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In-Depth: Cardinals Have No Teeth, Clemson Tigers Roll

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Clemson v Louisville
This hasn’t aged well...
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Challenge accepted.

Lamar Jackson and Bobby Petrino strike fear into the hearts of even the most grizzled veteran journalist/media type picking games. But it was clear that LJ didn’t have the same weapons around him that he had last year and I never bought that the offensive line was much improved. Couple that with a defense without Jaire Alexander, missing a ton of talent from last year, and you have a recipe for a blowout. Now I had Clemson by ten just because of Gameday, the revenge motivation, and most importantly that this was Kelly Bryant’s first road test—just lots of unknowns.

I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t concerned when LJ went on his first scoring drive and sliced our defense to shreds running the ball. KB was also throwing high to start the game. You had missed field goals and extra points and then Jackson broke a big run to the twenty yard line after Clemson couldn’t score after the half on a very promising drive in the 3rd Q.

But the run got called back because of a chop block. Two plays later LJ throws a pick six to Dorian O’Daniel and the game quickly turns. I bring that up because I want to emphasize the respect I have for Lamar Jackson and how dominant of a single player he truly is, but anyone who wasn’t from Homersville Louisville could see that he just didn’t have the supporting cast. That defense was never going to hold up for four quarters.

The other intro comment I wanted to make deals with the way defenses are playing this team’s offense. We now have two different approaches to compare. The first we will call the Steele approach and the second the bend don’t break (BDB). The Steele uses press man, more attacking with blitzes and pressure, more men in the box, and very little help over the top. BDB gives the offense a cushion, plays more zone, and gives up some of the easy throws. Chad Morris used to be all about verticals and go routes, having the ability to score on every play. ScElliott came in and added a greater diversity of passing route concepts. ScElliott’s offense is almost designed to generate five yards per play and methodically drive the ball down the field now with the ability to go over the top.

After the Louisville game I’m almost ready to say that BDB does not work well against Clemson and gives KB too many easy reads and passes, the space on the slant routes. KB passed this test with flying colors, but Virginia Tech and more of a Steele approach (although Foster does some unique things) will be a bigger challenge.

The Ugly

The team had a stomach bug this week, impacting many starters and major contributors in advance of the game. All of this analysis should keep that in mind.

The knee of Van Smith. That was not a pretty performance from Van. Some really bad angles to the ball, a bunch of missed tackles, and a lack of speed. It wasn’t Wiggins level bad, but might I suggest sitting him another week to prepare for Virginia Tech. Give K’von Wallace more reps. Van is nowhere near 100%. Also, consider letting Dexter Lawrence play the first couple of series and then sitting him. That toe/foot is still not good (and even with that he got a key sack before the half).

Huegel missing an extra point (what is this, Tommy Bowden amateur hour?). Huegel also made a 47 yarder that was taken away because the refs called a penalty on Louisville (that looked like a false start on Pinckney) and then missed the closer 42 yarder. Just going to blame it on the strange sequence of events. Some of the snaps remain high, Swinney doing a good job handling them.

Tyrone Crowder, my guy...we need to talk about that tightening jersey. How about we cut a good ten pounds through the course of the season. Come on, man, you are a senior. You don’t move badly for a guy your size right now, but that extra weight isn’t helping and just think about how good you could be right now. We’ve got to think of the NFL. We’ve got to stop missing blocks or playing patty cake because you’re too winded.

The Good

Offense

Hunter Renfrow’s hands. On third downs.

I felt like the playcalling overall was very solid. I really liked seeing the return of the jet sweep, which Louisville was getting burned by consistently against UNC. I’d like to see that more often. Really enjoyed the delayed handoffs to Feaster, thought those were really good calls. A few times we went away from running the ball, but hard to argue with 47 points.

Finally, we see the Tavien Feaster I have raved about for years. Feed him the ball. It is fine if we have a rotation, but Feaster shouldn’t be getting less than ten carries a game. Feaster averaged 9.2 yards a carry on ten carries, whereas Fuller averaged 3.4 on ten carries. FeastMode is upon us.

To be clear, I’ve got nothing against the stable of backs we are rotating. RBs get hurt and banged up. Fuller has proven he deserves a role. But in big games in needs to be clear who gets the bulk of the carries. At Boston College by all means use the committee. At Virginia Tech let’s get Feaster 15+ carries.

Speaking of the run game, I love seeing KB carrying defenders into the endzone. Also having KB walk into the endzone is nice. That fake pitch play...magnifique...(amazing how much that move messes with LBs gap integrity).

I’m also a fan of double moves. Cain and McCloud had some great routes and Bryant hit them in stride. If Clemson can run the ball with regularity and protect KB enough to hit these double moves over the top, the offense can be explosive. You add in KB’s wheels and you have a recipe for long sustained drives that complement the defense extremely well, while still gaining chunk yards and explosive plays down the field to keep the defense honest. KB hitting the deep ball is key.

Cain stepped up his play in this game. He gained some serious yac yards, a couple of times fighting for first downs. He let one ball drop (it was tipped), but I’ve been impressed so far this season with his emergence as the alpha WR.

KB hit two really nice passes over the middle to Diondre Overton. Kept his eyes down the field and didn’t put the ball in jeopardy. He also showed some serious arm strength with throws to the wide side of the field. One to McCloud made Herbie take notice.

The early 4th and 1 conversion was key. The offensive line was able to get push up the middle much of the night.

Etienne. It was an impressive run, but that burst...his ability to go from 0-50 is beyond elite. That acceleration looked (dare I say it) Spiller-esque.

Defense

Brent Venables with another masterful defensive game plan. Venables only brought four defenders, but dropped the DE into coverage often to disguise where the fourth man was coming from. This confused the Louisville offensive line and made it harder for LJ to slip through containment and predict where he could scramble. Usually that player was Joseph who acted as a kind of delayed blitzing LB, able to see the field, and focus on LJ. That was combined with a lot of zone looks.

Who is down with DO’D? Dorian O’Daniel with the pick six in coverage. Showing off those old school RB moves on the return (Nyles—love the effort but that was probably targeting at the end of the return). DO’D is becoming our coverage ace. Versatile enough to stop the run and defend the slot. He is really a valuable piece that helps this years defense potentially improve over last years.

I gave Jalen Williams garbage the last game, but credit where it is due. He played much better this week and got his hands on a couple of balls for deflections.

Watching the continued emergence of Trayvon Mullen has been exciting this year. He is turning into a shutdown corner before our eyes at the boundary. Jackson got him a couple of times in the open space, especially one on a corner blitz, but Mullen got him down the sideline too. AJ Terrell also turned in a good performance. Apart from Williams leaping over him, he continues to progress and give us actual depth.

I thought overall Isaiah Simmons played a good game and filled in nicely for Tanner Muse. At the time that felt like it was going to be a disaster, and Simmons missed some tackles, but he held his own and had 8 tackles on the day. Very encouraging from a depth standpoint. K’Von Wallace also continued his solid play with some nice pass breakups (and hopefully takes more snaps from Van Smith until his knee heals completely).

No PI’s the entire game. I could get used to that.

Special Teams

An average of 51.8 yards a punt? A 64 yard blast? Have yourself a day FRESHMAN Will Spiers (I love that I get this punting for four entire years). Weapon. (I’m not even going to complain about the one punt that went in the endzone, just keep kicking them far Will)

Great kick coverage all night. Kickoff units and punt units.

The Bad

Bobby Petrino’s play-calling.

BobbyP should have abandoned the pass earlier in the game and just relied on LJ’s elusive open field running. This could have helped LJ to settle down because he was way too amped up and then got too frustrated. Too many missed third down passing situations. Also, why is Petrino still giving carries to Bonnafon over Williams? Williams only had six carries in the game and he is a quality RB, much better than Bonnafon.

Offense

Kelly Bryant taking some sacks and losing yards for no reason is the main problem on offense. I thought KB did a much better job of stepping up in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield for much of this game, but he has to learn not to take a 5-6 yard loss from being run out of bounds when he can easily throw the ball away. Like I said, balls were flying high early in the game, but he settled down. He just can’t take a sack to get pushed out of field goal range.

KB also needs to work on not staring down receivers. Better players would’ve jumped a few of those routes, but overall he is progressing in the passing game and definitely exceeding expectations. That blind throwback pass is not my favorite.

Feaster missed that one block. Pollard missed some more blocks. His lack of flexibility is becoming an issue. Crowder had his issues too in pass pro and pulling.

No going backwards that much on punt returns RayRay.

Defense

I’m not going to harp on this too much, but we had a bunch of alignment issues. The majority of it came after Muse left the game, but there were also a bunch of missed tackles. Lost some assignments out of the backfield, in particular. But this was a great game to test our pass defense and zone concepts. Unless FSU’s QB lights the world on fire, that was probably the best passing QB we will see for the rest of the season (maybe FSU’s but I doubt it). Amazing that Clemson’s pass defense has already passed its biggest test since we know the run defense is elite.

Lamar Jackson is going to do that to you though. LJ did break contain a few times and on a couple of drives we struggled to set the edge. The play that was called back for a chop block was LJ running up the gut of the defense, leaving a wake of Clemson defenders who were juked out of their shoes. Again, that is Lamar Jackson.

But Clemson still needs to be sound schematically. I don’t fault the defense on the first touchdown throw—that was a substitution nightmare and the only way to save that play was a timeout. On the one long, busted pass play it looked like Chad Smith and the Safety didn’t get enough depth in their drops (Herbie pointed out they were in Tampa 2). The third stringers gave up another long pass play that was on Trapp and Denzel Johnson. The lack of down the field passing busts in the first half makes me feel confident moving forward.