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Game 10 Preview: Clemson Hosts UConn

Break out the purple!

NCAA Football: Wofford at Clemson Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe there are just two home games left this season! Thankfully I’m not calling myself a total idiot for my prediction from last week. I was nearly spot-on offensively, but the defense didn’t perform as I expected and so it turned into another nail-biter. Wins are always a good thing and you should never take them for granted, particularly on the road. It was great to see the offense respond and bring the Tigers back from a deficit multiple times.

The defense played great in the second half (minus that first drive). Louisville’s last drive was a product of two hero plays where you just have to tip your cap, but then the defense stood strong and took what looked like a devastating defeat and turned it into a much-needed victory instead. Say what you will about this team’s underachievement, but they have found ways to win even when a lot of things have gone wrong.

Now they should finally (theoretically) get a breather game against UConn with one of the worst FBS programs in the country coming to visit. The Huskies finally pulled the plug on the epic failure that was the Randy Edsall reboot experiment. Their one win was against Yale, although you can say they have improved since the coaching change and nearly beat Vandy and Wyoming. They did lose what I dubbed “The Pillow Fight Bowl” against UMass. Clemson should win this game easily and finally get to go deeper into the depth chart for reasons other than injuries and transfers.

Clemson offense vs. UConn defense: Welcome to the party, Beaux Collins! The Tigers finally hit on a pass play over the top when Collins got loose for a 47-yard touchdown. The Tigers desperately need another WR to be a stable presence beside Justyn Ross. Joseph Ngata got he continues to struggle to stay on the field. DJU had his best passing day of the season and also made a few very good runs, including the go ahead TD, despite injuring his knee and missing some time. He is definitely playing better overall and is getting a little better support on the perimeter.

Clemson’s run game was not as strong last week, mostly due to the Cardinals selling out to stop it. Kobe Pace got knocked out on a play that somehow avoided a targeting review, and Will Shipley was a victim of a targeting shot himself and was banged up at different points. Will Putnam was unable to play, so yet another starting five on the O-line had to get it done. Clemson has played nine games and had a different starting OL for the sixth time! I had great excitement when the team went I-formation with Ruke Orhorhoro as the fullback down on the 1-yard line, and while the play unfortunately didn’t work, I still like the call and the package there.

Still, the offense generated 30 points and that is going to win games even with this defense playing their C-game. There have been improvements these last two weeks to give you hope the team could have enough firepower to face Wake in another week. This game should hopefully only add to the confidence of this group as a whole.

Clemson defense vs. UConn offense: Clemson’s defense was at its worst at times in Louisville. The first drives of each half were very poor and both led to explosive runs for touchdowns. Malik Cunningham got loose on the option multiple times on his way to well over 100 yards rushing. Things were looking very dicey until the defense managed to knock Cunningham from the game for a couple of series, which is the risk you take when you run your QB a lot. By the time he came back, the offense had responded and Andrew Mukuba started looking like Isaiah Simmons shutting Cunningham down on his run attempts. Despite two ridiculous pass plays in a row over nearly perfect coverage, the Cardinals were stuffed four times inside the 3-yard line when it mattered the most.

The good news is, Clemson doesn’t see another quarterback as athletic as Cunningham on its remaining schedule. The defense has started to increase its TFL and sack production, and the next step is playing better on the road. Several guys on this defense have had to play heavy snap loads over the last few weeks, in particular James Skalski, so hopefully this game will give guys like that some rest. Several other players like Barrett Carter, LaVonta Bentley, Kane Patterson, Keith Maguire, Sergio Allen, and Jeremiah Trotter could use some extra live game work. The starters have to handle their business and allow for that to happen.

Life after Skalski, Turner, and Spector is not that far away. This defense should be primed for an outstanding 2022 unit, if healthy, but those three guys will leave holes that will need to be filled.

Special Teams: BT Potter came back strong after an uncharacteristically terrible game against FSU, which was great to see. Will Spiers is quietly making a case for All-ACC with his punting. Unfortunately, the feel-good Will Brown story took a hit when he let a punt bounce off his facemask for a turnover that led to Louisville’s second touchdown. That mistake loomed large for most of the game, but thankfully the team overcame it much in the way it overcame Potter’s rough day vs. FSU. Will Shipley finally got loose for a long kick return, though Louisville’s speedy running back Jalen Mitchell was able to stop him from scoring. It’s been a long time since the Tigers had a true threat in the return game, and we can only hope to see more of that from Shipley in the future.

Overall: Just like the old man in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, the team isn’t dead yet. There is still a glimmer of hope for another trip to Charlotte, but the offense will need to be firing on all the cylinders this year’s model possesses when Wake’s high-scoring offense comes to town. UConn serves as a great fodder game to build on two games of 30 points in a row. You have to think Clemson will need to score in that range to win next week even with the Tigers' defensive toughness. I expect DJ to play some but the staff will quickly move to Taisun Pommanchanh this week to help DJ recover from that knee sprain. Look for more good things from Beaux Collins to complement Ross and Williams as the team attempts to stay healthy this weekend.

Clemson 42-UConn 10