It was cold, very cold, in Blacksburg (cool, cool the sprinklers turn on Hokies...). It won’t be warm for the ACC Champs game, so it is a good prep game for that, but it was kinda ridiculous to get the night slot for this one. The Hokies played extreme keep away during the game, which is why Clemson’s stats were down. I mean they milked the clock like a Paul Johnson option team and waited to snap the ball within 5 seconds every snap (Syracuse also did this and so did Notre Dame to a certain extent—limit possessions and try to keep Venables off balance). Clemson only had 4 total possessions in the first half and they scored on three of them.
It was great that Clemson was able to put up 17 points in the first half, but it also meant that Clemson was giving up extended drives on defense. Burmeister replacing Hooker was a shot in the arm for VT. Hooker has been decent this year, but Burmeister gave VT more of a passing attack and some surprising burst in the QB run game. If he doesn’t go out in the third quarter, it is more competitive. But the defense was opportunistic—three fumble recoveries, one deep in the red zone that set up a score, one scoop and score—that is complementary football.
Bad Will Spiers made an entry into the season. Spiers has played really well throughout this season (and I have tried to take note of it because I have been very critical in the past). Maybe it was just the cold but he had multiple bad punts before the 7-YARD PUNT that he barely even got a foot on. Hopefully this doesn’t hurt his confidence moving forward.
BT Potter looked good again.
We didn’t even try to return a punt. Probably by design with the cold, but I would like to focus on having a punt return game for Notre Dame.
Trevor, unfortunately, probably threw away his chance at the Heisman against VT. He needed some fireworks and instead ran for two TDs and threw an interception on 12 of 22 for one TD, but three total TDs on the night. The interception was in the end zone and was the first red zone interception of Trevor Lawrence’s career. TL also had another bad ball that he put in jeopardy on a double clutch to Galloway. It was a mixed bag. TL was running more and at times clicking in the passing game. He had a couple deep shots into coverage that were questionable and the one to Powell that was a beauty. I mean there were only 56 total snaps on offense, so this is all a super small sample size.
The play calling was again, super vanilla. VT brought more pressure than they had all season. Normally the VT defense only rushed four and hardly brought much pressure. They attacked the Clemson offense from the get-go. I don’t think Tony Elliott was prepared for this, and when it happens the offensive game plan reverts to the basics. Perhaps some of the prepared wrinkles didn’t align with the pressure defense or perhaps Clemson felt they could rely on core, base plays against VT regardless.
Elliott has a stellar track record at Clemson, but as the postseason approaches, it is time to dust off all those wrinkle plays from the season. I wish that TE would dictate to the defense more as a play caller. Early in the season we saw a really inventive usage of the TE in a KC play design. We saw a game ago a fun jet sweep wrinkle to Rodgers. Both successful plays and many more like them that are used once and then gone. Just like the fake toss sweep QB run that destroyed Ohio State with Deshaun Watson—I want to see the offense stick to what is working a bit more. Not crossed off the play-call sheet and forgotten.
ETN needs to get it in gear. He was close to breaking out multiple times in this game for longer gains, but my former YAC machine has now had a series of games where he isn’t getting a hundred yard gains and isn’t making explosive plays. Light a fire. It was good to see Dixon, Mellusi, and Rencher break some runs to show it can be done.
Got to give Lyn-J Dixon credit. He showed he still has the burst to be an elite back. I think that carry and score helps his confidence. Beautiful move to make a man miss that didn’t require him to slow his momentum. Pretty impactful three carries.
Very glad the offense went back to Powell after the OPI call and let TL and Powell retain that chemistry. Beating ND deep repeatedly will be a big part of what loosens up that defense and keeps S Kyle Hamilton from cheating up too much. Not much beyond Powell, Rodgers, and a few balls to Spector.
Galloway had a nice ball open over the middle, which was open most of the night after the one ball to him, but needs to assert himself more. TL is deadly when scrambling, but Galloway doesn’t get big or stay inbounds! Moar Davis Allen. He had a bunch of nice blocks and was able to truck some guys to pick up YAC yards.
Offensive line was better. A few more holes for the running game. Fewer missed assignments. It wasn’t elite, but it was passable, and that is all this offense needs. I understand the limited number of snaps and not wanting to play backups with TL in the game, but not sure why Walker Parks only got 8 snaps. I’m not complaining that the staff is in championship phase mode and I’m very glad we didn’t play third-string WR’s, but I did think Parks would be in the mix more.
The snaps are still horrific. Just awful.
Big picture—Clemson gave up ten points and bottled up one of the better rushing attacks in the country. Herbert is a good back, and we said that going into the game. One score was set up by a bust where the defense wasn’t able to pass off the crosser (likely a Charleston, DK, and Turner lack of communication—DK was probably supposed to play deep third but unclear, could have been Turner’s half Charleston passed to him, regardless, this is where DK’s tackling effort was super suspect). Also, letting Herbert punch it in on the next play with zero resistance in short-yardage was not fun—some gap responsibility questions (not a great play for Bresee as he was pushed around). The hail mary before halftime wasn’t great, but not a big deal long-term. And then you tack on a 54-yard FG. Shut out in the second half. Hard to complain.
VT was able to put together some time consuming drives, however. Clemson was able to force some timely turnovers after long VT drives with a fourth down stop, the Hooker fumble for scoop and score, and Nyles Pinckney fumble recovery towards the end of the game. Once Burmeister went out, the game was effectively over.
One note—that VT line was nasty. They got away with some holds and finally got flagged, but they were rugged and came to play. Hats off. They were putting Clemson defenders on their backs despite not being nearly as talented (Spector was on the receiving end of far too many of these).
Let's talk individual performances:
- Welcome back Myles Murphy. Murphy put together a dominating performance, perhaps his best overall game of the season. He won ACC rookie of the week honors. His forced fumble really changed the game after the TL interception. Very active and when he hits, opposing teams feel it. Seems like any freshman wall Murphy might have hit has completely crumbled.
- Nolan Turner made a bunch of savvy, solo tackles where he sniffed out a screen or made a tackle coming up where if he misses it’s a huge gain. Conversely, DK gets the big scoop and score but was not interested in coming up and playing physical. He got trucked by a TE and down the field didn’t even try on one of the worst, most egregious taking of plays off I have seen all season. Nothing hurts draft stock more than taking plays off.
- I certainly underestimated how much Skalski would make an impact this season as a team leader, director of traffic for the defense, especially with the younger Safeties. Spector plays much better with Skalski next to him and much better with Tyler Davis keeping him clean. Patterson has talent but still doesn’t locate the ball all that well and needs to play faster. These 31 snaps were quality reps for him with Jake Venables out. Bentley is undersized and gets caught in the wash, but when he locks on and blitzes—lookout. Concrete in his helmet, indeed. Maguire had a forced fumble and was seeing things better. We haven’t seen Swint or Allen hardly at all beyond spot special teams duty.
- Keeping corners healthy has been an issue all season. Booth was out with a giant bruise. I still think he is Clemson’s most talented corner. Jones got beat on a ball that a better QB could have hit and only played 5 snaps—something to watch. BV kept with playing more Nickel in this game as both Greene and Tyler Venables got more playing time.
- Simpson logged 34 snaps and remains a part of the starting group. Mike Jones Jr played 32 snaps. I will be looking at who is on the field more against ND. BV actually had both on the field at times. Simpson is playing at a higher level overall. Getting off blocks, reading the defense, making tackles in the backfield. Hard to keep him off the field at this point.
Recruiting and Odds and Ends
- Clemson lost out on CB Nyland Green to UGA after also losing this cycle to UGA for Kamari Lassiter, which has to sting. Without a single CB committed in the class, this seemed to be the recruiting priority for 2021. But Clemson was proactive behind the scenes to set up their next moves. Personally I never wrote a commitment article for Green. He was way too flippant and changed his mind almost every day or after every substantive conversation. The ALLIN smokescreen troll was not a great look. Green has the potential to be a good player and it was worth the risk, but it will be interesting to track where all his career goes.
- Clemson moved quickly to gauge potential interest from LSU commit Nate Wiggins. I tweeted the day of Green’s commitment that it would be prudent to do so, knowing full well the wheels were in motion (also tweeted a Ralph Wiggums gif waving the night before recruiting services broke the news). Publicly things are still at a standstill. Privately things worked very fast. Expect to see more of Wiggins soon. He will enroll early.
- I was super critical of Coach O in the wake of the natty, trying to differentiate between sour grapes and the reality of the situation down in Baton Rouge. It is not pretty and would have been apparent last year if Brady hadn’t worked his magic. Aranda left as soon as possible for a reason. Coach O is one of the dirtiest in the game and winning last year helped him to bury some of the impact of the impending sex scandal, but the toxicity operates all around the program. Coaches, staff, players, and now recruits. There are more high profile opt-outs and transfers coming, more de-commits on the horizon.
- The question for Clemson is if they will try to take a second CB in the class. That is to be determined and depends on who waits to sign. I think the odds tilt slightly towards staying at one CB take for the cycle right now.
- The only recruitment that has more twists and turns than Green is from Korey Foreman. I still like where Clemson stands as of right now. The ASU visit didn’t materialize, which is good for Clemson overall. I had LSU largely eliminated and the departures and turmoil help Clemson a lot. Maason Smith still has pull, but it isn’t the scenario it appeared to be earlier in the season. Root for UCLA on Saturday against USCsr. Root for UF to beatdown LSU (but Trask throws a bunch of interceptions). Clemson has help. Let us see if it can finish.
- OL Tristan Leigh is the one I have wanted to land all year. Early in his recruitment he visited Clemson for the elite junior day and Clemson was the leader by a wide margin. Then Leigh blew up into a 5* recruit and Clemson faded. But Leigh isn’t set on where he wants to go. LSU trended heavily but was battling with Oklahoma, but Leigh has made overtures to several staffs showing how open his recruitment is down the stretch run. Leigh recruited Clemson to open the door back open and Clemson reciprocated with calls on gameday and even with Dabo himself. Clemson is a player here. The UF visit is a big deal this weekend and could swing things to them. Oklahoma is still the favorite, but Clemson remains a solid darkhorse candidate.
- VT is the potential/eventual job opening I am most interested to watch. Of all the jobs that could open this year, that is the one I have a bullseye on for both Tony Elliott and Brent Venables. I don’t think Venables leaves with his kids on the roster, but he is 50 and would likely consider it. Too much Tidewater talent and enough institutional/booster support to build or revive a winning program. One to keep an eye on and almost tailor-made for Elliott.