Happy Labor Day everyone!
This is going to be a weekly feature here at STS. An in-depth look at the past weeks game. We won’t go play by play, but hit the major themes for offense, defense, and special teams. For new readers these are going to be more critical pieces than you may be accustomed to within the fandom of Clemson sports media, but we keep it real here at STS—straight out of the armchair.
You want us to start with special teams Dabo (per his press conference), you got it. BT Potter, my kicking man crush from last year who we pushed to get a scholarship here, was dynamite. It has been years since we had a kicker on KO’s who could consistently put it out of the back of the endzone. It was glorious.
Huegel was also impressive. A 50 yarder! That distance is something he struggled with early in his career. Automatic on the other FG and extra points. Huegel being back to playing at a high standard bodes well for this team.
Amari Rodgers is our punt returner. He has the best hands on punt return we have had in awhile. Derion Kendrick is probably more explosive a returner, based on his open field abilities at practice, but he has a long way to go to be as dependable as Rodgers and Rodgers proved his own dynamism on Saturday. Rodgers also has great vision and my only complaint is that a few more downfield blocks would’ve sprung Rodgers for the score. But blocking overall looked improved from last year. Cornell Powell also returned a kickoff to the 40 yard line, if he cuts up toward the sideline he could’ve had more, but the blocking was good and he was decisive in his running.
Special teams was all positive. The final punt was shanked, but we will move on from that, although punting is something to watch against A&M. We messed up the SKY PUNT??
Yep. Let us talk Lord Trevor versus King Kelly B.
First, one underrated part of Trevor Lawrence as a quarterback is his lack of ego. He is a mellow, chill personality who has great respect for his coaches and fellow players. TL isn’t going to create any divisions on the team if he isn’t playing. Kelly Bryant is a leader and has taken the role of mentor to the younger QBs. Of course, he doesn’t want to lose his position as the starter, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking TL and Chase Brice under his wing and teaching them.
Next, it was awesome to see that even Lord Trevor was so amped to be in the game that he forgot to put in his mouthguard. He is human after all...
I do want to dispel this growing equivalency that both quarterbacks struggled with jitters early. I heard this from coaches right after the game and that is understandable having not watched the game footage, so lets take a deep dive.
First drive KB throws the first pass short to Renfrow and it is almost a ball in jeopardy if the LB turns his head. Renfrow was open but it was an inaccurate pass. Garrett Williams was also open underneath for a short gain. The next snap is fumbled on the RB exchange with ETN. Third down is a good throw, but takes a quality effort by Tee Higgins to catch it for the first down.
On second and short after the first down the ball is thrown to the outside of Tee who has his man beaten to the inside deep. Got to give Higgins a chance on that deep throw. A quick horizontal pass to Renfrow, after a first down conversion, is too slow. KB’s mechanics are still not getting the ball out fast enough. Rodgers is not able to sustain his block and Renfrow is easily tackled for no gain. No improvement from last year in those areas. Snaps still looked to slow, perimeter blocking was inconsistent, and KB doesn’t zip his horizontal throws.
On third and four KB throws it into the feet of Powell. Ugly. That wasn’t even close. Clemson goes for it on the 45 and KB throws a 50/50 ball that is well covered to Powell. He had Williams open underneath on a stick route at the marker. Turnover on downs. That is a shaky start.
This highlights another problem that KB is still having. He is not reading through his progressions. Not at all. He is also telegraphing where he is going with the ball. KB hardly ever looks to the middle of the field. When he does it is to Renfrow (I think he had one pass in the middle the entire game). KB also shows the tendency to throw deep to the left side of the field. Maybe he thought his primary read was open every time against Furman, but it isn’t a great trend.
In the third quarter he throws to the ground at TJ Chase’s feet and then gets sacked as Reeves gives up a turnstile type sack. Reeves did not have a good day and the Tackle depth on the Oline remains a big question mark.
To summarize: horizontal stuff is still too slow and he is still keying on his primary target. KB also put a ball in jeopardy in the red zone that should have been intercepted.
On the positive side and there is a lot of positive, his deep ball is looking better. Also during camp he looked better than how he played in this game. The pass to Rodgers for the touchdown was a great, accurate throw against tight coverage. The DK pass was floated a bit, but he allowed the receiver to go up and make a play (you got to see some of DK’s swag after the catch too, pushing the DB and I love it). Bryant also showed his wheels—and he is going to need to run angry and not protective if he wants to hold onto his job as starting QB. I was encouraged by that throw to Renfrow over the middle. It was a timing throw where he anticipated where Renfrow would be and was able to throw the ball with good placement and velocity. A nice out route to Tee Higgins. Lots of positives.
First throw is a bullet, a bit high, but it hits Tee on the hands. If he can pluck it, he has a huge gain. I’d rather my slants on the faster side than sluggish and behind. Rodgers squeezes another bullet. Beautiful ball out to Tee for a big gain.
On the ball where he gets ‘sacked’ it was all on Feaster. It was supposed to be a draw. The next play was a curious run on third and 13 to set up the long FG. Next possession starts at the 5 yard line and the first pass looks behind the receiver, but that ball appeared to be tipped at the line. His next pass is a deep out to Trevion Thompson that was absolutely ripped. That is an NFL caliber throw. He could’ve taken something off of that one, but still an impressive throw.
With the balls flying down the field the running game starts to open up more. Funny how that happens. TLaw throws an incomplete pass when the DB’s don’t bite on a play fake. Off target, but he didn’t force the ball.
With TL, the defense has to respect his passing, which opens up the run game. This is in contrast to KB who is a better runner, but deals with a collapsed defense. TL also doesn’t have a schedule. He can easily convert on third and long whereas KB probably needs to stay on schedule to get those first downs. What I am trying to say is that TL can expand the playbook on third down. Lawrence then throws a deep ball out of the range of DK. This isn’t a poorly thrown ball and TL does put some air under it, but it was just a bit overthrown.
3rd and 10. No problem. Defense is drawn offsides and TL, like a veteran, goes down the field with the free play and connects with CORNELL POWELL. Then TL makes the right read on the RPO and tosses an easy TD to Overton over the middle. THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD.
Lawrence comes back in after a short punt on fire and hits my favorite pass of the day. Galloway, who is going to be the next great pass catching TE at Clemson, is open on the deep out and rather than going with the short pass TL rifles it in to him. Oh how I love that play. Then he zips another completion to Galloway on hook and then just barely misses Higgins on a jump ball to the far side that had the needed velocity.
Then after Lyn-J Dixon shows his ability to cut and break tackles, TL patiently waits and then zips a screen pass to Justyn Ross who does the rest. Lawrence then gets the ball in the redzone after the Spector fumble recovery and hits Galloway on an easy rollout.
That was Trevor Lawrence’s day. I wouldn’t call that shaky—it is closer to immaculate. He outplayed Kelly Bryant—he scored on every possession (and the FG was bc Feaster messed up the draw). Re-watching the game 5 times, it wasn’t even all that close.
I would still start KB against A&M. Hostile road environment and Bryant hasn’t done anything to lose the job. But it would be a short leash. TL should definitely get the 3rd or 4th series and if he keeps scoring TD’s then you let the Sheriff ride. You let the Sheriff ride...
Overall I was pleased with the Oline. The first series was more about KB than the Oline. Only negative was that sack given up by Reeves. I did like what I saw from Jackson Carman at LT, however, and Bockhorst next to him at LG. All of Dixon’s long runs were cutbacks to the left side where they were pushing Furman defenders around. I also thought Cade Stewart, who I have been critical of, played a solid game at RG. I was encouraged by what I saw from Vinson and McFadden. No penalties from this group other than a late snap deal, but that was on Brice.
Got to clean up those pass interference calls. I thought a couple were questionable, especially the last against Kyler McMichael.
Surprised that the wide toss was able to get to the perimeter of the defense. Texas A&M will try to run stretch plays and get outside of contain. I was surprised that was a challenge for the starting defense and something to watch for next week.
Safety depth remains my biggest question for the defense. K’Von Wallace looks to have made the next step. Muse is solid, but going to be exploited by some of the better passing teams. I’m not sold on Denzel Johnson and Nolan Turner seeing significant playing time just yet. Turner has the speed to play, but he is undersized and can get blocked or can miss a few tackles. He had a missed tackle that sprang a big run, didn’t fill the alley another (but then he shows that speed and makes a TFL on another series). Johnson needs to still mentally play more consistently. He gets out of position too. If you need to go to Cote or Morton things get scary.
Simmons got better and better as the day went along. A few assignment questions, but that is normal when playing against the triple option.
I was really sad to see an injury to Jordan Williams. He was blowing people up and really playing well. Clemson needs him to continue to emerge for next season. Stupid cut block rubbish from the triple option. The tackle dove at his legs.
I thought both Smith’s, Chad and Shaq, played impressively and should be vying for spots in the two deep (at least against option teams). Hope Chad doesn’t have a concussion or anything serious.
The interior of the line really pushed around Furman. Wilkins and Dexter were just pushing them around. Dexter does look healthier and moving a bit better. Paul Johnson just shed a tear or two watching this film.
I really liked the play of Baylon Spector. The inSpector had a strip sack and recovery. I would have him ahead of Jalen Williams.
Xavier Thomas. I guess he missed a stunt on the play, but it was impressive to see him chase a play all the way down the field. XT looked explosive and a future problem for the ACC. Henry also played well and got the fumble recovery.
Dominant day for the defense overall. Enough words. We can discuss the rest in the comments.