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Straight from the Armchair, QT’s Take: Duke Trounced, Looking Ahead to Chicken Dinner

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

Happy Thanksgiving folks! I’m late again with my post, but actually glad that I waited. I had quite the scorched earth take after the Duke game and it took me this long (and a lot of pumpkin pie) to tone it down. I left some remnants of that post for you, but now the focus it to beat the Chickens.

DUKIE

A win this late in the season is amazing. This senior class is the winningest group in the history of the ACC. A 35-6 win is a 29 point victory. Ohio State and Michigan really struggled to win and West Virginia lost. Fourth 11-0 team in the history of Clemson football.

Duke beat Northwestern. It was Senior Day and Military Appreciation Week. Clemson already clinched the division.

Duke has a great QB, but not a great team, especially on defense. They were down 5 starters on defense entering the game. Duke lost their second leading tackler last week and lost their leading LB tackler Humphreys during the game. Their replacement at LB Hill got ejected in the second quarter for targeting so they had to play a fourth string player at LB who is a month removed from foot surgery on his fifth metatarsal (a Jones fracture). This is where the frustration on offense (during the first half) comes from with regards to not running the ball against Duke’s in the 100’s ranked rush defense.

DEFENSE

127 yards in the first quarter. It was dicey. 135 in the next three quarters. It was dominant.

Clemson is first in defensive efficiency and first in defensive S&P+.

Brent Venables—don’t you dare think about Lubbock or even Kansas State. Does your family want to live in Lubbock over Clemson? I’ll pay you whatever. Get Tyler Venables to commit tomorrow (and actually he is having a great season for Daniel and deserves a scholarship). I know Greenbeans has had a rough year with the injuries and the broken finger, but you can’t move when there are three straight natties sitting in front of you...and more importantly, what would I do with my Greenbeans jersey??

These next few games will show if this defense is better than 2014 after the rocky Texas A&M start. We let Duke drive twice, but after that it was all she wrote. Again, Duke targeted our LBs in coverage and we had a few missed assignments, especially with RBs and some miscommunication on zone responsibilities. Lamar went out and Venables shuffled Chad Smith, Shaq Smith, and Jalen Williams (JD Davis had a hamstring issue). After Jalen got beat on a couple of missed assignments, Venables stopped using him to cover the slot and went with Shaq Smith and Simmons for much of the game.

Shaq didn’t know where to line up on a couple of plays, but made some nice plays in coverage, especially a wheelroute on an overthrown ball down the sideline. Shaq is still a bit stiff, but it is good to see him continue to progress and get rewarded with playing time.

This is still the greatest weakness on the defense and there would’ve been more completed passes if balls weren’t being batted down. This was awesome to see and part of the Dline exerting their influence, even with the short game. Daniel Jones isn’t short, but Dexter, Wilkins, and Ferrell were all timing jumps and batting balls (that will be big against Bama).

Starters played a lot more snaps in this game, which is good to see for the championship phase. With four more games, these starters should be seeing the bulk of the snaps since they have been rested much of the season.

That was not offsides from Ferrell. He just had a beat on the snap count (maybe he lined up in the neutral zone, but his get off time was ridiculously good).

I know AJ Terrell got called for a pass interference (should have been defensive holding), but he and Mullen have been outstanding. It has been awhile since Clemson had two truly elite cover corners on the same team. They are both so physical when they come up in run support.

Dexter Lawrence keeps getting better and better. He seems to finally be getting healthy. Wish we had him for another season (I wrote that and laughed at myself—well, duh, QT, but really hate that he has been impacted by the foot/nerve injury, he would’ve been the most dominant defensive player to ever play at Clemson and right now he just might be).

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Time to hone in on some of the things Trevor Lawrence does extremely well.

  • He throws on the run better than anyone I have seen in cfb. Clemson should roll him out of the pocket once a drive.
  • Trevor Lawrence isn’t all that shifty, but when he starts running in a straight line, he can motor. He showed that again against Duke. He struggles to make a man miss when running the zone read, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fast. I’d like to see a designed QB draw once or twice.
  • TL is still struggling on that straight long ball but he threw some NFL caliber intermediate throws that were kinda long throws. DK had two thrown to him on a rope (one he caught and one that hit him in the numbers).

Wide Receivers

There is plenty of blame to go around this week for a slow start on offense. Drops galore! Guys got caught running before the catch and TL was a bit off with some of his accuracy, especially early in the game. The only thing worth monitoring from this is the confidence of Amari Rodgers. Rodgers has had a couple of games now where one drop has led to multiple drops and seemingly shaky confidence. Everyone railed against Cain and McCloud for drops, despite the balls from Kelly Bryant often being late and lacking the needed accuracy, but Rodgers has had his fair share this year too.

Probably the first time I have ever seen Renrow not catch two balls that were close to his hands. He should be healthy moving forward, but that was one of the scarier moments of the season. Renfrow has been a Bama killer, but also a serious problem for USCjr every year.

Back shoulder throw to Justyn Ross. Are you kidding me? That is one for the season long highlight reel.

OVERALL

Two things that after a week of reflection really matter.

First, this year Clemson has experienced far too many slow starts. It has happened all season, but especially this week and last week. Now, the first four series weren’t as bad as I initially thought. Two missed third and short passes that could’ve been completed. A drop by Rodgers on a great pass from TL that just got batted out of his hands. Then a TD. Still, starting the game with six punts in seven drives is less than ideal.

Second, third and short has been a struggle. Apart from connecting on long balls and not running as effectively against elite defenses, this is the only other part of the offense that needs to get fixed. Clemson was really good last year at long, methodical drives with Kelly Bryant. But third and short is a struggle when you don’t trust your run game and the QB isn’t a battering ram.

(WARNING: SCORCHED EARTH HOT TAKE: If you can’t run the ball against an undersized 4-2-5 with third string LBs at Duke—what are we doing? ScElliott continue to contend that the numbers and the way the defense attacks the offense dictate what Clemson will do on offense. Yes, with the RPO game that is correct. But when you have a star running back with 17 TDs on the year (putting him in a tie for the all-time record), you should use him, no?

When Duke ranks as one of the worst run defenses in all of college football, why would you not run the ball? Travis Etienne finished the game with 2 touchdowns, nine yards a carry, and 81 yards. He ran the ball 9 times. 9 TIMES. Last week he rushed only 11 times. If ETN was hot and yelling at someone—good. He needs more carries and the Oline need to do a better job. The play where the Oline got strung out for a loss of 4 yards for ETN was pathetic against an undersized Duke line. For a team struggling to convert on third and short, this would be an opportune time to test the Oline and the running game and work out the kinks, right? Nope.

I was glad to see Dabo ripping into some coaches and talking with the Oline on the sideline.

But we just didn’t have enough plays in the first half to get everyone enough carries, you say? Try running the ball to convert more first downs. Try running the ball three straight times—it will break a tendency. Try running more misdirection (I was really glad to see DK get that reverse, which should have been a big gain). Duke really didn’t load the box all that much either. They played with a 6 or 7 man box a bunch.

The only logical explanation other than really bad playcalling is that the offensive staff have decided that we can’t run the ball against Bama and since we will need to pass our way to victory, we should be getting as many passing reps in these games as possible.

All of that is to say that the first half playcalling was suspect. This is a pattern of slow starts, which really means a pattern of slow adjustments from ScElliott. USCjr shouldn’t be a problem and Pitt will be frustrating, but not likely a huge challenge. However, teams are going to do the same things we have been seeing—blitzing a ton and seeming to stack the box.)

The offensive line actually did a really good job at pass blocking in this game. Didn’t give up a sack against an undersized Duke Dline. Anchrum looked much better.

SPECIAL TEAMS

How was that not running into the kicker? A good punting average finally.

I’d like to see DK just find a seam and hit it on kickoff returns more frequently (psst...talk to that guy CJ Spiller about how he used to see the field—no one has done it better at Clemson). He dances, which is fine, but that is usually better on punt returns than kickoffs. Better, sustained blocking would help too.

OK—no one will read this but publishing anyway.

Against South Carolina

I’m want Clemson to establish the run early. USCjr is ranked in the nineties in rush defense. They have some nice pieces on the Dline with Kinlaw and Wonnum, but lack consistency and consistent effort. Brunson is a good LB, but the secondary is either young and inexperienced or not talented. Horn will have a good career. We should have our way on offense.

On defense, Bentley should have more success in the short passing game, but he has never been able to stand in the pocket and deliver against this Clemson Dline. The USCjr wide receivers are not bad. Shi Smith will be a matchup problem. Deebo is fast and strong and Edwards is a big target. Unfortunately, USCjr is easily made one dimensional. Zack Bailey is a great Guard with an NFL future, but the rest of the offensive line is average. This has led to not much of a running game against good defenses.

Don’t punt to Deebo.

It shouldn’t be close.