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In-Depth: Clemson Tigers Swat Yellow Jackets

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Georgia Tech v Clemson
It was all a blur. A very damp blur...
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Well hello again. Sorry you missed me last week, I just couldn’t write in-depth on that Syracuse game. Every time I started watching I literally vomited on the keyboard.

A few minor observations from Cuse:

  • Not enough has been said about how disruptive tempo was to the Clemson defense. I think it woke up the Clemson offensive braintrust and made them remember that we are supposed to be a tempo team and tempo is a disruptive advantage for an offense. Our defense, despite practicing against Clemson and playing Auburn earlier in the season, couldn’t line up and get set. More importantly we lost track of our keys with all the shifting going on on offense and mental and physical fatigue that creeped in as the game progressed. Cuse was the better conditioned and mentally tougher team. The tempo was much better against Georgia Tech.
  • Much of what worked defensively against Cuse last year (lining a DE up over the bubble, bunch formations) was thrown out of the offensive playbook for the game by Babers. Babers added new formations and looks that the defense hadn’t seen on tape all year. Masterful offensive coaching job by Babers.
  • Right now the offense needs a running QB to open up the offensive playbook. Execution of blocking schemes against the smaller Cuse front and their attacking blitzes was not pretty.
  • I’m glad we opened up the kicking game and brought Costa out, but I told everyone here (and on the Twitter) that Spence wasn’t very good. We should have done that as soon as the Huegel injury happened. In practice, Spence isn’t some golden leg that just can’t do it in games. He is fine in practice from 40 yards in, but he struggles beyond that mark. I am glad he hit the 29-yarder against Tech, and he should be better than he was at Syracuse, but he isn’t that much better.

Recruiting News

Quick weekend recap:

Cade Mays (6’6, 320) is a 5* OT from Knoxville, TN who is currently a Tennessee Volunteer commitment. He is the composite number 15 player overall in the 247 composite rankings. I have long loved Mays as a player and his film since 2014/2015. This was back during the early stages of WR Amari Rodgers recruitment. Both are close friends and I hoped Clemson could get in the conversation with Mays, despite his UT leanings.

Well Mays quickly shut that door and committed to UT in February of 2015. He is a legacy and is all Vol. Welp, if the recruiting season ended today you have to like Clemson’s chances (and I can’t believe I just typed that). Mike Jones Jr. is also from Tennessee and is good friends with Mays. Clemson checks a lot of boxes for Mays with regards to culture, environment, faith, and a winning program. Mays checks Clemson’s boxes with regards to need at Tackle and playing through the whistle with an edge and toughness. The key piece of information is that Mays will be back on another visit for the Citadel game. The longer Tennessee waffles on making a coaching change, the better Clemson’s chances remain.

KJ Henry (6’5.5, 240) is a 5* WDE from West Forsyth HS in North Carolina. He is ranked number 16 overall in the composite. Henry visited with his entire family, including his father, and they all had an excellent visit despite the rain. Look, Henry was all but a commit last year and into the summer. Henry just didn’t pull the trigger on the commitment, opting to go through the entire recruiting process. The guy wears Clemson gloves and has never been shy about his affinity for Clemson. But the process and having Clemson as the leader means teams chip away. Georgia was once seen as a threat, but I have this as a three way battle with Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Alabama. VT has slowly risen, buoyed by their strong season and Fuente’s continued emergence. Going to VT would mean playing with a lot of Henry’s friends and kids from the area. Bama is about getting to the league and their prestige.

I still have Clemson as the leader here.

Georgia Tech:

Dexter Lawrence got chop blocked on almost every play he was in the game (or they were at least very close). Now after a Twitter discussion with Jay Guillermo (thanks Jay for the insight!), I’m not going to say that GT was strategically trying to chop Dexter, but the chop block could have been called multiple times.

The rule is you can’t have two lineman engage with a defender where one lineman goes high and the other goes low. GT’s argument would be that both players were cutting him low. #75 comes in late multiple times to cut Dexter after the Center engages (sometimes it is high and sometimes it is on the ‘thigh board,’ which is low enough to not count as a chop). The trouble for the Center is that often he is trying to engage Dexter and get past him to the next level, so the chop call is harder for refs to make because DLaw is a space-eater and not letting the Center go by him completely. The Center and LG aren’t trying to chop him, the Center just can’t get off the block. I still think it is dirty and I’m amazed that not one chop call was made the entire game.

OFFENSE

The ankle appeared healthy. That is huge moving forward.

Very hard to judge the offense in the pouring rain. Not going to hold fumbles against Etienne and Feaster. Not going to hold some of those passes against Kelly Bryant against him. I was amazed the passing game was working as well as it was, especially early in the game. He needs to get on the same page with Cain. The deep ball must be a constant threat.

Love the tempo we played with and the varying of the snap count—that wasn’t happening against Syracuse.

Worth noting that Maverick Morris actually started the game instead of Tyrone Crowder. Tyrone needs to get in better shape or his NFL possibilities might start to slip away.

Deon Cain had a great first drive and touchdown. Then he missed a touchdown where he needed to lay out for the ball (something he almost never does and should do to grab the TD). He had a false start penalty and a very questionable offensive pass interference call (I fully believe opposing teams have sent in early footage of Cain slightly pushing off, and so ACC refs are looking for it—he has to know that though). He missed a couple of other balls where he could have gone up and high pointed the ball better and some perimeter blocks. Clemson needs him to step up down the stretch.

Diondre Overton is nipping at Cain’s heels and had another good game. Tee Higgins had a good catch and some quality YAC yards. Amari Rodgers finally got free on the jet sweep where someone didn’t miss a block and showed his strength and potential.

Milan Richard had the TD catch (a nice seam route) and played better against Cuse, but also noteworthy was the increase of snaps for Cannon Smith in the GT game. With Garrett Williams deciding to shut it down (there was a real conversation about him playing this year), the staff will turn to Smith and give him a bigger role. Richard’s perimeter blocking is still atrocious, really most of our perimeter blocking still needs work although it was better than it was against Cuse.

I liked the offensive line rotation. Simpson got in on some meaningful snaps. Maverick Morris took more snaps away from Crowder. Pollard and Anchrum continue to rotate. This was all done within the flow of the game and with Clemson leading the game. Falcinelli had a few bad snaps and the ball that went clear over Hunter Johnson’s head was a Cervenka snap, but that can be blamed on rain. The pocket was clean for KB much of the night, with very few busts.

The offense stalled in the third quarter with some penalties, a snap that hit Rodgers for a big loss, and a missed third down and short conversion. But the offense moved the ball pretty well. Remember that GT cuts down the total number of possessions. The fourth quarter was eaten up by a sustained drive by GT, with a 4th down conversion and lots of defensive backups getting good reps.

I need to give credit to CJ Fuller. He had some tough runs in the fourth quarter that put the game away. If he can learn to maintain his balance a bit better and get more YAC yards and not fumble, he has a role to play in the offense. Dabo said Feaster got a hip pointer in the game, which explains his limited carries.

I want to credit Streeter and Dabo for putting in Hunter Johnson for the final 5 minutes. With a 14 point lead the game wasn’t out of reach, but HJ needs to reps to get comfortable. That was an impressive drive that ended the game. Offensive line pushed the gassed GT D-line around and Fuller gained tough yards with GT knowing they were going to run the ball. Hunter just needs to learn to not go out of bounds, no big deal (that is really on the QB and RB position coaches, happened last year and has almost cost us in the past).

DEFENSE

Tre Lamar had his best game as a Tiger. This is the kind of game he is built for and he delivered. He did a good job of not getting cut too often and getting off blocks.

Dorian O’Daniel, the bee destroyer, had another remarkable game. I will miss you D’OD.

Jamie Skalski got in and showed why BV burned his redshirt last year.

Schematically, I liked how Venables stacked his LBs, which allowed them to utilize their speed more and not get caught in the wash.

This is the team where we will miss Christian Wilkins the most in the future. His ability to knife through O-lineman and his quick reaction off the ball are uncanny. PJ has never beaten Christian Wilkins. Nyles Pinckney had a good game in the middle, especially with Dexter Lawrence sitting most of the game after the chop blocks.

Benson got a few runs, one where Joseph slipped in his gap because of the rain. With the conditions favoring the running game and slippery jerseys, this was a stellar effort by the defense. Nothing was gained on the perimeter (where the rain helped Clemson a bit because no one was able to make quick cuts up the field). The other runs came at the start of the 4th Quarter with #11 QB Matthew Jordan running the keeper (three straight plays where Register got blown up and pushed straight into the backfield, he still needs a lot of work). Then he got injured and it was largely over for GT (despite a bogus defensive holding call on Mullen when the GT receivers were blocking downfield and a horrible 4th down spot that would have been a conversion if it hadn’t been overturned—Dabo had to challenge the spot himself).

When Tanner Muse came into the game with a giant orange cast on his hand, I thought I was seeing things at first. That thing was ginormous. Hopefully it can get smaller in a hurry because wrapping up is already Muse’s weakest point as a Safety. I didn’t see any contact that hurt the hand, I think it might have been slapping a players helmet that did it.

In his absence Simmons did a really good job. The entire secondary did really well in run support and didn’t get burned deep off of play-action (PJ should have attacked our safeties more with some passes or gadget plays where running backs could get releases down the field, but even then our guys were too fast). The Safeties will be tested against NC State. In fact, our defensive performance largely hinges on the ability of the Safeties to play disciplined football (they didn’t against Syracuse), and account for Jaylen Samuels at all times.

Special Teams

Yeah, we made a FG.

Spiers was fine punting in the rain. We must be prepared for NC State trying to block kicks. They got to one against Notre Dame and scored a TD off of it.

I’m not a fan of Will Swinney getting WR reps in the 4th Q with 5 minutes to go (two minutes left is fine), but I am a huge fan of Will Swinney the holder. Awesome job of corralling a few errant snaps, one that was up on the other side of his shoulder, and getting the down for the kicker. Awesome job.