Instead of doing a full breakdown as I normally would for a game, as I think we all know that this game should be a runaway win for the Tigers, I thought instead to post a few thoughts about this departing senior class and the juniors being honored Saturday. As usual, Military Appreciation Day at Clemson is a special time and I join all of you in sending the sincerest thanks, praise, and adoration to our men and women who serve and have served to provide the freedoms we enjoy. Thank you!
It seems each departing senior class of the Dabo Swinney era has an even better resume than the one before it. It has truly been the golden age of Clemson football and as a child of the 1980s, I can definitely say this decade has surpassed that one. Clemson again occupies a top 4 slot in the CFP rankings, this week at #2, and the tears of the haters have been delicious indeed. Seniors like Dorian O’Daniel, Ryan Carter, Maverick Morris, Marcus Edmond, and Tyrone Crowder are on the brink of 50 wins and have helped take the program to heights never seen. The redshirts came in 2013 and have since seen two Orange Bowl wins, a Champs Sports Bowl win, a Fiesta bowl win, and a National Championship. They’ve only suffered 2 home losses in that span and added tombstone after tombstone to the graveyard by the practice fields. They flipped the script on South Carolina and Florida State as well. Well done, gentlemen, well done.
Clemson offense: We’ve seen a lot of discussion during the last week or two about Kelly Bryant and the passing game. While there have been several missed opportunities for big plays in the passing game that have gone awry by errant throws or just not making the throw. There have also been times the WR have let Bryant down by not making the catch. However, any talk about replacing Bryant after he has won 9 of his first 10 starts is pretty laughable, in my opinion. While Bryant probably isn’t able to throw the pinpoint passes we saw from him pretty often early in the season, he certainly isn’t as erratic as he looked in Raleigh or in a couple of spots vs. FSU. The truth is in the middle, and the middle, with this running game, is plenty strong enough to carry Clemson through the ACC championship and into the playoffs. That extra time after Charlotte has been put to tremendous use by the staff the last few years as Clemson has put up incredible performances vs. Oklahoma twice and Ohio State last year.
The continued emergence of Travis Etienne is another major factor to consider. If you recall, Wayne Gallman emerged in November of 2014 and exploded against USCjr for nearly 200 yards. Etienne is already ahead of Wayne Train’s pace and his touches have increased to the 12-15 a game I was calling for weeks ago. Teams are already having to gear up on the QB powers and counters the team is using a great deal with Bryant, and Etienne’s presence will make over-committing to Bryant a potentially fatal mistake. Feaster has also begun getting a pass or two thrown his way and is a home run threat in his own right. Adam Choice continues to impress me with his physical runs, including that last TD run vs. FSU when he carried multiple guys into the endzone. I think he could be trusted in short yardage more and take some of the pressure off of Bryant to deliver in those spots all the time.
This is a great week to tighten things up on offense when the margin of error is much higher facing the FCS Bulldogs. Clemson has had some injury problems as we know, but thankfully the majority of those have been on the defense where the team has adequate depth to survive them. Other than the Bryant ankle problem that loomed so large in the one defeat, the Tigers have not had to deal with losing a much harder to replace guy like Falcinelli or Hyatt or Dorian O’Daniel. Dexter Lawrence and Tre Lamar will take this week to continue to heal up while Marcus Edmond and Mark Fields should be able to play a little as they round back into shape just in time for the money games. As Alex Craft pointed out, Clemson’s full strength defense hasn’t really been seen since the Auburn game but it should be close to back for the Columbia trip.
There is still another gear this team can hit, especially on offense. I can’t say for sure if that will happen this month or in the bowl season, but I feel strongly that it will. I think that as much as anything played into Clemson’s #2 ranking that got so many folks all worked up.
Special Teams: The kicking game was better vs. FSU and Spence seems to kick better at home, as QT pointed out. I still don’t want a game to come down to him but he’s looking a little better after a very rough start. The return games are beginning to produce with Ray Ray McCloud in particular. Big production there is just icing on the cake for this team.
Thank you seniors (plus Wilkins and Hearn)! You guys have added a level of joy in our fandom I didn’t think I’d see again.
Clemson A LOT
Citadel Not Much