Q. It was a savvy defensive move because MW would have had an easy TD, but let’s not act like this is just Clemson.

Looking ahead, Clemson needs to be ready for USCjr throwing everything at them. They will make this their national championship game. Clemson needs to be ready to take a punch. It will be a physical game and the defense must stay disciplined.

If all of the ACC teams beat their SEC rivals this weekend, is the ACC the better conference??