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Straight From the Armchair: QT’s Monday Hyperventilation, Clemson Overcomes

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Syracuse v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

I’m trying really hard not to slip into a fire and brimstone post. Really hard.

But, hey, you win and survive. Most of the things that went wrong in this game are largely correctable and younger players can improve.

Dino Babers is a really good coach. In fact, the Syracuse offense does a lot of things the Clemson offensive brain trust might look into. They run motion effectively, they have a horizontal and vertical game (a horizontal game that gashed our defense), they have an H-back who can actually block, they have creative, innovative play design, and their offensive line was able to hang with our ‘best in CFB’ defensive line for much of the game (although I did like our ETN wildcat triple meat package for the TD!). But ultimately, Clemson wore down the Cuse team and won the game with an epic 94 yard drive.

Kudos to the Clemson crowd and the fans. They hung in the game and didn’t exit after halftime or after the late Cuse TD score.

I can’t believe it is 2018 and people are still complaining about Clemson ‘storming the field.’ ESPN even had a video marked with the label. If you put that out there you are either woefully ignorant or...woefully ignorant.

OFFENSE

First, the idea being thrown around that Trevor Lawrence shouldn’t have been made the starter are ridiculous (I haven’t seen it much, but I have seen it). He didn’t play well. No one did in the first half. But TL wasn’t helped by a right side of the offensive line that busted multiple times on plays that could’ve gone for big gains or TDs.

TL also wasn’t as awful as it seemed. On his touchdown drive, he had some great throws and RPO reads where the ball just jumped. He started the game going 7 for 9. He got stalled on his second drive where his pass was a yard short of the first down, the third drive they score, and then the fourth drive is derailed by an illegal man down the field (Simpson was supposed to be on pass pro) and a 3rd down where Cade Stewart failed in pass pro to pick up the rushing Safety. Then a promising drive is stopped by Stewart on first down completely whiffing on a block and giving a free run to TL. Then on third and seven the line can’t handle a stunt and TL evades rushers and then almost trips lunging forward. I don’t think he meant to fall the way he did and get hit the way he did. Just an awkward play with an awful outcome.

In summary, TL didn’t play as bad as I initially thought and other than the fumble the offense moved the ball. TL left the game with the score 13-7.

Still, you can’t fumble on the zone read. And TL’s deep ball was not accurate or any good (the worst I have seen). His fade in the endzone needs to be on target. With TL as the QB the play calling needs to improve and the offensive identity needs to be consistent, however.

I fully believe that Syracuse was the best team remaining on the Clemson schedule. Dungey is an experienced, savvy QB with years in the Babers offense. Their defense is opportunistic, hungry, and resilient.

So give Cuse credit, but I have no clue what Elliott was thinking after TL went down. The notion that Dabo needed to tell him to just run the ball in the 4th Q is disturbing. That should’ve been obvious from exact moment that TL went down. What was the most frustrating was when we did run the ball down the field and then decided to get cute and not run the ball with ETN. The zone plays and perimeter runs were gashing the defense that was charging up the A gap. Make them stop the run with an 8-9 man box.

Chase Brice. Moxie. Gamer. Baller.

Did he throw a bunch of balls in jeopardy? Yes. Did he throw and ugly interception? Yes. Did he make a bunch of mistakes and isn’t a polished product at all? Yes.

But who cares?

With the game on the line, he threw an absolute strike. On the drive of the season he led the team down the field and barreled forward with his own run of 17 yards. He threw an interception and didn’t let it cripple his confidence.

Chase Brice. Moxie, Gamer. Baller. Saver of seasons.

Tip of the cap to the guy at the bottom of the depth chart who sticks with the team after all the transfers and shines in his moment.

Hunter Renfrow had the most ridiculous catch of the season. I wish some of our other WRs would go after the ball the way Hunter does. That is why he will play in the NFL—he is desperate to catch it, the only way I can describe that kind of effort. Ugly pass nowhere near where it is supposed to go? Not to worry, here comes Hunter Renfrow (I hope KB, wherever he lands, knows just how much he owes Renfrow for so many completions last year—Renfrow is insane).

ETN. Over two hundred yards. We don’t realize how good of a running back we have. One of my favorite moments in the game was when ETN ran to the sideline for a sub, but Dabo pushed him back out.

Loved Feaster’s running late. He powered through in the final drive.

I was happy to see our perimeter blocking improve. Wide receivers showed up for the most part. Rodgers had a tough day, but overall played well. Overton was replaced by Ross as the second string and Justyn almost broke a couple for long runs. Glad to see that switch happen.

I was happy to see Galloway in the game in crunch time. Pearman needs to either dedicate himself to improving the alignment, assignment and execution or do us the favor of gracefully retiring into an admin role. This TE play needs to improve. Richard needs to improve or see his snaps get eaten away. Williams also missed a bunch of blocks in this game, although it is overblown to criticize him too much. He blocked well in the 4th Q long drive and missed some blocks (PS don’t grab jersey on the goal-line).

The Oline needs more recruits. Without Anchrum the left side was rough. I see all this praise for Gage, but he almost lost us the game with the false start penalty. Cervenka had some good blocks, but it was a mixed bag from everyone all day.

Thank you Dabo for going for it on 4th and 6. Kicking it back to Dungey would’ve been a tough spot (remember Cuse milked the clock away last year). It was the right call regardless of the outcome.

DEFENSE

Overall the defense was superb in the second half. They scored one touchdown because of Rodgers fumbled punt in the second half and that was it. That score came only on a 4th down call at the goal-line. Clemson kept the Cuse offense out of the endzone for much of the first half. They gave up yards but forced field goals in the redzone in the first half. They did this without their top corner and top reserve corner. Limited Syracuse to only 67 total plays.

To start the game the TO was just unfortunate because the coaching staff was right to call it—there was a man completely uncovered. Then Joseph can’t stay with the RB for a huge conversion and Syracuse is in FG range. Our LB’s just aren’t good in coverage. But the defense buckled down in the redzone.

On the change of possession (the TL/ETN fumble) Clemson limits Cuse to a FG. This was huge and helped keep the game close early. The Cuse kicker stroked a 51 yarder, but that was quality defense. On subsequent plays the defense defended the RB in the flat and sniffed out a screen play.

I thought AJ Terrell stepped up and played admirably. Held up against the perimeter passes and runs. Interception. First of the year. Big spot.

When Mullen went down with an ankle I rolled up in a ball. Kyler McMichael came in and had some bumps, didn’t line up correctly a few times, missed a few tackles, but didn’t bust horribly. That was something to definitely build on if Mark Fields can’t get it together.

Xavier Thomas is a MAN. A man needing more snaps. Moar pass rush package with Ferrell, Wilkins or Dex, Bryant, and XT. The assassin package. XT caught the Cuse offensive Tackle napping. Dungey didn’t know what hit him. Then on the 3rd down he beats his man again to get to Dungey and then on 4th down splits the double team.

LBs and Safeties were the main problem on defense in the first half. JD Davis is stiff in pass coverage, but so are Lamar and Joseph. I’m not going to pile on Davis since there is blame to go around, but his snaps need to be limited against passing teams. Nolan Turner didn’t have a great game (but, really, he just didn’t have a good play), got caught flat-footed and couldn’t flip his hips on a third and long conversion. The defense gave up too many third and long plays in the first half. We stuck Simmons at Safety and both he and Terrell got stuck letting a floater hang in the air, which split the two.

I will say that looking at the tape, Muse played much better in the second half. He held up in pass coverage and almost had an interception.

SPECIAL TEAMS

POTTER.

In tight games you need to hit FG’s. It would be nice if Huegel could hit that 47 yarder though and +45 with more consistency, but I will take hitting those clutch FG’s down the stretch.

Amari Rodgers had a tough day catching punts and it was all day. In his defense, the Cuse punter was getting ridiculous height and hang time on his punts. He muffed one, he lost one and he didn’t come down cleanly with a couple. Ray Guy strikes again?? Their punter was filthy ridiculous.

I have never really understood our philosophy on punt return. We hardly ever pressure the kicker, even a change of pace pressure, and we don’t do a great job of setting up kick returns. I’d like to see Muse or some of our athletes be given a chance to apply pressure situationally (of course this means coaching players to not commit penalties). If we get up by three scores, I would encourage some experimentation in this area during ACC play.

Can we just fair catch everything on kickoffs? We don’t have great blocking or great returners right now. One or the other. I like our offense starting at the 25 yard line.

Spiers didn’t do too bad today. Clemson did not want Cuse’s dangerous return man #10 to return any kicks. Kicks were shorter than you want, but no returns—I’ll take it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I have no idea how we actually won this game.

Cuse went a bit conservative in the second half, but not really. Dungey missed a few passes in the second half, but not really. The defense gave up some yards and drives in the second half, but just fought back. We finally ran the ball down their throats.

This was a special win.

I have no idea how we actually won this game (well—I know that XT laid down the hammer, let that 5* dance). I couldn’t take two straight losses to Syracuse.