I will get into the minutiae of the game, which involves breaking things down the way a coach would and being critical, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not seeing the forest. After watching an entire weekend of college football and our feathered friends at UofSCjr completely melt down—it is good to be a Clemson Tiger!
The real test comes this week against Texas A&M. Tech was bad, but gives some kind of barometer moving forward. Survive the A&M game and you can put it on cruise control for much of the regular season. DeVito struggled in his first game for Syracuse and UofSC obviously struggled (UNC assistant coaches looked amazing with that team). I want to see if Briles’ FSU offense can replicate what they did in the first half vs Boise St and if Howell continues to progress at UNC (he was at the top of Clemson’s QB board), but the schedule looks fine.
Overall this was a satisfying win after watching the game a couple more times. Openers aren’t ever easy. The defense needs to tighten up some run fits and improve the tackling and Trevor Lawrence needs to be sharper against Cover 2 looks, but lots of reasons to be optimistic about a young team that will have plenty of time to develop after next week. Georgia Tech is definitely in need of a major rebuild, however. Survive and advance against A&M (but I do know this is the game the staff had circled and scouted probably the most during the offseason).
Let us start by heaping praise on BT Potter. Ridiculously high kickoffs either in the endzone or right at the goal-line. Hit a 51 yarder that would’ve been good from 55 easily. No problems on extra points. Lovely.
Will Spiers wasn’t awful punting, but it didn’t seem like there was any marked improvement. Derion Kendrick caught all the punts, but probably could’ve fielded a couple for some extra yards.
Loved putting Ngata as the kickoff returner. He looked better than anyone we have had back there in awhile.
Spector recovering the punt was a big momentum shift early in the game. Coverage on kicks and punts was solid.
As I said, GT didn’t run the defense that Clemson coaches expected. They played more Cover 2, trying to keep everything in front of them. The answer to Cover 2 is pretty simple—you attack the middle of the defense (and everyone knows this), which is why I’m surprised we didn’t have some easy answers (I’m guessing we wanted to save some plays, like crossing routes and seam plays, but also shows our lack of a TE to bust open the middle of the field).
JC Chalk had a rough start to the game. He had a good block on the TL touchdown run, but he had too many missed assignments early. He got better as the game went on, but didn’t grade out well. For example, after the Spector muffed punt recovery Chalk misses on an ETN run and blocks no one on a quick pass to Ross. He was better on the line than standing up, however. Luke Price had some nice moments, as well, but unfortunately also missed assignments. They both need time and reps and I was surprised to see the offense run more 12 personnel than normal (I think we played 12 before going 10). Neither are going to stretch the field and attack the middle of the defense with regularity, however. JC did have a nice catch and run.
Davis Allen was poised to be the starter coming into Fall camp, so look for him to make a move as his health improves. Good to see Lay grab a catch—he is so massive. He still doesn’t play with great leverage on the line, however, but could be a force lined up.
ETN didn’t follow his blocks on his first two carries. And then...he was magical. Breaking tackles and showing he has maintained breakaway speed (I still question the fumble call—yes the ball was moving, but was lodged between his arm and elbow, with possession in my opinion, before the ground dislodged ultimately).
Dixon looked like he was running with more forward lean and made an amazing cut on his touchdown run. Rencher is still small, but didn’t look like a liability. It still would be nice to have one of the two freshman RBs step up. Mellusi looked faster than I anticipated and Dukes is shifty. It is obvious that this team is going to ride ETN. He only got 8 carries last year in the A&M game (largely due to KB eating up a bunch of carries).
Great perimeter blocking. Great effort and blocking down the field. Let me just pause here to gripe—how did the refs miss the pull on the facemask of Ross in the endzone? Baffling.
A few drops from backups and a few times where TL and the receiver weren’t exactly in rhythm. TL threw behind Overton and Higgins needed to fight through on the early dropped slant. I would’ve liked to have seen the offensive staff prepared to attack Cover 2, but when you are running the ball with ease, it isn’t a major problem. The coaches also didn’t show much 10 personnel or 4 wide looks until the two minute drill (where the team was rusty). WR’s are going to need to get better separation against A&M, even without A&M’s best cover corner suspended for the game. I see third and short, without Renfrow, as an area that is still a question mark.
Powell and Spector need to come down with those balls in the endzone. Come on Cornell! We are running out of time here...
Really liked what I saw from Ngata, obviously. He has that stride and the ability to amass some serious YAC (yards after contact). Ladson looked smooth going up and pulling down a lovely throw from Chase. Both are big and physical, as advertised.
The offensive line took over the game as GT stayed in Cover 2 and made the job of ETN and Dixon easy as the defense got worn down and exposed. Last season we struggled early to create those kind of holes, even against inferior competition. I loved seeing movement up front with a lot of lineman being played. The Carman pancake was a thing of beauty that shows his potential. We need to add the caveat that this was GT and the real test comes this weekend. If they can move A&M there won’t be many teams with better defensive lines that they face all season.
The holding penalties weren’t great to see (the first was on Simpson, not Carman). Gage whiffed on a third and short and had a holding call. Simpson missed a block in pass pro. Once everyone was in the flow of the game, the line started to dominate. Carman is going to have to be able to sustain his technique for an entire game and be able to keep moving his feet, but I was encouraged. McFadden and Bockhorst were standouts as backups. Bockhorst looked like a starter and played both the LG and RG spots. McFadden is your backup Tackle and should play over 300 snaps this season. He isn’t as tall as your prototypical LT but he has the athleticism and arm length. Everybody got in the game late, which was nice to see.
Trevor ran for a touchdown, using his legs more in this game, threw for a TD, and had a TD saving tackle. But he had two interceptions. One was just a throw away at the end of the half. Doesn’t matter. The other the corner jumped the route. Normally TL’s arm strength lets him get away with these kinds of throws, but the defense either read something presnap (splits, alignment, etc) or just gambled. It is really risky because if the WR doesn’t break or heads up field, it is an easy TD throw.
I’m more concerned about TL finding a good rhythm with wide receivers and putting it together next week against better corners. Swilling played a good game for GT though.
Brice looked really good. Granted it was against a tired defense and a set of plays he executes well, but he is making strides. Puma looks physically ready and can run as good as any QB we have ever had as a backup.
Credit to the defense on the sudden change of possession holds. They produce a goal-line stand and aren’t phased by the ETN fumble. In fact, the defense was excellent in short yardage down and distance all night.
GT’s QB Oliver is a legit athlete. I understand why Collins went with him because he can cause most defenses in the ACC problems. Mason is also a good running back. I’m not worried about some of the missed tackles with these two. Oliver will be the fastest running QB Clemson sees all year. It was a good tuneup for Mond, who will be fast, but not as fast as Oliver.
Overall, defending the run is probably the biggest question mark remaining for this team. Can the defense play with gap integrity and not miss assignments in coverage is the next question that will be answered at A&M (then the only remaining question for ACC play is playing against spread teams running extreme tempo).
Lumping everyone together since the secondary didn’t get tested much. K’Von Wallace can’t get burned like he did on the one throw, but the corners played well and the Safeties did a good job with run fits for the most part. Muse and Johnson got interceptions (although on the Johnson interception either he or Mike Jones Jr. got bailed out by Skalski deflecting the ball and a bad throw because two GT players were open in the back of the endzone). Nolan Turner did a great job filling the alley.
Sheridan Jones had a quality pass breakup and Booth showed tremendous quickness coming up in run support. Both look like they will be future starters.
Tyler Davis was our best interior player in this game. He was taking on double teams and winning at the point of attack. It was impressive for a true freshman. He did have one play where he over-pursued and let Oliver get by him, but Henry also couldn’t get off a block. Other than that he was very solid.
There is a big dropoff after Pinkney, Williams, and Davis. Kelly needs more reps and seasoning, but will be a part of the rotation. Jefferies struggled to hold the point of attack. Even Williams has a great play and then gets stood up. No injuries and more consistency inside.
We have a three headed rotation at defensive end too, but more depth here. Xavier Thomas is the most talented defensive end. It really isn’t that close either. If he can just be a bit more sound in the run game, he will be the elite defender we envisioned. He missed a couple of assignments though.
Justin Foster was fine. He wasn’t as consistent or explosive as I want from our top DE and also missed a few assignments, but he also needs game experience. Logan Rudolph is the hard, scrappy worker who is undersized, but generally in position. I said a couple years ago he was going to be a standout before he injured his shoulder and redshirted and then couldn’t find the field much last season. He will continue to get opportunities. KJ Henry and Justin Mascoll round out the group and they are both oozing with potential. Henry had a couple plays where he got into the backfield and Mascoll already looks like Bryant. They just need consistency.
I think Skalski and Chad Smith passed their initial test. Now we have to see if they can play disciplined, assignment football and cover in space. Spector showed he can play a backup role this season and made some ferocious hits. Venables still needs to get up to speed. Mike Jones Jr will play a role this season, but needs some time to ease into that Nickel role. Simmons was beast mode level good.
I’ve written too many words, time to hit publish...