Welcome to week two of our Head-to-Head series. This week, we discuss some factors from the Georgia game and look ahead to things needed to improve this weekend against SC State. The end of the world is not near, despite what the media talking-heads say. It was a brutal Saturday night in Charlotte, but Clemson still has an elite defense that is championship worthy.
To reiterate: the sky is not falling in Clemson, SC.
Without further delay, let’s dive in.
Question 1: What is the biggest area of improvement needed to be seen this weekend against SC State?
Matt: The big thing I’m wanting to see is just the offense do something. Offensive line play has probably been the biggest topic, but I really hope this can be a shot in the arm to the whole offense. I know back in 2016 after close wins against Auburn and Troy, the SC State game was a good chance to let the offense open up. The Georgia game certainly has left a bad taste in DJ’s mouth, and it’d be nice to see him have an easy day with good stats to get his confidence back up, even if he only gets two quarters of work. I don’t think we will learn a whole lot from this game, although it will be a good game to see what our depth is. Dabo mentioned regretting not getting Beaux Collins reps vs UGA, so this would be a perfect time to let his work.
Jon: I think the two obvious areas are offensive line play and DJ’s confidence, but I really want to see us run the ball. For whatever reason Tony Elliott felt it unsafe to run against UGA, Clemson could really use a boost of confidence at the tailback position. Give credit where credit is due: Georgia has a stellar front 7 that swamped Clemson’s line all night and stuffed the run tremendously well, but even Kirby Smart pointed out in his halftime interview how it did not appear that Clemson was committed to the run at all. Whether lack of confidence in the run game or the feeling of being overwhelmed by Georgia’s rush defense, it was disheartening to see Clemson abandon the run, especially after Lyn-J Dixon’s first down scamper and the mishandled play-calling when Clemson finally moved into a goal-to-go situation.
Outside of that, getting DJ and the rest of the offense back into mojo is a priority. SC State is a good time to work on the errors and get back to the basics. We know this is a playoff-worthy offense, but they have to perform that way first.
Question 2: What does the loss in Charlotte actually mean for Clemson?
Matt: This is the million dollar question. I just have a hard time seeing an 12-1 Clemson team actually getting left out in favor of certain one loss teams. I also don’t know that we won’t have a “good win.” We’ll probably see a Va Tech or UNC team in Charlotte, that barring a catastrophe, is in the top 16.
Jon: Clemson-Georgia will be a case study for years to come if the Tigers run the table and still fail to make the playoff. The top teams, if the current CFP trends continue, are highly likely to all enter the playoff either undefeated or with only a loss. The last three champions have all run the table and finished undefeated. Clemson does not play a favorable schedule the rest of the way, and that could end up hurting them. If the other Power-5 champions all finish undefeated or one-loss, will Clemson’s resume be enough to separate them into the playoff? I don’t know yet. This will also beg the question: is playing a big game against another top-5 team worth it for a legit, playoff-worthy team? I have a feeling the impact of Clemson-Georgia could shake the college football world for years to come.
Question 3: After the ACC’s sub-par showing in week 1, is there a real concern for the conference to be able to produce a playoff worthy candidate this season?
Matt: Maybe, but did anyone really look good outside of Bama? Ohio State survived a tough match-up with Minnesota, and Tulane gave Oklahoma all they wanted. I don’t know that the ACC is in as much trouble as people say, but Clemson really needs to have a good playoff performance after the past two blowouts.
Jon: I do not think week one will tell the story of the entire season, but it was alarming to see the poor performance from around the conference. The ACC has been down for some time now, which has not helped Clemson much. If you are the commissioner though, you do not want to see your top three teams combine for 26 points and go 0-3 on the weekend. This has become a trend in the ACC, outside of Clemson, which has helped fuel the narrative around the conference. We know Clemson is playoff worthy, and any exclusion this year most likely is not a statement against the worthiness of Clemson as a playoff team.
However, the Tigers are the only team in the ACC granted that luxury. UNC and Miami have to play stellar ball and beat Clemson in the ACCCG to even be considered a spot now that both have lost. Without help from the ACC, Clemson vastly struggles in the schedule conversation this year without a win over Georgia. The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 all enter this weekend with multiple playoff contenders, while the ACC’s hopes still solely rest on the shoulders of Clemson. Potentially Virginia Tech runs the table, but the ACC Coastal is the Wild West; depending on them to produce a playoff team is like a Group of 5 team actually breaking into the conversation.
Question 4: What’s the path for Clemson back to the playoff?
Matt: I will feel a lot more comfortable if we see some other teams lose. Two-loss Oklahoma is probably out. Same with two-loss Ohio State. But most importantly Clemson has to just stay the course and not get caught looking ahead. There’s no margin for error so we have to run the table. And then just let everything else shake out.
Jon: For now (please do not shoot the messenger), Clemson is on the outside looking in. This certainly has the ability to change, and most likely will as the season goes on. I’ve seen multiple outlets already write the Tigers off and claim the end of Clemson’s playoff reign, which seems a bit early to me. I remember a certain Ohio State team that lost to Virginia Tech week two in 2014 before running the table to the national title.
Clemson’s certainly not done, but the Tigers will need help from the ACC and potential upsets to the opponents above them. Clemson’s schedule is not strong, and for now there is not an opportunity for another staple win before the ACCCG. Clemson needs at least one or two P5 champions to finish with a loss, and hope that those losses are worse and their wins are not better. Quality wins are certainly better than any type of loss, i.e. Clemson making the playoff in 2017 with six ranked wins, despite the ugly loss to Syracuse. No need to panic now, but the run to playoff appearance No. 7 will be more difficult than the first six.
There we have it. Even though we partly felt like the sky was falling last Saturday, everything will be okay hopefully. It will be great to gather again in a packed Death Valley this weekend with 81,000 of our closest friends. The playoff will take care of itself, so rest assured and enjoy the sounds of Tiger Band roaring in Memorial Stadium again. If you have any questions for us next week, let us know in the comments. Otherwise, see you next week.