Let me first say that my thoughts and prayers are out to those living along the coastlines of NC and SC ahead of Hurricane Florence. This game was moved up to noon to help make sure folks are able to clear out and get settled before the worst hits (potentially). As a Charleston area resident, I know too well the dangers these storms present. I hope any who read this will have taken the correct measures by this point. Stay safe!
I was a huge fan of the Nintendo game Super Tecmo Bowl back in my youth. In that game, I would be playing a season and comfortably blowing out my opponents each week. However, there would always be a game here or there when I knew the computer was Hell bent on beating me. I called it “getting Tecmo’d” and it consisted of freaky plays happening against my team over and over. I would call the perfect defense and the triple covered receiver would catch it anyway. I would fumble repeatedly on tackles, often resulting in a defender taking it to the house. My best player (like Bo Jackson, for instance) would get hurt on first contact and knocked out of the game. I vividly recall a time when QB Eagles (aka Randall Cunningham) took off running and had two of my guys bounce off of him before he turned into a 4.2 40 guy and took it to the house. Clemson came very close to getting Tecmo’d last week with the deflections and crazy plays Mond pulled off. Thankfully the team did just enough to hold on and win.
I’m probably too exposed to the Swinney positivity, but I do feel a game that pushes the team to the limits like that one is actually good for the overall health of the season. The Aggies had enough talent to test our offense the way UGA or Alabama would try to do, and they had the quarterback to pull off the hero performance on the other side. It is likely the team won’t (or can’t) be stressed like that for a while as most teams on the schedule have some glaring holes on at least one side of the ball. What we learned is the team isn’t ready yet, especially on the back end of the defense, and a lot of guys need to grow up and play more soundly going forward. I will also say I hope our DL gets a little more respect from the officials than they got last week when they were repeatedly mugged after whipping the Aggie OL time and again. If not, we need to get some of our OL playing the same way. This will be a very different type of game, both in talent level of the competition and the style of play Georgia Southern employs.
Clemson defense vs. Georgia Southern offense: The Clemson linebackers looked very good in week one against Furman, but they were a big part of the struggle in the second half last week. They should be happy to see another option oriented offense come to town where they can concentrate a lot more on playing downhill on the run game vs. dropping into zone coverage. Our 2 deep zone attempts last week rivaled that of USCjr in 2003 when Charlie Whitehurst lit the middle of it up for 3 touchdowns right off the bat. The chickens didn’t get nearly enough depth on their drops that night and neither did the Tigers last week. We got on Ben Boulware for his issues in man coverage, but Boulware was effective in his zone drops and had good instincts (leading to the interceptions he was able to secure). We all know how awesome Dorian O’Daniel was last season (oh how we miss you, Dorian!).
Georgia Southern runs their option attack a lot more out of the shotgun than Furman or Georgia Tech. Everything revolves around their quarterback Shai Werts. Dabo noted how Werts was offered as an athlete at Clemson, so that should tell you what type of player he is. As usual, stopping that fullback dive is job 1 anytime you play the option and remains the case here. However, Werts is good at using that dive fake to create space for himself on the perimeter to stress the defense. The Eagles even showed some four wide spread formations against S.C. State! That spread formation helps them create room for the quarterback draws and follows they will run. Werts shows good strength in his lower body to get through one on one tackle situations on the edge, so the Tigers will need to do a good job wrapping up and getting extra hats to the ball as much as possible. I have full faith the defense will come out firing on all cylinders like they did vs. GT last year coming off that Syracuse debacle. That game was in some heavy rain and this one probably will be too depending on what Florence does. Maybe we will see some more swag surfing from the Power Rangers.
Clemson offense vs. Georgia Southern defense: The Eagles employ a 3-4 base defense, which means Justin Falcinelli is going to be tested with a NG once again. The performance we had last week was what I feared we were going to see a lot in 2017, but Justin put together a very good year. I’m hopeful Justin just had a bad night at the office and will play a ton better this week and going forward. Weakness at center will kill an offense. I certainly feel Clemson will make a concerted effort to get the running game on track after a shaky night in College Station. However, I saw the Eagles have some issues dealing with RPOs at times against S.C. State. S.C. State showed a lot of similar alignments to what the Clemson offense uses, so the staff should have a pretty good idea of what the Eagles will try to do. I noticed a lot of off coverage as well, which invites the perimeter screen game (que your groan, gasp, whatever here). I’m as frustrated as anyone with how poor those bubble screens have been, but they are a vital part of the offense’s ability to dissuade heavy inside blitzing. Clemson just has to A. clean up the execution and B. make sure they are self scouting tendencies which are tipping those plays off. I’ve suggested running a fake screen/go early in these games to get the defense thinking twice about coming down too hard on those plays. The Tigers had way too much feast or famine last week, and it led to a very low snap count and too much time on defense. You never begrudge an explosive play, but the offense has to get much better on first down and sustain some drives as well.
Kelly Bryant’s performance last week was very encouraging. It certainly looked a lot like the staff was shifting to Trevor Lawrence, especially when TL got the first two series of the second half, but KB came back like a champ. You just never know for sure how a player will handle this type of situation, and it is not something KB had to deal with at all before. He has always been the clear backup or clear starter until now. Bryant proved his worth once again and the team really needs his veteran presence while TL acclimates to this level.
Special Teams: I partly blame myself for gushing too much about the special teams last week. Although it wasn’t a total disaster and did produce a blocked field goal, I felt Texas A&M got the better of it outside of field goal kicking. Their punter was a weapon while Spiers continued to underwhelm. The team nearly gave up a blocked punt, did a terrible job covering the two distanced punts (hang time was lacking, but the distance was good), and nearly gave up fumble on a kick return when two guys were left free to crush Cornell Powell. The rugby punt at the end was about as badly executed as it could have been (other than being blocked or just whiffed altogether). My issue with Spiers continues to be his not producing a punt when we really need it to flip the field, or, in that last case, get the clock rolling and get the opponent starting around the 20-30 yard line with no timeouts. Simply put, the last two big games (vs. Alabama and last week), Spiers wasn’t good enough.
Overall: We all know how Dabo loves to search for a chip for the shoulders of the team. That game last week should provide plenty of fuel in that regard even though the team held its #2 ranking. The Tigers will be looking to flex their muscles in this game and look more like a team destined for the playoffs. It is refreshing to know that the team is good enough to make as many mistakes as it made last week and still win a tough road game. However, that feeling won’t last if they don’t show substantial growth in some key areas in these next few weeks. Georgia Southern is getting back to being a threat in the Sun Belt, but the going will be rough this week.
Clemson 48 Georgia Southern 12