Win and advance.
This was the toughest game remaining on the regular season schedule. It was on the road and a game NC State had circled all year long. In fact, Doeren has built aspects of his team to try and challenge Clemson (recruiting bigger, taller, stronger WRs to dominate our smaller corners). Notre Dame didn’t have to deal with Hines and Roseboro and Jones for much of the game. FSU has the talent but not the coaching or scheme right now (I do think they found their best selves by just running Cam Akers though). The Gamecocks have some nice pieces and LBs TJ Brunson and Skai Moore have helped to settle their defense, but they still aren’t good.
This was the game. Survive and advance (doesn’t mean it was pretty though...).
I don’t think any team is a truly great team in the playoff hunt this year. Even Bama doesn’t have the Dline or LB play of last year. Clemson is also a very flawed team and needs to improve, but you have to like our schedule and chances of making the playoff (give this team a month to rest, coach, and prepare—that is a dangerous Clemson team).
Dave Doeren post-game.
Coach Doeren had the unmitigated gall to question the refs and then question the presence of a laptop on Clemson’s sideline, going so far as to call for an investigation. The laptop in question is used for social media every single game and the issue was quickly resolved, but that was never in doubt. What hubris...
What isn’t resolved is where Doeren gets off questioning the integrity of the entire Clemson football program and its staff. Make no mistake, that jab (whether he meant to or not) was an attack on the credibility of the school. It was basically calling someone in your profession a cheater and a liar. To make such a statement without actually doing any research or asking any questions publicly?? That is a serious faux pas in the coaching business and it should not be treated lightly by our fanbase.
I’m not a fan of blaming games on refs (see Dave Doeren), so I want to be concrete in my gripes. The second play of the game the refs miss a blatant pass interference. On the second offensive drive for Clemson, the 11:25 mark in the 1st Q, third and four and Chubb and another defensive lineman clearly jump offsides. Should be first and ten for Clemson but the line judge comes in and calls off the head ref by saying that RayRay McCloud was guilty of a false start. Chubb clearly moves well before McCloud, but the line judge doesn’t see it across the field somehow. Absolute blown call. I’ve got three clear holding calls in the first half (a penalty that ACC refs seem unable to call against teams opposing Clemson), but I will stop.
And, yes, State fans—you did shift illegally and your WR even owned up to it. He wasn’t set and was moving when the ball was snapped.
I have to say, I hate close games, but there is something especially sweet about beating NC State closely and then watching the head coach whine about it (followed by what feels like the entire fanbase).
Clemson did not make it out of this game without piling up even more injuries.
Kendall Joseph has his worst game to date, which was made even worse with a knee injury that was taped up in the second half.
Mitch Hyatt seemed to tweak an ankle late.
Dexter Lawrence started off the game looking healthy, but also re-aggravated a foot injury and couldn’t finish the game.
AJ Terrell left the game late, forcing the coaches to deep into the bench on the last couple of defensive drives. All of these guys are day to day and expected to play but the Citadel date can’t get here fast enough.
Hate to say it but...Defense.
Schematically NC State is a lot for our personnel to handle. State often goes three wide with Samuels moving all over and coming out of the backfield. Finley is accurate and gets the ball out of his hands very quickly. Their offensive line was the best we have faced all season (and they put that line comprised mainly of Juniors together without high recruiting rankings). Hines was hindered by the ankle a bit, but still got posed a threat.
I don’t fault BV’s scheme. It was a bend, don’t break approach. He put two corners, Mullen and whoever else was available (usually Terrell), on the boundary and field and Carter in the slot. A Safety or D’OD followed Samuels. When Finley started 15 of 15 (yes, you read that right), torching our guys we couldn’t stop him in man or in the zone looks. Our zone looked great against early lesser QBs, but Finley sliced us to shreds. Again, we were giving them some cushion by design, but too many of the bigger WRs wriggled out of tackles and got first downs, instead of 4 yard gains. Sometimes we gave them 8 yard gains instead of 4 yards.
Plenty of blame to go around.
LBs really struggled. Kendall Joseph lost leverage and wasn’t getting deep enough on his drops. None of the LBs were good in zone coverage. None of the LBs were gap sound with run fits. Tre Lamar started off playing good and made some great tackles, but started missing more assignments as the game wore on.
JD Davis is not a good schematic fit for BV defense. A WILL LB for BV scheme must must must be able to rush the passer and get home on blitzes. Davis is way too slow, isn’t violent with his hands to shed blocks, never gets to the QB, and doesn’t have the strength or suddenness to impact the pocket. BV loves to bring his LBs on stunts, where one LB slams into the gap and the other flies in behind that LB. Davis doesn’t have the speed to get home on those blitzes. He isn’t out of position or a complete liability, but I don’t understand not using Skalski more in that situation at this point in the season. None of the LBs looked good, which is startling for a position group that seemed plenty deep just a month ago.
Club-for-a-hand Tanner Muse. Remember when I said the Safeties would be challenged against State last week? Muse was already poor in pass coverage, but the cast makes it even worse. On a late TD Muse got baited into letting his man fake a block and release for an easy pitch and catch. Syracuse and State were not kind to Muse. Things got so bad that the coaches put Van Smith at FS (where he played last year) to try and stop the hemorrhaging of yards.
Dexter Lawrence started the game and was playing strong, but then tweaked the ankle again. Our LB fits suffer without Dexter (they get more difficult, something they didn’t have to deal with at the beginning of the year). We got beat in the A gap for the second game (happened against Cuse too as the tempo wore down the team). Ferrell got lineman of the week with 12 tackles and 5.5 TFL, but he and Bryant struggled to get home and got beat by Finley for big gains multiple times. Ferrell got the one sack, but everyone else was shut out. Finley got the ball out quick, but a lack of pressure and controlling the A gap is troubling.
I don’t understand why Amir Trapp is playing a meaningful snap. I just don’t. That is one of the single worst coaching decisions/personnel decisions of the season. It cost us a touchdown. Other teams might be dumb or lack the QB play/awareness, but as soon as Trapp or anyone deemed deficient was in the game, Finley and the State OC went right after them. Last drive of the game when AJ Terrell goes out and Trapp is in, attack mode for a 20 yard gain right over Trapp. I give them credit, if they saw any perceived weaknesses in the Clemson secondary or at LB—they attacked.
On offense, why do we forget to use the jet sweep? You have to use the motion a couple of times to keep the LBs honest. I thought we would run at Chubb more to the perimeter. Kelly Bryant has got to work on setting his feet and not letting the ball sail on him on short/intermediate routes. Easy balls are going into the stands. At this point it is partially on Streeter, unless his ankle is messing with his mechanics.
I’m glad that we have reduced the number of screens we are running because they were resulting in negative plays, but one of the ways we get our WRs in space (especially Cain) is with tunnel screens. We just need better execution with perimeter blocking. We also need more chunk yards and explosive plays in the passing game.
I liked the deep shots. Cain and KB need to get on the same page. KB criminally underthrew a ball to Trevion Thompson and then overthrows Cain and Overton.
Tempo is a must for this offense and we stuck with it and got the play count up.
I’m going to praise KB for a minute. Yes, this was probably his worst game, especially throwing the interception on the road on the third play and missing easy layup throws early. But KB was unflappable despite the rocky start (aided by the McCloud punt return points). He didn’t go deer in the headlights after the interception. He kept his poise and didn’t throw another interception while adding some tough running on a shaky ankle.
I loved that we only used Etienne and Feaster. Thank you!!! Etienne almost broke a couple and Feaster had the 80+ yarder (where Tee Higgins showed he can fly—can we get him the ball in space please??). That was great blocking upfront, especially by Taylor Hearn on the pull and seal block of the LB, moved his feet well. On the third and short that Etienne didn’t pick up #4, the State LB, made a good read and Richard didn’t get enough of a block to keep them from gang tackling Travis.
I loved Amari Rodgers on two plays picking up those YAC yards, refusing to go down on initial contact.
I loved the performance of the offensive line against the quality State defensive front. You had very few missed assignments despite heavy rotations. John Simpson is rounding into shape and gives the line depth at almost every position. No sacks! Three TFL! The line got push at times and gave KB enough time. The only major complaint I have was on the last offensive play. You have third and three, a chance to put the game away and two lineman barely get hands on their players. If you have the chance to finish and win the game, give it everything you have got (wasn’t crazy about the play call either, we have had better calls to win games in the past).
K’von Wallace played some big minutes at Safety for the team. The play he made to dislodge the ball at the goal-line was textbook. If we aren’t going to play him more at Safety then he should spend time at Corner if we play teams using three/four receiver sets.
We all know how I feel about Spence. Add kicking the ball out of bounds, a cardinal sin for a kickoff specialist that should happen once a year—maybe—to his list of shortcomings. Got to hit your kicks within 40 yards. At least he is hitting his extra points.
RayRay McCloud comes up huge. He has the talent to do that a couple more times this season. Guys need to watch the block in the backs though (there weren’t any on the play, but a couple got very close).
Clemson coaches need to start taking ownership of the details.
Kickoff at the 9:23 mark in the 2nd Q, Feaster fields the ball and gets swarmed by 5 NC State players. Well, who comes flying straight backwards towards Feaster, getting pushed all the way down the field? J.D. Davis. Judah didn’t fare much better. Lots of guys screw up on kickoffs and give minimal effort, but to be hurled back ten yards straight towards the returner is especially bad.
No punts were blocked (State has been able to get to more than one punt and block it this season). I will take that from a freshman punter. After a couple of shaky games and that ridiculous fake punt, Spiers is coming along nicely.
Looking ahead to Florida State, they have the talent to beat us (I don’t think they will, but they have the talent). They wisely just relied on the run game against Cuse, pounding Akers (22 carries, 199 yards and 2 TDs). Some of those stretch zone runs that gave us fits against State will be used by FSU. They ran out of a diamond formation that can be tricky when you have multiple personnel, but FSU was mainly using two TEs and running the ball. Glad it is on tape.
DT’s Nnadi and Christmas are still beasts inside. DT freshman Marvin Wilson is also coming along. Sweat and Burns are threats as long, pass rushing DEs (although they really miss Walker and are susceptible to the run). I’ve never been impressed with Thomas or their other LBs. Pugh can be disruptive, but you can get them over the middle. McFadden is a ball hawk, but can get beat. CB Samuels is playing more, but weighs like 160 pounds. Nasirildeen (remember how I really wanted that guy...) is basically starting for them already in the secondary.
On offense Blackman is a skinny, rookie QB. He has the arm talent to make you pay down the field, but his accuracy and decision-making have been hampered by Jimbo’s complex offense. He looked better in his first game where he was thinking less and just letting it rip. Attack him and make FSU play from behind. Tate, Murray and Lane (he got moved back from the secondary to WR) are your receiving threats. Tate didn’t play against Cuse because of lingering injury issues. The offensive line is still bad. Apparently Jimbo made a comment on a radio show that RB J. Patrick could potentially be back for the Clemson game. That seems awfully quick and optimistic.
The game is at home for Clemson for all the ACC Atlantic marbles. Win and survive.