There are no two ways about this one, the Clemson coaching staff lost this game. You can blame the penalties, the execution, even the lack of effort on the players, but it doesn’t matter. This coaching staff went up to Syracuse and got outcoached. Some of that even happened before the game started.
Let’s start with the obvious problem, Kelly Bryant was not healthy enough to play this game. In a single half of play Bryant technically rushed just twice. He’s been averaging nearly 17 rushes per game even when you include the Kent State game where he didn’t run much.
No one can sit there and say with a straight face that Kelly Bryant was healthy enough to run. If he’s not healthy enough to run a good third of the Clemson offense isn’t working, arguably more than that when Bryant is our QB.
Even when Bryant was in it wasn’t like this coaching staff was running the ball. Outside of our QBs the team rushed for 137 yards on 16 carries. That is 8.6 yards per carry. Yes, it does include two monster runs so the average is skewed, but it wasn’t like we ran the ball 30 times and had some big runs skew it. Clemson didn’t even run the ball enough to say we were having issues running the ball. Oh and Clemson did not run the ball with a RB for 13 minutes of gametime in the 2nd quarter. That’s some Chad Morris-esque play calling there.
That also brings up the decision to keep Zerrick Cooper in all game. I understand, even if I disagree, with giving Cooper 2-3 series to see what he can do. He’s worked for a year in the system and the one drive he got last week was hasty and he wasn’t ready. But he had an entire halftime to prep, get loose, and get mentally ready. Then we saw multiple instances of poor reads on zone reads, RPOs, and even not understanding the routes receivers were running. I’m sorry but Cooper did not have what Clemson needed and it was pretty obvious. His passing stats were similar to Bryant, but he missed several key throws and the team never tried any shots down the field.
If Kelly Bryant is not ready to play against Georgia Tech then Clemson should start Hunter Johnson. He may have a small sample size, but he’s looked in command of the offense when he’s been on the field and he’s executed much better than anything we’ve seen from Cooper.
Finally let’s talk about substitutions. The media got a talking to about them recently, but we’ve often said this is something that could bite Clemson, and it did. Through 6 games last year Clemson’s top defensive players played around 45 snaps more than their similar games this year. That’s anywhere from half to two thirds of a game worth of snaps and more importantly conditioning. This is a defense that seemed tired and that didn’t care. That’s not good halfway into the season. Even if it isn’t just because of substitutions, something was off tonight in conditioning and heart.
We are going to dissect this loss all week, but ultimately this one comes down on the coaching staff. Kelly Bryant shouldn’t have been playing, Zerrick Cooper should have been pulled earlier, and the playcalling and motivation was terrible. Hopefully this serves as a wake up call. Clemson’s margin to win the ACC Atlantic is slim. A loss likely kills it. Winning out is the only option to not only keep the ACC goals alive, but the College Football Playoff goals as well.