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QT’s Take: Clemson Purple Panther Eaters

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This team came to play...

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

Alright. Alright. Alright.

First, Pitt is a good team. One of the better defensive teams in the ACC, if not the country. QB Pickett was sizzling before running into the Brent Venables buzzsaw. This was a quality opponent and a solid resume win.

The first quarter was one of the better quarters I have ever seen in the Dabo Swinney era. 31 points is complete domination. There was a bit of a second quarter lull and Pitt won the quarter 10-7 and then came out and scored in the first thirty seconds of the second half. The team woke up after Pitt had a chance to cut the lead to 14 and dominated the rest of the way.

Pitt played at a breakneck speed that made the game seem like it lasted 8 hours. It allowed the offense to get a ton of possessions, which was nice, but led to Pitt scratching away until they had a remote chance of making it a game. Live by tempo, die by tempo, especially if you go three and out.

DEFENSE

Brent Venables, you evil genius. To begin the season BV incorporated a wrinkle that I picked up on where you basically move a DE a yard off the line and have him play in space, almost a hybrid position. Some advanced NFL teams have been experimenting with this as well with three down lineman. It had mixed results against Wake, in my mind, because those DE’s just didn’t know how to operate in space well enough and weren’t reacting/playing fast.

Enter Trenton Simpson.

With a week off (that became two...), BV and the defensive staff went to work growing their scheme. In high school, Simpson primarily did two things really well—run the ball on offense and rush the passer. He still has a lot to learn about pass rush moves and technique at the college level, but (as you can see on the first three-and-out and his sack) Simpson has natural bend and ability to reroute to the QB. On the sack, the RB is actually open for a big gain in a coverage bust (can’t tell if that is on Thornton or Charleston), but Simpson gets there lightning quick before it matters. On a simple RPO read where Pickett gets the ball out quick, it is inaccurate and dropped because Simpson’s get-off and closing speed off the line is really good.

The starting defensive lineup had the following; three down lineman (Tyler Davis the anchor with XT and Bresee or Murphy subbing primarily), Skalski at MLB, Simpson as a SAM/DE (who can rush the passer, spy, play in space, or coverage), Booth and Goodrich at CB, Turner, Charleston, and Thornton playing more Rover/Rabbit Safety roles, and Malcolm Greene at Nickel.

Oh boy...scheme versatility, havoc potential. More speed on the field and better coverage ability. BV knew that Pitt had no ground attack, and with three starting offensive lineman out, they would rely on the passing game. That is the one caveat to insert—the defensive line played much better and got more pressure, but the Pitt Oline wasn’t at full strength. I think this is the scheme we would start out with against Bama. It would be up to the Dline to contain Najee Harris, but it gives the best chance against the passing attack.

The downside to this scheme is that it takes Spector off the field. When BV went with four defensive lineman, he pulled Simpson. Spector started the season really strong, but struggled against BC and ND without Skalski.

Regardless, Greene has found a home at Nickel. He was being used as a backup corner and that really doesn’t maximize his talents. He was making splashes in Fall camp for scrappy, around the ball type plays. He is ideally suited to play Nickel and cover more shifty guys in the slot. He isn’t bad at CB, just not elite. I think he can be an elite Nickel (we need a bigger sample size, but the early returns are positive).

I’ve geeked out enough on this scheme, but it will be something to watch. Other shorter takeaways:

  • Tyler Davis is a boss. Tip ball for the interception. Sack. Constant pressure. Hustle. When he and Bresee are on the field together, it is a different Dline.
  • Skalski is a good QB of the defense. He really helped younger players know where to be, especially Thornton. Had some added pep in his step despite the injury. A bit more explosiveness with fresher legs, which should continue. On one third down stop, Skalski read the crosser, caught his leg for the tackle, and was able to force the punt. Needed experience and execution.
  • Patterson came in and got mixed up on the RB coverage on the bust for the TD, but he and Bentley got some good snaps. Of course, they know most of the plays when they come in later in the game, but still good to see the forced fumble and I wish Patterson got in on the TD.
  • I believe Booth can fly...I told you he was a legit 5* talent. That Wake game is a distant memory. One of my favorite plays of the season thus far. Levitation.
  • Goodrich with two interceptions! He had a couple of balls where he gave up leverage, one bad one for a long completion, and he still needs to be stronger at the point of attack, but clearly his best game.
  • Tackling was better overall for the entire defense, but especially in the secondary.
  • Safety players stepped up. Charleston had his best game. The TD he gave up was another fluke play. Thornton didn’t bust. Turner plays that role even better than a traditional Safety spot. Tyler Venables also played more snaps, especially in the traditional 4-2-5 base and was in good position much of the day.
  • Good to see XT progress a bit more. Had some good pass rush moves. Still a bit thick and working his way back, but it is coming.
  • My only real negative is that the defense gave up contain a couple of times on Pickett scrambles. Simpson got beat on one where he needed to take a better angle. With Hooker and Book on deck, that is still a lingering issue. When to spy or play/hold coverage, and when to attack with proper discipline and angles.
  • A bit surprised to see Jordan Williams run down with the seniors. That opens up a scholarship since he is technically a Junior.
  • Not thrilled at how taped up that leg is for Bresee, but glad he got all this rest. He was disruptive and was moving around really well though.

OFFENSE

The Pitt defense was first in TFLs and sacks entering the game. It was a much better offensive line performance. Pitt’s Hamlin is one of the better Safeties in the game (right up there with Kyle Hamilton). They lost a guy to targeting, but that is a stacked Pitt defense.

Trevor Lawrence still deserves to win the Heisman. He lost three games to COVID, but has similar stats when adding in rushing TD’s to Mac Jones. Trask is the frontrunner with UF only passing, but will they give it to him if he struggles against Bama? If Lawrence pads the stats and beats Notre Dame—that would be enough (especially if Jones and Trask split the SEC homer votes). It would have helped TL if he had a 4 TD performance though, which could have happened if Galloway got in or the refs didn’t call back the beauty of a throw and catch to Rodgers.

  • I thought Cornell Powell would have a decent last season, but 176 yards and what should have been two TD’s?? One armed catch on a PI. Making all the layups? Stellar Luggs. 4* stellar play...I loved Powell’s trash talk the most.
  • Good to see Walker Parks get in at LT and RT. He was one of our better run blockers when he was in the game. Really nice seal block on the Dixon rushing TD.
  • I’m not going to rag on the Oline too much, but ETN still only had 58 yards. Every play they are one guy not holding a block away from getting ETN free. Carman and Bock had penalties (not sure why Bock threw down his guy away from the play...not a smart play). Trotter and Parks got inserted at different times. A few RPO penalty issues that are more on coaches/play design.
  • Still, in that second quarter lull and the beginning of the second half, too many free rushers on the QB. TL was a bit indecisive at that point because we were running out less-than-#WRU receivers (who really had no chance at getting separation), but still needs to play with better technique. Way too much waist bending and losing of balance on this line. Bock on the ground too much, and McFadden had some concrete feet in this game despite being the most athletic lineman for Clemson. Both bad sacks are probably on him. The pass rushers were elite, however.
  • The center snaps. THE CENTER SNAPS. It is amazing how good TL is at catching truly awful snaps and not letting it impact him. The balls aren’t even close half the time. Super frustrating at this point in the season.
  • EJ Williams is more than progressing. Really good to get him starter snaps. That endzone catch was pretty. I’m most happy about the catch down the seam where he got whacked by the Safety, but held on knowing he was getting hit.
  • Will Swinney’d in the first quarter. Depth is an issue at WR.
  • Dixon looked much better today. Less dancing. Only had the one three-yard loss in the game. Like Swinney said in his presser—Dixon has to hit the single consistently (and play with more forward lean).
  • Galloway needs to pick it up. He had the nice play on the TD where he stepped out, but on two consecutive plays in the first quarter in the redzone he has a drop on a ball he could have caught and gotten to the endzone and then on a scramble drill runs out of bounds. Needs a shot of confidence.
  • Ajou Ajou has got to improve his hands.
  • Good to see DJU get in the game and get to pass the ball more. Very glad that the coaches went for it on 4th down, and even showcased some nice hands by Mellusi—who had a two-TD game.
  • PS. I still don’t see an angle where Powell stepped out before the sideline catch that was overturned at the end of the second Q. They didn’t show it on TV.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Potter made a kick and missed a kick. Surprised by the miss, as he has been very consistent this year. Spiers didn’t have his best day, but it wasn’t bad. Rodgers left some potential return yards on the field, but the punt return isn’t going to get better until the talent on that team is elevated. I know it was senior day and everybody was on the field, so now it is time to lock in some of those positions and elevate the play (guys being out for COVID also impacts those positions).

VIRGINIA TECH

Got to contain Hooker. VT runs the RPO game better than most teams. Pitt completely shut them down. They have good RBs and an experienced offensive line, but if you stop Hooker the offense becomes very pedestrian. On defense, they still play overly aggressive and are susceptible to a passing attack. It should be another blowout.