All hail Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables. After Woody Whitehurst correctly called me a wet blanket for saying Texas A&M was a dumpster fire on Saturday more so than Clemson was just pretty good, I have come around to see just how responsible Clemson was for forcing Kellen Mond into a worse performance that I previously believed possible for an experienced Jimbo Fisher quarterback. Especially one so talented as Mond.
Clemson ran a base dime defense Saturday, but not the 3rd down dime of doom we’re accustomed to seeing. There were 3 down linemen, normal strong safety K’Von Wallace joined James Skalski and Chad Smith on the second level by dropping down to nickel corner, and Isaiah Simmons shifted to a central deep safety role between Tanner Muse and Nolan Turner. Venables sent Wallace on blitzes all day and he was in general a terror underneath; definite player of the game. Turner responded from an early missed tackle with a great performance and forced fumble. Muse played clean, grabbed another pick, and punished in run support. Simmons cemented his first round status flying all over the back end, showing he can do it all and is a coordinator’s dream.
With the Aggies’ respectable success on the ground and clear preference to sit on the ball in the 1st quarter, I was concerned even with Mond and his receivers off to such a horrible start. I thought Mond would heat up when Jimbo adjusted and find deadly balance. The opposite happened, as A&M finished with as many rush yards in the entire game as they gained in the 1st quarter, and Mond failed to look even marginally competent until the late garbage drive and backdoor touchdown.
This was more dominant than the final score indicated, even more dominant than a 24-3 margin would’ve indicated. A&M wanted to take away the run yet Clemson was still able to move the ball on the ground passingly well enough in the 2nd half, with Travis Etienne proving a workhorse even with the Aggies keying on him, and Lyn-J Dixon taking chunks when they neglected to key on him the same as Etienne. Trevor Lawrence was sharp throughout, minus a few underthrows, and in total command. He was sublime in the pocket, knowing when to climb and find Tee Higgins over the middle, and when to escape and roll, particularly on the scramble drill touchdown to Justyn Ross. Sublime performance, better than the stats show.
There’s little to be displeased with outside of a few execution issues offensively. The defense was brilliantly schemed and forced Mond into errors, which snowballed into plenty of unforced ones. Bottom line is the staff’s extra prep for A&M this offseason threw a wrench at Jimbo, and his team never responded. Quite the opposite, they unraveled.
With Syracuse showing how far they’ve fallen without Dungey and some of last year’s defense, the way ahead is smooth. North Carolina looks better than we all thought, but wins over Miami and South Carolina may not seem as good in a month or two as they do on the surface now. No one else in the ACC should prove a threat.
The biggest test of the regular season is out of the way, and Clemson has already grown from the test. 3 more months to fine tune for another run.
Please bear with me for the lack of usual annotation for each play, since as of this writing the full game has not yet been uploaded to YouTube and I’m going off the ACCDN’s condensed version. Thus, I only have a few highlights from the 1st quarter for you. Blame A&M for this though since they just sat on the ball and ate clock for over a third of the quarter.
Clemson’s first drive, 11 shotgun vs nickel. Deep fade to Ross vs Tampa 2 coverage:
Perfect read and throw between the corner’s flat zone and the safety’s deep half. Surprising to see a conservative zone from Elko, but that’s subversion.
Same drive, flanker screen to Ross from trips vs nickel, Chalk doesn’t get outside to block and it’s a drive killer, leading to a missed field goal.
This missed block is only a net of 5 yards or so, but that was a crucial difference in field position for a 3rd down play call and a missed field goal which drifted wide.
A&M’s enusing drive, 3rd & long, 10 shotgun vs dime. Quick bubble flare to the flat vs man cover 1 entire front 6 blitz. Turner isolated and gets stiff-armed.
This led to A&M’s only non-garbage points but Turner rebounded with an excellent day. The only nitpick is perhaps Simmons would’ve been better in coverage and Turner better in a deep zone.
This is all we have from the condensed version, but the realy highlight were in the 2nd and 3rd quarters anyway. If Maryland was an indication, I daresay we’ll have plenty more to highlight in this space next week.