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Straight Out of the Armchair: Monday QT Musings—Survive and Advance

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

I said at the beginning of the season that there were three potential weaknesses on the team (apart from the QB battle). Those were the defensive secondary, the depth on the oline, and punting. All of those weaknesses were magnified in this game.

First, you have to factor in the rain. You have to factor in the humidity when gauging the championship prospects of this team. I also think you have to give Jimbo credit. Kevin Sumlin looks like an absolutely clueless coach two games into his job at Arizona. At A&M he recruited well and left behind a talented team that Jimbo has ready to play. I said going into the season that this was going to be our toughest game of the year—survive and advance. The road game at Boston College looks like our second toughest game on the schedule unless FSU can figure it out.

And I just bring that up because this was a big hurdle. It was also a really hard game to prepare for without having much footage to rely on. Mond made a bunch of plays (talk about a drastic improvement under better coaching) and Jimbo always gives Venables fits in the passing game. He stresses the defense and makes you play disciplined football on the back end. Elko is one of the better defensive coordinators in the country right now, working with a talented group that has underachieved.

The return of Ray Guy in the form of A&M’s punter Mann—in the rain.

Those are my disclaimers before I get too critical because this game deserves serious scrutiny.

This football team right now would not compete for a championship. Certainly Bama, and probably UGA and Ohio State, would not be kind in the playoff. This team would likely struggle against any team with a potent passing attack that got the ball out quickly. Lots to fix.

One of the problems, however, is we will play a bunch of ACC teams and looks/feel good about ourselves, only to have a real quality defense stymie our offense and push around our offensive line. Like BV’s said post-game, we didn’t play complimentary football. Offense couldn’t stay on the field early and couldn’t seal it late. Defense got gassed. Special teams gave up yards.

Zebras

I don’t usually comment or complain about the refs. I agree with Coach Swinney that the calls usually even out. The touchback call was tough to overturn, but the camera angles were inconclusive and other angles (if you watch the Clemson Gameday Vlog you can see one from across the field) actually look favorable to Clemson.

What is definite was the amount of holding going on that wasn’t being called. The ACC refs missed Higgins offensive PI call and seemed to be calling things towards Jimbo after the touchback, but that doesn’t excuse only having one holding call at the end of the game. I counted at least 8 blatant, obvious holds where the defensive lineman were selling it, but got no call.

Jimbo should’ve been flagged for his behavior after the call (just like he was at FSU the year before??) and pushing your assistants is just a bad look. Remember all of those highlights of Dabo and making it a point of emphasis to reign in coaches?? He isn’t supposed to be on the field, let alone swearing in the face of refs and making hand gestures repeatedly to their faces (sorry, those are the rules...).

Special Teams

Not so special this week. We did have a blocked FG! And Hunter Renfrow (not to be confused with A&M’s attempt at growing their own Renfro) sealed the victory with his hands play, recovery of the onside kick.

Spiers actually didn’t punt that bad much of the night (although he almost got one blocked when he was backed up and that is something other teams will undoubtedly try), but 22 yards in one of the most crucial moments in the game is not championship caliber play. He tried a rugby punt and just missed it badly. Our coverage units were also really bad. We are missing Skalski from that group and might need to consider reworking the unit.

Also disappointed in Rodgers fair catching a few balls that could’ve been run back for some yards. I would advise the kickoff returners to just fair catch it every time (painful to see Powell get rocked like that). Start on the 25, it is ok.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks

Looks like we will be doing this almost every week. I expected Trevor Lawrence to come into the game and light it up. He did just that with a 64 yard TD pass to Tee Higgins. He had four series after that touchdown pass, but looked completely human.

KB deserves a lot of credit for remaining confident and humble after TL got in the game and started the second half. For the record, if I were the coaches, I wouldn’t have played this any differently. KB is the veteran who has closed out game after game in his career. I would have relied on the guy who had been there in crunch time. But did Kelly Bryant really outplay TL that much? What really happened during those four series (TL got a total of 5 series, but one was one play, compared to 8 from KB)? Again, not arguing KB didn’t outplay TL, but I do want to push back against the idea that TL performed poorly.

Trevor Lawrence

First drive, first play TD.

Second drive we have all backups in the game at WR for TL after a first down throw to Overton on a beautiful back shoulder throw. On first down Chalk misses his block (TE play was atrocious all night, just awful blocking without Williams in the game due to a knee sprain), and TL gets tackled after a gain of two. The entire Oline cut blocks on the next play and everyone is covered except Powell for the short gain, who drops the ball. The pass had some zip, but this isn’t the 2008 WR group—this is WRU and Powell must catch that ball. On third down they only bring four and the Oline can’t keep their blocks and TL throw it out of bounds. He did miss an open ETN who had leaked out, but he was running away to his left and didn’t see it.

Next series starts with another great ball to Higgins for a nine yard gain. Second and one and we have the first poorly thrown ball from TL. It is an RPO and Higgins is really double covered and TL puts it out of harms reach, but airmailed when he should’ve handed the ball off. Third and one and we run a fake pitch, power play but Pollard and Richard can’t account for the LB shooting the a gap. No chance for TL. Bad play call and bad execution by the offense.

I really question some of the play calling in this game. Have we abandoned the jet sweep in our offense? We started the game with horizontal throws that are poorly executed by KB, but don’t ever let TL zip it out there to loosen up the defense? The trick plays (that come from Dabo) are always bad ideas when you have superior talent. If you drilled the goal line play in practice a bunch, then I can see running it, but going under center in the rain for the first time in the game is questionable (I don’t think it is really a terrible call, but suspect when you leave points on the board in the first half). Very little over the middle (the big plays like Rodgers catch was over the middle) and I was surprised we didn’t try to establish more of a running game given the wet conditions. Tony Elliott curiously said today that Elko’s scheme took away the perimeter and the inside runs. Elko was in two high safety looks for a good portion of the calls so I’m not sure what TE was talking about there.

I’m fine with substituting on a hot night to keep everyone fresh. But, this was pretty extreme particularly on offense. ETN rushed the ball 8 times, just eight, and caught the ball three times. I am fine with a RB rotation, but your bell cow RB needs more touches. Choice actually ran the ball fine with his three carries. KB carried it 15 times (and this is where all the carries end up going for better or worse).

Back to TL.

TL starts the second half. I love that Dabo did this. TL had his chance to take over the offense. We start the second half with both Cade Stewart and John Simpson getting pushed back into the pocket about three or four steps. Yikes. The interior of the line got pushed around all night. Stewart isn’t missing that many assignments, but he is getting no push. Feaster doesn’t bounce outside and rams into the Oline for a gain of one.

Next play is a bad snap and miscommunication with the center. Not sure who that is on, but it was a bad snap nonetheless. Third and 16 and the offensive staff doesn’t trust TL to throw it, opting for a draw play that Feaster can’t get to because he doesn’t accelerate fast enough to the boundary. Anchrum appears to be trying to pin his man and this is a blown assignment from either him or Stewart. Feaster’s two carries are both poorly blocked.

After Powell gets crushed, the ball starts at the 15 yard line. Elko starts bringing pressure. He uses a CB blitz that TL doesn’t identify and he just chucks it into the dirt. The play is too slow developing and he doesn’t set and take the hit, opting to throw it away.

The next play is a designed screen out to ETN. Elko only brought 4 with LB pressure on the left side. The defensive end drops and is in perfect position to tackle ETN for a loss. Did Elko know that play was coming or just luck into calling the perfect defense? Next play Elko brings 5 on third and long. TL does a good job to avoid, but hits Renfrow short of the sticks.

This is where TL will need to continue to grow. He needs to recognize where the blitz is coming from and make the defense pay. Elko is just dialing up blitzes on TL now and isn’t doing that to KB because of the threat of the run with KB’s legs.

So, was TL all that horrible? No balls in jeopardy. No turnovers. A couple missed passes and some missed blitz reads in a hostile environment.

Kelly Bryant

KB showed great poise and leadership to drive the team down the field in the second half. But he also started out the game completely rattled. Ball into the feet of Rodgers and a third down sack where Falcinelli was owned by the A&M DT Mack. On the second drive KB starts with a delay of game penalty. Then it is another horizontal ball to Rodgers for a loss. The next play is a screen to Renfrow that is almost intercepted. A ball in jeopardy. KB has one of best passes of the night to Rodgers for 60 plus yards. Next play we miss the backside blitzer, which should be the TE responsibility.

KB then throws a really high ball to Higgins in the red zone that could’ve been picked off. ETN with a great run and KB uses his legs to freeze the LB and get the one yard score. On KB’s last drive before the half KB throws a fade route, but is hung up by the CB (that pass was fine). On third down KB misses Renfrow completely and this is almost a ball in jeopardy. Just late and behind Renfrow, bad pass, but the hit is called a personal foul—horrible call that goes in Clemson’s favor.

Next pass to the flat is thrown over Rodgers head. Another bad pass with zero pressure. ETN breaks a couple of tackles for one of the more impressive runs of the night. Three more runs and then KB fumbles the snap on fourth and one. The big boys cleared it out on the right side too.

After the defense comes up with a turnover from a great Clelin Ferrell move and Justin Foster catching the loose ball from Starkel, Bryant takes over. KB hits Higgins (who pushes off and will be called for that next game with ACC refs sharing notes) for 50 yards. A first down run where KB tried to handoff, but then follows ETN into the A gap. Look who completely whiffed on their block AGAIN!! Richard has not improved at all. ETN inadvertently picks up the block and KB gets 7.

Bryant goes over the middle to Overton and somehow gets the ball to Diondre despite a defensive hold. Great throw, even better catch.

Then after an A&M score Kelly B makes one of the better throws of the night. On a roll out with Simpson blocking (one of KB’s favorite throws) he just hits Renfrow for a 40 yard pass. Then Bryant again follows Choice for a first down gain on first down. Then we call a trick play Renfrow pass to KB (yes, I know Hunter was a QB, but when you are driving and have superior talent...questionable) is almost picked off. Nice short pass to Rodgers for 7 yards (he needed to roll to the side to get the ball out with enough velocity though but still a good decision and throw).

A rub route gets Hunter open and KB almost throws it into the dirt. Renfrow is amazing. I liked the shovel pass wrinkle to ETN. Those two plays were the most effective/innovative of the night. ETN with the toss run to the endzone. Great combo of play calls on this drive.

Next drive starts with a good out route to Rodgers to the field. Yes! KB showing some arm strength and accuracy. KB then spins away for a first down. Only he can do that. If no one wants to block then you need KB the running back to help you. He still isn’t pulling the ball and running to the perimeter like some of these RPOs are designed to do, but can’t argue with the rushing yards. The next ball is overthrown on a deep ball to Rodgers and was almost a ball in jeopardy since the Safety had a beat on it. I like the call, but needs to be thrown closer to the sideline. KB doesn’t recognize the blitz and gets a minimal gain and on third and long Falcinelli doesn’t recognize a stunt and can’t pick up his rusher. The rusher goes untouched to the QB. KB has no chance.

Other than Hyatt and Anchrum for most of the game, the interior of the Offensive line struggled with recognition of blitzing LBs and Safeties, stunts, or just getting pushed around. This is how we looked against Bama in the playoff.

KB comes back on the next drive and Clemson goes QB power. Best blocking all night! Hyatt, with great technique, pushed the DE to the right and Falcinelli pulls and hits someone. Richard even has a quality block and ETN and the WRs do an admirable job to spring KB. I would like to see KB cut this up and try to score—he needs to run like a RB and not like a QB trying to save himself. Excellent job flipping the field position. The next three plays aren’t effective with the last pass being an inaccurate throw to the out route and he doesn’t have the arm strength to get the first down.

Elliott goes super conservative with three run plays and can’t seal the game with KB’s legs.

All of that is to say that we should heap effusive praise on KB for showing the leadership down the stretch and ultimately winning the game. But I don’t think this moves the needle much in the overall QB debate. It is and should remain up for grabs.

(Programming Note: Going to finish with a short post on the defense tomorrow—it is my 10 year anniversary and I must stop writing, like an hour ago, sorry about another novel)