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QT’s Take: Clemson Uproots the Forest, Defends State Championship

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Clemson v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I only have three real negatives from the Wake game to get out of the way (and then comparing those negatives to the UofSCjr game):

  1. Punting: Botched snap that gave Wake its best field position and basically three points. Add that to the 30 yard punts...ugghh...when Wake, Syracuse, NC State and every other team we face have great punters it makes me produce this cheap meme:

Well, Spiers must have seen this because he had his best punting game of the season against South Carolina. 51-yarder downed inside the 10-yard line!

2. Sacks: Against Wake one was Lyn-J Dixon missing his assignment/O-line/QB communication. Trevor took a couple where he could have gotten rid of the ball quicker and/or the O-line needed to hold up a bit better. The Wake defensive line was a bit better than the defensive lines Clemson had faced in recent weeks. Kinlaw and company got some pressure, but only one sack (and that sack came from McFadden getting completely blown up by Engabare who was also called for the ugly late hit on TL). The interior line played a great game overall in pass pro, doubling Kinlaw at times, but Lawrence was getting the ball out quickly and neutralized the pass rush.

Carman got tagged for two holding calls and had one of his weaker games (he missed a few assignments) after playing really well most of the season. When he went down with an ankle injury after having Simpson roll up on him I held my breath the entire time (Simpson got caught lunging on the play and Carman was trying to stay up, which is what led to the holding call—so really only one legit holding call...). Clemson needs him to stay healthy.

3. Tackles for loss: Wake had 8 TFL against Clemson, which (I believe) is a season high. Some were missed blocking assignments (Cade Stewart was late on a zone scheme, for example) and the others were in garbage time, but this has to get cleaned up as we enter postseason play. Travis Etienne is so good at taking on contact and get YAC that we take this for granted (Carman actually missed a block against Wake that should’ve been a 4 yard loss but ETN somehow made it a 2 yrd gain). Dixon isn’t strong enough to shed those tackles. Same thing happened against UofSC where Dixon has some great runs, but also gets blown up too often.

Ultimately, Wake was a decent team, but if they can’t stretch the field horizontally with WR’s Washington and Surratt, then the slow-motion mesh doesn’t work as well. Wake creates conflict with LBs and Safeties by falling forward on running plays and then hitting enough jump balls and slants to cause havoc. Jaime Newman is a good QB and hard to bring down at 6’4, 230. Clawson didn’t trust his young receivers (with good reason) and tried to grind the game out by controlling the tempo and trusting the defense (also without their best LB, however). It worked relatively well as Clemson hit a couple bumps on offense, but then Tee Higgins and TL took over.

South Carolina had the goal-line stand and one quality drive—and then the game was over.

Kudos to the Clemson crowd. The television cameras tried not to show it, but there was a ton of orange in the stands. As the game progressed and the Gamecock crowd started to exit, the noise was largely in Clemson’s favor. Pretty amazing.

Special Teams

Kickoffs into the end zone. Check. Long field goal. No problem. ETN returning the kickoffs and DK the punts. Ok. Spiers with good punts. YES!

Short FG missed. Yikes. Penalties on special teams. Umm...well, this has been a pattern all year. The majority of our penalties have come on dumb special teams plays. I thought the penalty on Jones wasn’t a great call, but we need to stop doing this to ourselves (I say that, but these penalties at least don’t give first downs or stop drives, but they still aren’t necessary).

Offense

Let’s get out of the way one of the few negatives: backup center snaps. Cade Stewart has to clean up his snaps. He is the starter next season at center and has struggled in every game. In this game he almost snapped one on the ground past Trevor who somehow grabbed it, gathered himself, and was able to throw a strike to Ross for a TD. His snaps are almost always not centered, don’t have great velocity, and either low or high. Just a disaster.

You don’t notice how insanely bad the snaps are because Lawrence is really good at catching everything and transitioning to the throw. A normal QB would mishandle so many of these snaps because they are so off target. Just another of TL’s many talents.

Here is a major positive—ScElliott fooled the South Carolina defensive staff by playing with some alignment and tendency breakers. South Carolina caught Clemson a few times, for example on a RB screen to Dixon in the flat that the UofSC defense knew was coming, but got burned repeatedly. Clemson did a lot of 4 wide, putting Overton on the field and moving Ross around. Our bunch sets completely messed with the Safeties—on one arrow route Ross was completely left alone. Clemson went away from Horn most of the game (who apart from Kinlaw is the best player on the South Carolina defense).

TEE TIME! SWEET TEE! TEE’D UP!

Higgins looked like a first round draft pick and a million bucks against Wake and South Carolina. Neither team had an answer. Mukuamu was draped all over Clemson receivers much of the day (he can’t redirect very well, but his length and size can be a challenge), but no one could stop Tee. Clemson won this game easily because they had a ridiculous success rate of 60% on passing downs compared to the national average of 31% (which means they torched UofSC’s pass defense on third and long all day). Again, defenders got lost when Clemson went four wide, putting Overton on the field, and in bunch formations.

The bye week came at a perfect time for Rodgers and Ross to recover from minor injuries. Rodgers got twisted up on an RPO throw to the flats that looked awkward. Ross had his best day in awhile, making a couple of spectacular grabs (the one on the sideline was what we would see more of this entire season—and it was hilarious when the ‘rules expert’ aka former SEC official had no clue when he chimed in on the broadcast—lolz).

Really good to see Ladson and Ngata get in the endzone against Wake. Wanted to see more of them against UofSC. Hopefully their emergence continues into the postseason (Powell dropped another one against Wake...sigh).

The only real question for the offense was in short yardage. ETN only got 51 yards this game on 15 carries. The goal-line sequence was frustrating because ETN missed the hole on second and fourth down. That was uncharacteristic and Clemson needs to be able to grind yards out against Ohio State or LSU.

Still, ETN has now entered into my conversation for greatest Clemson RB of all-time. If he can carry the team in the postseason—the crown is his (CJ is still the all-purpose yards King forever and Terry Allen is my guy but ETN is getting there). Once again ETN caught the ball extremely well out of the backfield.

Trevor Lawrence had 4 TDs and no interceptions against Wake and then 3 TDs and no interceptions (again, no turnovers for the starters apart from the Spiers bobble-cluster against Wake). Is it time to start talking Heisman finalist?? TL now has 30 TD’s and 7 rushing TD’s with 8 interceptions (Burrow with 44 TD’s and 3 rushing with 6 interceptions, Fields with 37 and 10 rushing with 1 interception). Burrow has 4,366 passing yards to TL’s 2,870, but that is more than Fields 2,654.

TL started out a bit juiced and overthrew a couple passes but then settled in to break the school record for consecutive completions. Not a bad day. If TL continues to play like this, seeing the field, going through progressions, and hitting check downs and hitting darts down the field—Clemson won’t be stopped. TL is faster than Deshaun Watson (Watson has more wiggle and an uncanny pocket presence) and seeing him use his legs entering the championship phase is a good thing. Taking the 15 yard scramble is very important and his ability to get to the sideline in the two minute drill was pretty remarkable.

DEFENSE

Hilinski was playing with injuries (turns out it was a torn meniscus and ACL—yikes). I have no clue as to why he was the player that needed to go back and forth between the sideline and the huddle. That makes zero sense. Zero.

K’von Wallace looked good in coverage and in the slot. Last year teams tried to pick on K’von but he has improved this season, which is important for the playoff. Simmons had another great downfield pass breakup, catching up with Shi Smith.

Overall the run defense was stout except for the one drive where UofSC got the FG. Tavien Feaster is a good back and got some hard yards on the ground. Clemson had a few missed tackles and problems with run fits on Dowdle and Feaster on a few plays. Chad Smith was out of position a couple of times and Skalski missed a few tackles. Jake Venables missed one gap assignment late. Markway got free on the long pass that was either the LB assignment or Muse over the top. He also got free on another pass in the flat that would’ve been a first down that stalled the drive.

Regardless, Skalski has proven to be one of the better LBs of the Venables era and he has stayed healthy. As Dabo said, Skalski is a beautiful player (and should’ve been at least an honorable mention all-acc performer). Smith has steadily improved. Spector looks ready to play a major role next season.

The defensive line has steadily improved this season and Tyler Davis hasn’t hit a freshman wall, but I am still expecting more from Xavier Thomas. He hasn’t been bad, but the concussion set him back a bit and he has an elite level he can hit.

Great interception by DK who is setting himself up to be the next CB who leaves early for the NFL draft after next season. Most teams have given up on throwing at AJ Terrell.

One note on the Wake game: Venables knew based on tendency and alignment where the ball was going on the Muse interception. Just an example of his genius and an experienced player like Muse being able to execute (this is the play Venables was talking about in the interviews and didn’t want to talk about in detail to give it away...).

HISTORICALLY GOOD DEFENSE?!?

Just to show how dominant this Clemson defense has been, here are all the TD’s scored against Clemson all season.

GT—two TD’s, one in the 3rd Q against majority backups in garbage time and one in the fourth in complete garbage time

A&M—last second 4th Q TD against backups in garbage time

Charlotte—one TD in late 3rd Q against majority backups in garbage time

UNC—three legit TDs, one in the first Q (Terrell supposed to have Safety help), one in the 2nd (off an ETN fumble short field, crossing pattern DB mixup), one very late in the 4th (longest drive of the season against the D, failed 2 pt conversion)

FSU—one in the 3rd against all backups in garbage time (42-0), one in the 4th against all backups

Louisville—one TD in the 4th Q against all backups (38-3)

BC—legit TD in the second Q at 17-0 on starters (Dillon run)

Wofford—two TD’s one in the 3rd Q against majority backups in garbage time and one in the fourth in complete garbage time

NCSU—one TD in garbage time in the 3rd Q against starters (42-0, a run in sloppy conditions)

That is it folks. In an era of spread teams and tempo that is unreal.

Four touchdowns all season in non garbage time for 27 points (UNC x3 and BC). 5 TDs against starters. 7 TDs against a mixture of starters and backups.

One TD in the first Q and only 3 in the first half the entire season. Pay Venables all the money. This defense is the now the front runner to claim the crown of greatest Clemson defense of all-time. The defense has only given up 138 first downs all season (Utah is #2 in the country at 167). Unreal.

A WORD (or two) ON UVA

I’ve watched a good bit of Bronco and his group. I know one of the coaches on the team and have connections with family of another coach on staff. UVA is all about efficiency.

They don’t have superior talent, but they are a veteran team that is efficient on offense and stout on defense, particularly on third down. The elite talent is obviously Bryce Perkins at QB. But the OC Anae uses short passes to get into manageable third downs and they grind out possessions. They control the ball and strategically use Perkins legs to manage the game. Their TE is really good (#44 Cowley). Not a burner but he makes difficult, contested catches and gets first downs. Decent at wide receiver with #2 Reed and #8 Dubois, but they aren’t speed guys, more of a bigger bodied possession receiver mold who also make contested catches. Their RB #21 Taulapapa is a smaller body type, but grinds out yards.

Virginia Tech bottled up Virginia much of the game, but kept letting Perkins beat them on long scrambles and designed draw plays. Perkins is really good at running their zone read and RPO packages where you have to account for him on every play. Clemson will need to continue to play disciplined.

On defense, Virginia doesn’t play a lot of guys. They don’t have a lot of depth on defense and only play around 13-14 guys as injuries have mounted. Their best cover corner got injured so they are weak at corner and there are holes in the pass defense. Clemson should use more tempo in this game to force the issue and minimize the exotic looks UVA wants to throw at offenses. Surprisingly, UVA gets to the QB frequently and racks up sacks. They get sacks with scheme and bringing guys more often than just from the front four.

Hanback (#58) is their most disruptive pass rusher. More of a sawed off, big body who can play run or pass. They have two long, multiple LB’s in #11 Snowden and #33 Zandier. #29 Blount at Free Safety is probably their most talented player overall. The defense stays at home and tackles well. This should be a challenge, but Clemson should be able to hit things over the top to loosen up the defense.