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In-Depth: Clemson Tigers Chop Noles

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NCAA Football: Florida State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the first half Florida State had gained only 23 total yards. They tacked on an additional 23 in their final drive before the half to post a grand total of 46 yards in the entire first half.

Domination.

Save for two inexplicable fumbles inside the five yard line, it was an excellent performance by the offense. Should have been a 28-0 game at half. Cain missed an easy touchdown that would have made the game 24-7 in the 4th Q.

Your average recap says Clemson only passed for 151 yards and Kelly Bryant can’t throw and Cain can’t catch, no deep ball—end of story.

Taking a deeper dive, the thing that is holding back the Clemson offense from being elite (in its own way) is execution. The details. Every single negative yardage play was a result of someone missing a block or poor execution.

Very little of what went wrong had to do with Florida State out athlete-ing Clemson or being better, which is a remarkable statement. Burns is a freak athlete with his length, Nnadi is a rock, and Derwin James is an excellent Safety (I really like the potential of Nasirildeen as well and wish we could have landed him). You can see the potential of Akers (Clemson held him to 40 yards on 12 carries, he should’ve had more touches...), but other than that Clemson beat Clemson and was the superior team across the board.

In 2013, I didn’t think the Jimbo Fisher era would ever deflate or recede to this level. Clemson also did this without Dexter, Kendall Joseph, Carter for most of the game, Fields, Edmond, etc.

OFFENSE

Kelly Bryant is 9-1 as a starter. He wins the Kelly Bryant way.

Should he be better at throwing down the field? Yes. (it would help if his receivers would bail him out from time to time on contested balls) Should he fix the mechanical issues that are making balls sail high to the flats and on intermediate routes? Yes. (at least those aren’t balls in jeopardy, sailed into the middle of the field) Does he have the propensity to run the ball himself instead of giving it from time to time? Yes. (plenty of reads where he should have given on the jet sweep or passed instead of tucking and running, especially on third down where he runs it himself the vast majority of plays, but he takes shots and gets yards)

Kelly Bryant wasn’t a great passer this time last year. He put in a ton of work in the offseason and he was making downfield throws to start off, especially against Auburn. But this is a regression to the mean for KB. My understanding is the coaches didn’t want this to happen, but knew it probably would (taking shots and the grind of the season play with any QBs mechanics). They continue to work on it, but he remains inconsistent and that messes with the timing of his receivers down the field. They haven’t developed the needed chemistry and probably won’t.

My point is that this is what you get with KB.

Our offense plods down the field and relies on Hunter Renfrow to convert third downs. It isn’t a bad recipe for success. It certainly wastes the abundance of talent and riches Clemson has amassed on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at wide receiver, but it also plays to KB strengths and the strengths of the offensive line.

It means we can’t turn the ball over or fumble. We have to play to our strengths and maximize our running back talent. Most importantly—the whole team must execute. For example, at the 9:25 mark in the first Q, Choice is running behind the pulling guards Hearn and Crowder. Cain is supposed to seal his man or get some kind of block on the LB, but wants no part of it—playing patty cake, and then Crowder completely lets him go by. He tackles Choice in the backfield on first down just outside the 40 yard line. Stalls the drive. Happened throughout.

Running Backs. Can we take a minute and recognize the brilliance of Travis Etienne. 97 yards on 14 carries against FSU. For the season he has 617 yards on 80 carries for an average of 7.7 yards a carry and 9 touchdowns. Nine. Without Etienne this season could have looked very different. Glad we gave him the carries in crunch time. He needs to work on a few things (he didn’t run the zone read in high school, so mesh concepts are a work in progress), but it is the coaches job to get him the ball in space. I would suggest more quick pitches. LBs flow hard to him, so use him as a decoy and pass the ball to him in the flats or on jet sweeps. Feaster struggled with the fumble and only averaging 2.3 yards a carry on 9 carries. Choice showed us some toughness, finally breaking some tackles and carrying FSU defenders into the endzone(those style points matter).

Someone needs to get one of the Swinney sons to inform Dabo of his touch count. After the Citadel game, he needs to be getting a minimum of 15 touches a game, at minimum.

I don’t think we used one jet sweep the entire FSU game. If you never use the motion, it doesn’t work as eye candy. You have to use it early in the game. The bigger question is why would you not get RayRay McCloud in space? He hasn’t been used in space hardly at all this entire year. If he is one of your better players, use your weapons. If you look at the Auburn tape against UGA, they used the pop pass, jet sweep and a reverse concept that burned UGA over and over again. It got one of their most explosive players in space and UGA paid for it—and then Gus went back to the play three or four more times.

Kudos to the offensive line. Pollard had a rough start with the first two plays of the game, a false start and letting Burns get right around him, but he settled in. Falcinelli had a rough game, but Christmas and Nnadi are legit DTs and Nnadi is a first-second round type talent.

Wide receivers were up and down. Hunter Renfrow dropped a pass?!? Cain is pressing. He dropped an easy touchdown. He needs some confidence—they need to throw a bunch of fades in the Citadel game. Powell was wide open on a play that KB missed. I’m still waiting to get Higgins in space (he missed a play call where he was blocking when KB was looking to pass to him). Perimeter blocking must improve. We can run a bubble or tunnel screen if guys will block.

Credit to DJ Greenlee for his first substantive career reception. I’d love to attack the middle of the field more, but I’m glad KB doesn’t throw interceptions on late balls.

DEFENSE

Blackman played a bit better in the second half after an abysmal start, but he had open throws in the first and second half that he just didn’t hit. The secondary needs to tighten things up. The defensive line ate, but the FSU offensive line is not good. I still want to see defensive ends getting home. FSU got so lucky that Clemson didn’t get a Safety or TD from the Blackmon shellacking in the endzone.

Tre Lamar was playing a dominant game(yes, he got trucked by Akers once, but the Blackman fumble/sack was awesome and textbook tackling) before going out with a stinger.

Van Smith played his best game. Not only the interception, but he stepped up in run support and it looks like his knee is completely healthy.

Albert Huggins! He showed you what he can do and why he is in the game over other DTs. Huggins is at his best rushing the passer, but he held up in run support during the game. Hopefully this keeps Huggins motivated since Dexter Lawrence is out for the Citadel. We need Huggins to step up and take the next step for next year.

The secondary was up and down as well. Some busted coverages and letting receivers get behind the last man on defense. There were some communication problems. Mullen played a good game overall. He got tagged for two pass interference calls when he switched sides of the field after Carter went out. K’von Wallace also played well for club hand Muse.

We got to see some Chad Smith and even a little bit of James Skalski. Skalski was great in kick coverage as well. #FreeSkalski. I won’t say anything about JD Davis. He played a solid game as the starter. It isn’t ideal, but he wasn’t a liability. The LBs continue to struggle with their drops and depth in zone coverage. This is what keeps Chad Smith off the field more than anything.

After Simmons got a penalty for a late hit on punt coverage, he didn’t see the field much unfortunately.

Despite the gadget plays burning Clemson, losing

SPECIAL TEAMS

No major complaints. RayRay continued to show how dangerous a returner he can be if given some blocking. Spence hit an easy FG and wasn’t bad on kickoffs. He hit all his extra points, seems to do better at home. Spiers was able to pin FSU inside the twenty on multiple punts. Hate to pile on, but Amir Trapp getting a holding call on a punt return is not a good look, especially after last week.

RECRUITING

The Florida State roster has so much talent that it feels like Clemson is stealing a season(many of these guys are leaving school after their Junior years). FSU’s recruiting has also stalled and they will need to fire some coaches. This is obviously good news for Clemson with Florida also being down.

What isn’t good for Clemson recruiting is a resurgent Miami team and the destruction of Tennessee. UT recruits will trickle to USCjr or other ACC rivals. You want a wounded UT you can pick off, but not a UT that will let players go to your rivals. A good coach at UT will make it harder for Clemson to pluck their high end talent.

This is THE recruiting weekend for Clemson. With so many potential midyear enrollees, expect more clarity in who Clemson will sign soon. Then Clemson will zero in on the remaining slots for signing day. I will have a recruiting post up in the coming days, but feel free to ask questions in the comments section.

Remember when FSU was picked to win the Atlantic? Remember when FSU media and fans still believed they would despite a freshman QB (who some thought would be better than Francois??)? Even though I yell and scream during the fourth Q of a game that should have been a blowout—it is good to be a Tiger.