As part of our season preview we posed several questions about Clemson football to a group of writers for discussion. During the season we will be doing a similar feature each week where a group of writers talks about the previous game and what we saw in terms of strategy. This week we talk about Clemson’s win over Auburn.
Brian: So all offseason we worried about the state of the defense. They did well against Auburn but there seemed to be a few times we could have gotten beat if Auburn had a better offense. What was the big takeaway here as we go forward?
Alex: Really I don’t think there is as much to take away as I would’ve thought, certainly not as much as most seem to have done. The exception is the defensive line. Auburn really is that bad on offense so I’ll reserve judgment on the defense everywhere except up front, where the strength of the Auburn offense could supposedly be found in its interior line. Once again, a rebuilt Clemson line picked up right where its predecessor left off with relentless pressure and tackles for loss…until fatigue set in at the end.
Offensively, I think you have to give credit to Kevin Steele. After review, it shouldn’t be too surprising given Auburn’s talent level, on the road, where Clemson always seems to struggle out of the gate. The biggest surprise to me was Steele’s competence, honestly. Even the play calling now makes more sense than it did in the moment, with Auburn playing so aggressively it made sense to throw fades to Mike Williams all night. Everyone wants to worry about Watson’s off night, about Williams throwing off the balance and ball distribution that worked so well last year. No. The Williams mismatch was just about all Auburn gave us, so we kept taking it.
Metal Tiger: I think the biggest question I have remaining on the defensive side of the ball is personnel usage. We saw Boulware covering the slot 8 yards off the ball, weird Dime of Doom groupings, O'Daniel getting a lot of bench action in the second half, and the CB/NB rotation. Maybe it was just a one game deal with Venables going with who he trusts but only time will tell.
On offense, big shout out to Wayne for pass blocking like a champ at times.....and now a big WTF to Wayne for going out of bounds with 45 seconds remaining. As a veteran guy, you have to know the down, distance and clock situation. After going back and watching some film, is it just me or was Watson not really stepping into his throws? This could have led to some of the accuracy issues we saw early on. And will the real Jordan Leggett please show up? Finally, the play calling was quite bland and we did not attack the edge with sweeps and read options as much as I would have liked to see. This would have helped open up the center of the field more in the passing game and also given us the opportunity for some more explosive plays.
Dbbm: The defensive line looks solid but the depth at end is concerning. Guys were clearly wearing down at the end of both halves. Ferrell in particular exceeded my expectations. The linebackers are glitchy. Boulware and Joseph made fantastic plays and followed up with baffling busts, both in run fits and coverage. The secondary, especially Tankersly, played well in run support. Auburn's passing game is going to make a lot of teams look good so I'm not sure how far we can read into their coverage so far this season. Overall the defense played well but I'm glad there's two cupcakes to sort things out against.
Chris M: I agree. The defensive line played fairly well, but the depth could be cause for concern; especially when it comes to the bigger ACC games. Our 3rd down defense was also really shaky, I think if Auburn had more consistency at the quarterback position we could've been in a really bad spot. Also we saw Boulware playing out of position on some of the zone passing plays. Tank has stepped up in a major way already this season, specifically in terms of helping stop the run.
The biggest takeaway for me would be that the offense needs to produce quite a bit more if they want the defense to finish games with a full tank. The defense was on the field far too long against Auburn and it showed towards the end of both halves that our defensive linemen were getting gassed.
Brian: Yea the offense has to do better. Did anyone else think we called this game almost like we were playing a scrub team? It was very bland, almost as if the coaching staff didn't want to give anything away to future opponents.
Chris M: Absolutely. The offensive schemes were very basic, and we also didn't take the normal shots down field early that Clemson historically does. This game almost felt like a preseason game that we forgot counted.
Deshaun played very reserved as well, which isn't one of his characteristics at all. I'm interested to see how the play calling turns out in the next two games since they aren't "high profile" games.
Brian: Yeah, I would expect more vanilla calls the next two weeks and that's fine. I really dislike the idea of going basic against Auburn, maybe the staff took things a little too lightly or something.