clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Straight from the Armchair, QT’s Take: Chicken Dinner, Clemson Wins By 21 Points

New, 150 comments
NCAA Football: South Carolina at Clemson
Look at that—it is just unfair. What a throw and catch...
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

No one should feel remotely bad about this win. Dabo Swinney is right. Enjoy another undefeated season and another win over our rival. Not too long ago we had a lot of talent on the team, but couldn’t get out of our own way to win this game. We won this game by 21 points. It is a bit disappointing to know that the defense played poorly, but that is looking ahead. Right now, in the moment, this team won a fifth straight victory.

High Five!

OFFENSE

The offensive playcalling was the best I have seen this year, maybe in two years. I loved this gameplan. Clemson established the run. ETN got his needed carries and then we went to Feaster and Choice who both continued to run hard. They used TL in a draw on third down. We got more creative in our playcalling, some throws over the middle of the field, even pulling two RBs into the backfield and then threw the ball out of the formation. ScElliott ran the same running play two times in a row where Garrett Williams and the Center pulled for Feaster. Williams blew up USCjr LB TJ Brunson on those consecutive plays.

Long sustained drives. Only the one turnover, but no interceptions and no real balls in jeopardy. Trevor featured Tee and Ross and we had a good mix of run and pass, but also attacking different levels of the field. It helps when everything is working, but the offense has played down to opponents this year. This game we got off to a fast start and didn’t take the foot off the gas.

Trevor Lawrence

Can we talk about how good Trevor Lawrence looked in this game? This is the potential I saw when he was a junior in high school. This is why the coaches made the change with Kelly B. This is why Dabo deserves the Coach of the Year in the ACC award—he made a really tough call, but it was the right call for the team and Clemson’s national championship aspirations.

He was a bit off against Duke, but returning home to Death Valley he was lethal. Yes, the South Carolina defense looked like some version of Louisville or Wake’s defense. They played to bend and not break, trying to limit the explosive plays, but nothing worked. Trevor Lawrence was lethal. Even when guys were covered well, he was dealing. The pass to Renfrow on a third and long where Renfrow was covered screamed into his hands. Championship caliber performance that this team had to have to win by a comfortable margin.

Kudos to the offensive line and their pass blocking. TL was barely even touched except when he ran the ball. USCjr didn’t have their top pass rusher in Wonnum and Allen Williams were lost for the season, but they have some guys like Kinlaw and Sandidge. Nothing. TL was clean the entire game.

Loved Matt Bockhorst stepping in for Simpson, firing off the ball, and letting guys know about it.

Jackson Carman in on the beef package. In the second attempt Dexter blocked the defender in half, just cut his soul down. Impressive.

Travis Etienne. We are taking his running for granted. The ACC player of the year and he is stuck in a rotation. Glad we gave him his needed carries in this game. No one breaks arm tackles and amasses YAC like ETN. He isn’t breaking as many flashy long runs as last year, but his yards per carry are still ridiculous. Oh, and he caught a ball out of the backfield.

Clemson was the more physical team on offense, grinding the USCjr defense into submission as injuries kept piling up. The offense, particularly the wide receivers, will need to maintain that edge when Bama and the press coverage tries to disrupt TL’s flow. Going to need to hit those contested one on one balls down the field. I loved seeing Higgins targeted down the field on the third and three—Clemson must convert those to beat Bama.

Only note on offense is I would live to see Amari Rodgers cut upfield quicker on his screens in the flats. Renfrow has trouble holding that block and he needs Rodgers to get his yards in a hurry.

DEFENSE

Well, my work here is done. That about sums it up.

Here are some of the problems I saw from the defense:

  • Lack of the pass rush getting home. There was pressure, but it wasn’t consistent and as dominant as it has been in other games (which help negate some of the problems in the secondary).
  • Losing leverage all over the field. Going inside instead of outside on bunch sets. This was surprising—not defending passes to the flats consistently.
  • Struggling with the physicality of Deebo Samuel consistently, Edwards a few times, and Shi Smith. I thought Mon Denson was a really good compliment to the offense overall. He got more yards on our Dline than Clemson was accustomed to during the year.
  • Giving up the middle of the field on post routes in coverage. Giving free releases and not covering well on slants.
  • Just blown assignments. In zone coverage and man coverage. They were with the LBs and Safeties primarily, but it was bad overall. Joseph misses a TE, JD Davis doesn’t have any depth on a drop, he and Muse lose Denson out of the backfield, Muse whiffs on a tackle as the last man going for an interception, Wallace is yanked after botching about four plays, etc.
  • USCjr’s tempo and speed. This was a problem for the SEC refs too because they missed a bevy of penalties with ineligible players down the field, lineman down the field. But, the tempo messed with calls and defensive alignment. It also was the first time all season that BV and the defense couldn’t adjust.
  • Tackling got worse as the game progressed. It was ugly in the fourth quarter when guys were arm tackling and flailing around. Simmons in particular. The defense was gashed and gassed for the first time since the A&M game.
  • Giving up third downs. Many third and long. This is a result of playing zone and LBs struggling in coverage, but also not getting home on blitzes.

On a positive note, this all improved for much of the second half (until second stringers got mixed in and starters returned with mixed results at the end—it got ugly again quickly), but it wasn’t really corrected.

Two goal-line stands and stops on fourth down. You can’t overlook the value of redzone stops.

Moving Forward

Why is this a concern beyond USCjr? Pitt will try to replicate some things, probably with slants and post routes and more balls to the flats, but they schematically are a different team and don’t have the horses. This is a problem because of Alabama.

Tua is a much, much better version of what we saw from Jake Bentley. Tua will stay in the pocket with better protection and survey the field until he hits the open man. Bama also has better wide receiver talent at all positions and an elite pass catching TE. They also have a stable of the best RBs in the country. Tua is also now healthy and more mobile.

Tua can pick apart zone coverage, especially really porous zone coverage. He isn’t going to make a mistake very often or get rattled. It is a huge challenge if you can’t cover four wide and we currently can’t do that with our defensive liabilities.

Here is the honest truth I’ve been saying all season—our LBs are bad in zone coverage drops so we just blitz them or play man without much safety help over the top because we trust our Dline to get home fast enough. BV likes pressure, but he also understands our limitations.

The question for the defense going forward is who covers the slot? Mullen and AJ Terrell are generally fine. Simmons can cover, but he is better suited going against TE’s or RB’s. Wallace was torched when matched up against Samuel and Smith (and it won’t get easier against Ruggs, DeVonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle). Denzel Johnson went in for Wallace and while he has the physical talent his alignments were also suspect. Jalen Williams is a liability. Last year we had to go with Jalen and JD Davis in the game at the same time—that will fly even less against Tua. Muse had his worst game in pass coverage.

I thought to begin the season we would look to bring Kyler McMichael and Mario Goodrich on as fast as possible to play the Nickel spot so that we could roll with more Dime looks with Simmons on the field. Stick Joseph in as your MLB and rotate him with Lamar (or at least use this Dime package on most passing downs).

No easy answers, especially with Bama experimenting with bringing two RBs into the game. Tough for any defensive coordinator at any level.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Deebo didn’t get free. The personnel on kick coverage was tweaked and looked much better.

Can’t miss FGs as we enter the champs phase.

BT Potter is getting more depth on kicks.

Quickly with regards to recruiting:

We are transitioning into the 2020 season and I will have a post soon with my assessment of recent 2020 OL commitment Paul Tchio from Milton, GA.

2020 5* QB, and #1 overall player in the 2020 class, DJ Uiagalelei visited for the USCjr game with his father Big Dave. In short, they loved it and DJ was already strongly leaning towards Clemson. The only question right now is how other visits or other programs throwing in their hats might impact DJ. I wouldn’t expect any commitment soon because they will check out other programs, so folks should be patient, but Clemson left a major impression that won’t dissipate. Big Dave is also an awesome, genuine person—as I have said here before, I’ve had connections with the family and noted that relationships and connections will be a big part of this decision. Getting DJ’s father on board is huge. Getting his mom out for a visit will also be important.

It isn’t set in stone, but DJ loves football and I have a hard time seeing him not playing both sports in college.

2019 OL target Will Putnam would normally have already committed to FSU or Auburn, but their awful seasons have opened up the possibility for Clemson to snatch Putnam up in the end. He had a quality visit, but Auburn remains in the picture despite their coaching uncertainty. FSU was supposedly last on the list according to Clemson recruiting folks, but that isn’t true either. This could go any way right now. None of the staffs have a clear beat on this recruitment right now, and that is good news for Clemson.

Lastly, sometimes we might not understand some of Dabo’s rants, but often they are calculated for recruiting. The latest Dabo speech about appreciating winning and how you should be judged?? Recruiting gold. Gold.