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QT’s Take: Clemson Tigers Squeeze Out 26 Point Victory Over Syracuse

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Emphasis on the 26 points...

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Win and advance.

6-0.

Better to win sloppy than to lose ugly.

Etc. Etc.

Look—I understand why Dabo was frustrated with getting a few tough questions after a convincing victory (even though they weren’t that tough really), but this team deserves some tough love after that performance. If you want all sunshine and no critical takes, this week isn’t for you.

If this were a regular team, this game wouldn’t be a big deal. It would be correct to say that Clemson fans are acting spoiled and all the rhetoric that comes from those who defend a team regardless. But this is the team of destiny—it is the team Clemson has been building towards (yes, we blew out Bama ahead of schedule and lost to LSU in a champs game where we underperformed, but this is the season). This is the team with a generational QB and a generational, greatest of all time Clemson RB. Clemson is #1 for a reason and I am judging this team based on how they stack up in the playoff (sure that is unfair—but that comes with the territory when you have two potential Heisman finalists on your team). Maybe expectations were too high after the GT thrashing...but not if you have this much talent on the team.

The defense didn’t play all that poorly after a second watch. They gave up leverage on the outside in the first half too many times. Gave up the score on the short field and then Charleston gave up the pass over the top (not a great call from Venables) and those were the only scores. The scoop and score was huge (that was not an easy play to execute, Booth did it in one fluid motion, really impressive). Three interceptions.

First, some worries on the injury front.

  • Derion Kendrick didn’t play because he banged his knee up, but probably could have played. Booth and Jones had to play more and it was a mixed bag. The Cuse QB was able to attack the CBs on out routes too often. CBs learning in a bit of trial by fire—some of those throws against a bad Cuse offense were just too easy. Goodrich also didn’t play, which is something to keep an eye on for the future.
  • I was afraid when Skalski went down in the GT game that it was more serious. Seems like a groin injury. Could be a lingering concern. Venables played alright starting in the place of Skalski, but the gap integrity wasn’t the best against Cuse, and Venables missed some run fits. If Skalski is out for BC and ND that is a major concern (esp ND).
  • Hope Mike Jones, Jr.’s hamstring is alright. He played one of his better games and almost had that pick six.
  • Tyler Davis rolled his ankle. This is after a knee injury earlier in the season. Not great. Tyler Davis is one of, if not the most, valuable members of the defense. He anchors the interior and is the only true Nose player that Clemson has that can anchor (the other body type is Demonte Capehart but he isn’t seeing the field at all, which is concerning...). Bresee is playing out of position at the 0 tech, over the center. He can do it, but the gaps aren’t going to be as clean. Davis commands a double team. Jordan Williams was dressed but also held.

I’ll start off with some positives on special teams:

SPECIAL TEAMS

Will Spiers is having his best season ever. I can’t remember the last time I genuinely praised Clemson punting, but we’re 6 games in and Spiers is our first really good punter since Pinion. Averaging over 50 yards a punt in the past three games and did a good job of the fake punt conversion.

Can’t have blocked punts, same as blocked FGs. Teams are finding things on tape, weaknesses they can exploit. This was punt blocking 101, however, and will get cleaned up easily.

BT Potter missed one and made two. He continues to be solid, however.

Dixon with the big kick return to start the game and help set up the first flawless drive and score. Good day for special teams apart from the missed kick and punt block.

THINGS TO GET FIXED

  • Can’t sugar coat this. This was not a good defense. Liberty was able to slice them up in the run game despite Cuse sending fire and A gap blitzes. It isn’t a good excuse. And if that is coming on first and second down then there is a giant hole right behind those blitzes in the middle of the field. Cuse was missing its best ball-hawking All-American Safety. Clemson was pretty fortunate that Cuse came in without its starting QB, top WR, down Olineman, and using basically the 4th or 5th string RB. That is the team that made this a 6 point game in the 3rd Q.
  • The Oline was missing assignments all over the place. Easily the poorest they have played all season. They got confused and were getting pushed back way too many times against a defense that was not statistically very good. Syracuse’s 3-3-5 scheme confuses the protections and Tony Elliott hasn’t figured out how to consistently counter the pressures. Carman had a holding call, Bockhorst fell down a bunch and had some bad technique, Cade was getting bull rushed and pushed around, continued bad snaps (one finally went over a 6’6 QB—the upward trajectory on that ball from under center...smh...), Putnam missed assignments—pretty much only Jordan McFadden would get a passing grade.
  • I was trying to defend Cade at the beginning of the year. He played decently, even above average, and seemed to be getting the protection calls down. Yikes. Regression to the mean?? Unfortunately, there is no one to take his spot. Trotter still needs another year and Rayburn and Vinson just aren’t great under center. In Cade we trust!!
  • Trevor had his first day where he wasn’t in complete command of the offense. First pick six of his entire Clemson career. This offense has relied on TL and ETN to bail them out consistently all year. Cuse wasn’t going to let this offense flick it to ETN on third and forever and convert every time. Elliott has to do better on first and second down, primarily in the run game.

OFFENSE

Can’t have the turnovers. ETN with a ball on the ground for the second straight game and TL with a second straight game with an interception. On the interception, I’m not sure why TL was going back shoulder when he could have led Rodgers further up field, down the seam, or at least hit Rodgers squarely. The deep ball wasn’t there and very few crossing routes or receivers getting quality separation. Bad execution across the board.

With RBs, there was a clear dropoff without ETN in the game. Credit to ETN for fighting through cramps and still looking amazing. Dixon hasn’t learned how to be the focal back, and seems to have reverted to running even more upright. Too many TFLs and missed rush lanes. I was happy to see Mellusi get an opportunity, but he didn’t fare much better, getting stuffed on the inside. I will say it again, ETN bails out this offense. Swing pass to ETN in the flats is now a tendency.

On the ETN fumble—Carman is supposed to seal, and Galloway comes over to kickout but has two defenders to block - and blocks neither one (the DE is supposed to be left unblocked to follow the QB so Galloway is supposed to take the LB #13). The box isn’t stacked. It is just a 6 man front, but the play is blown up and goes for negative yards on second and 10. This is the kind of lack of focus with assignments that happened all day.

In the redzone, Cade and Bock have a miscommunication and ETN gets tackled for a five-yard loss. I love Bock, but he has got to keep his base and stop bending at the waist. His balance gets thrown off way too much for a veteran.

I do not understand why Clemson was playing for a FG at the end of the half. Made no sense to waste the TO on a QB slide in the middle of the field.

The WR’s had an average day, but I am liking what I am seeing from EJ Williams. A couple of contested catches and a great block to spring Rodgers. Powell with another TD and nice move to find the endzone. Ladson has moments of brilliant play but still inconsistent.

Can we give DJ one series with all second string wide receivers where he throws a bunch of passes? Might be important for development heading into next season against UGA.

DEFENSE

Too many easy slants against Booth and many of the CBs. Soft.

Charleston just got burned. I know BV was trying to take the blame on that call, but Charleston has to anticipate that the super fast slot receiver is going to challenge him. Don’t think that was Zanders’ fault either—he needs more depth, but he is covering the post.

Too many missed run fits. Some on Venables, but I was surprised in the second viewing that Spector was out of position too many times (after playing lights out the past two games). Phillips with an early whiff and Zanders had two missed tackles with alligator arms that is a continued pattern. Guys are breaking down but just missing tackles. Really glad to see Phillips get the interception after hustling and stopping a potential TD late in the game.

Mike Jones, Jr. had his best game. His sack/contain that led to the scoop and score was really well done. He didn’t do too much and made sure to wrap up. The interception was huge—wish he’d gotten in the end zone.

Good to see Xavier Thomas get the sack and continue to progress. Clemson will need his production.

Nolan Turner was excellent. Interceptions. Really tight coverage. Missed the one tackle on the Syracuse touchdown, but otherwise was the MVP on the defense today.

I’m probably being overly negative. A 26 point win is comfortable. This team, however, needs to improve and get healthy. Boston College and their new coach are looking for a statement win. BC presents some challenges—they throw the ball now with a TE who has 38 catches, one great WR in Flowers, and a decent Oline. On defense they are solid and do their jobs, but shouldn’t have the talent to matchup with Clemson. Good test heading into Notre Dame.