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QT’s Take: Orange Squeezed Dry by Clemson Tigers

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Another blowout to a team that has been a thorn in Clemson’s side the past two years. Yet, Babers team was able to make the game one of the more uncomfortable blowouts in recent memory (uncomfortable blowouts are kind of what we do in the regular season though...). First road test for the team and the Charlotte game comes at a good time and allows for some guys banged up to recover.

The defense was remarkably good. Redzone stops. Goal-line stops. Relentless pressure with very few busts. This defense looks like it can handle and shutdown teams running the spread and running tempo this season. Despite the youth upfront, Venables is putting together a top ten, if not top five defense in the country. Pay that man all the money!

The offense, on the other hand, is the victim of expectation (see Deshaun Watson and the 2016 offense). We expect Trevor Lawrence and the offense to be a well oiled machine and complain when they don’t look crisp—despite gaining 600+ yards of total offense. The big picture is that the foundation is strong, but the nitpicking, critical side is finding more warts than you want.

SPECIALISH TEAMS

BT Potter was great. Will Swinney was great as the holder. One bad snap led to a missed FG that doinked off the upright. The snaps need to get cleaned up (they have been a problem multiple times this year and last, but Swinney is just a really, really good holder).

Will Spiers didn’t have a great night. I waited for three games before ranting, but can’t hold back on this one. Spiers had one long 53 yarder, which was nice. Oh, but wait—that was a touchback and pads the stats. If you take out that punt, you get 5 punts for 190 total yards or 38 yards a punt. Including a stretch of 33, 35, and 43 yard punts. No pressure on any of these punts and the goal being to pin Cuse within the 20 yard line. None of them got even remotely close to accomplishing that goal. Spiers is a junior. Do we have to suffer through another year of this? We have three years of data and a career average of 40.4 yards (which includes the yards from touchbacks). Sure, sometimes you want sky punts that negate returns, I get that, but these are punts that should be inside the 20 (at least the 25).

We go up against a good punter almost every week—it can be done.

Competition, please?

Cuse’s punter was an absolute weapon, just like Mann last week. He is averaging 48 yards a punt this season.

DEFENSE

The only negative things I have to say about the defense involve wrapping up. DeVito could’ve been sacked even more. Wrapping up when coming on the blitz is a skill. One that needs to be learned. Clemson actually got lucky a few times that DeVito fell down on his own or crumpled himself to avoid pressure. Chad Smith, Mike Jones Jr, and even XT missed sacks.

It is tough because modern football is so protective of QB’s that you have to be careful about hitting them too high or low and also not committing targeting. Still—wrap up.

But who cares—DIME!!!

The only other problem was a few times letting the RB get away in pass coverage. When the RB was motioning out of the backfield to go 5 wide, it threw some assignments off. Chad Smith missed a few coverage assignments. There were the busts to Neal, but apart from that it was lights out.

Let’s heap some praise on players!

Lights out on the goal-line. This team thrives with quick change of possessions and forcing FG’s.

Simmons continues to show out. He was a one man wrecking crew, but most important—he didn’t bust. His football knowledge has improved from last season. 11 tackles. 3.5 for loss and 2 sacks. Versatility but also plays almost every snap.

Mario Goodrich. DK has played really well, but went down with back spasms. Goodrich comes in and defends an underthrown ball that could have been a PI call if the CB panics and grabs. Booth also showed his skill, almost one handing an interception. Goodrich and Booth have jumped ahead of Jones, who the team might try to hold.

Nolan Turner got the start and showed his ability in pass coverage. Tanner Muse also played a solid game with half a sack, one and a half TFL’s and 6 tackles.

Logan Rudolph finally flashed. XT continues to progress towards alpha player and is logging the most snaps in the DE position group. Mascoll had a key third down offsides penalty, but you can see his potential. Henry showed his pass rushing prowess.

Tyler Davis is my fav. His production as a true freshman is eye popping. He recovered on a screen pass so quickly that it made me think Wilkins was back on the field.

OFFENSE

What is going on with the offense? Again, we gained 600+ yards so nothing is wrong. But here are a few observations:

  • Clemson’s tempo is not good. It almost seems like we have abandoned being a tempo team. Lots of other teams are shifting to tempo, so I understand it, but we aren’t using it strategically to our benefit. Only 71 plays against Syracuse.
  • As I have said before, teams have scouted Clemson more than any team on their schedule and it shows. Teams are picking up on formation and down and distance tendencies and importantly what TL’s tendencies are within those plays.
  • Two interceptions are never great. On one TL doesn’t see the underneath Safety and the other the CB seems to guess correctly on a back shoulder throw. Both could be chalked up to predictable tendencies based on playcalling (impossible to know definitively without knowing if Cuse instructed the Safety to sit on the route, for example, but evidence is mounting in that direction).
  • Related, TL seemed to press and not go through his reads as the game progressed. He wasn’t seeing the entire field and seemed to key in on Ross early. Some of this was by design. Part of the offensive gameplan was to attack Cuse’s ‘fish’ (weak link player who was #8, 5’8 Cordy). Cuse was giving Clemson and TL man to man on the outside all night. This led to a bunch of explosive plays, but not much efficiency. TL ended the night 22 of 39 with a 71.1 QBR. He had three touchdowns and a rushing TD, however.
  • My biggest complaint, however, is the lack of a passing game that used the middle of the field. LB’s and Safeties were blitzing, leaving the middle wide open and Clemson couldn’t take advantage with TE’s or WR’s. For the most part the protection was holding up so I’m surprised we didn’t see more post routes, slants, crossers, or TE seam routes. We also didn’t use the running backs effectively in the pass game after missing one to ETN early.
  • Clemson went away from the running game too early. Only 11 rushes and 25 passes in the first half. Clemson ended with a 60% success rate in the run game. Granted it is more complicated than that based on what Cuse was doing in the game. The Cuse defense was timing up their Safety run blitz most of the night. So TL would count the 6 man box on first down and choose a run play, but Cuse knows this and waits to send a Safety at the snap to crash down. I don’t know why we didn’t throw to that exact spot with a TE, but this is the cat and mouse game ScElliott talks about. Regardless, the Cuse defense wasn’t great against the run and we only varied our run game in the second half (more toss plays and trying to get RBs in space).
  • Third and short was a disaster all night. Not very efficient. Said in the season preview that it would be one of the big question marks entering the season. Overton didn’t catch a pass. Ngata was targeted four times but didn’t catch a pass. Ross had 9 targets, but only 5 catches for a 56% catch rate and 22% success rate per SP+. Higgins and Rodgers, on the other hand, were ridiculously good.

Tee Higgins had 7 catches on 8 targets for 150 yards, good for a 88% catch rate and an 88% success rate. 88% success rate is crazy good. Higgins is the top receiver on this team so far and quietly having one of the better seasons in the nation. Rodgers was 4 for 4, 121 yards and had a 75% success rate. The personal foul call on Higgins for the stiff arm was garbage.

Forget what I said about Rodgers last week. He is clearly the best option for Clemson at the 5 position. Clemson receivers need to be getting more separation, especially on third down. I’m beginning to wonder about Ross at the ‘2’ position and if he is better suited for the 9. Clemson needs to get Ross and Ngata on track. Ladson just needs to work on consistency. His endzone catch was unreal, but he has had a few that he should’ve reeled in.

Pollard’s snaps were high all night.

Cervenka got tagged for two penalties, but I don’t see a false start on the first one. Looks like a blown call to me (or on someone else). This is the second straight game that Bockhorst has challenged Cervenka for snaps. Gage really struggled against A&M (like we pointed out last week) and the staff has challenged him to step up his game. Bockhorst is showing he is ready for more snaps.

Jackson Carman had another great game against a legit pass rusher who gave this team fits last year. I thought the line as a whole played a solid game, not giving up a sack. He is also playing entire games without losing his stamina or his feet. Really encouraging.

Sign me up for more Davis Allen. Chalk had his TD grab called back on a really bad hold by Cade Stewart, but he also keeps missing key blocks. He let Dixon get tackled on the third and one run.

Dixon had his first rough game. He couldn’t fall forward on third and short and on the goal-line. With ETN out with a stinger and the freshman not ready for primetime, this is where the roster misses a back like Feaster. I’m not going to say that much more because he is gone and that decision was made, but Dixon needs to learn to fall forward to get those first down yards. It makes third and short that much tougher and the offense more conservative on second down.

Trevor is fine. He needs to hit some of these down the field throws and be more consistent, but his running ability has certainly improved, along with his pocket presence. The Charlotte date and then UNC before an open week allows for everyone to recalibrate and focus on the meat of the schedule that looks weaker and weaker.

ETN needed to break one more tackle all night to really break out. Hopefully the stinger doesn’t linger. His tackle after the interception at the goal-line saved a TD. Mellusi made a lot of folks happy with his explosive run and score—showed some good speed.