Star Players of the Week
Happy Labor Day folks! The weekend has been... well, shaky thus far, so hopefully you’re getting out there and making up for late summer beach time missed this past Saturday.
Today’s post features the first ever episode of an all new series here at Shakin the Southland. I’ll be highlighting the Clemson Tigers’ top players of the week, with one name being chosen on offense, defense and special teams.
Unsurprisingly, the primary edition of this chain of articles figured to be a bit challenging to put together. Clemson really, really, struggled to make up any production on offense or special teams through Saturday’s matchup. The Tigers dropped the season opener with their supposed Heisman hopeful looking like a high school QB, the offensive line acting non-existent and the run game begging for Travis Etienne to come back.
That being said, one always ought to hold a somewhat positive outlook on any given game. There were some notable standout performances — especially on defense — that caught the eyes of Saturday Night Football viewers. Here’s my thoughts.
Clemson Offense: WR Joseph Ngata
Perhaps the only worthy Clemson offensive presentation came from wide receiver Joseph Ngata. Ngata, who participated in a minimal four games last year, reeled in six receptions for 110 yards in Saturday night’s matchup. He created arguably the only major offensive play of the game with a 44-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter. That drive would result in three points — Clemson’s total for the game.
“Super proud of him,” head coach Dabo Swinney said about Ngata. It’s great to see him healthy. It’s great to see him have a night. That’s going to be huge for him. That’s what we’ve seen in practice. We obviously didn’t have him hardly at all last year where he really completed a game, so just awesome to see. I think that’s going to be big for his confidence.”
Now a junior, Ngata arrived in Clemson back in 2019. He produced 16 receptions for 229 yards and 3 TDs as a true freshman, earning the high praise Swinney.
Honorable mention: None
Clemson Defense: LB James Skalski
Clemson’s most experienced veteran found himself on top of things — both figuratively and literally — with a game-leading 14 tackles against the Georgia Bulldogs.
A sixth-year senior, James Skalski is coming off a season in which he earned second all-team ACC honors. The 6-foot even, 240 pound heart and soul of the Clemson defense recorded 44 tackles through eight starts last year. It was not his best season statically wise, but Saturday’s career-high magic shows for things to be trending in the right direction.
“I think we’re just excited to get back to it, to get back to work,” the linebacker said to media to the media prior to Saturday’s matchup
Skalski has now played in 57 matches for the Tigers — three short of the school record — and five ACC Championship Games (most for any player). He was ranked as a top 20 ACC player and the No. 1 linebacker in the conference prior to the season.
Honorable mention: S Andrew Mukuba
Clemson Special Teams: P Will Spiers
There are approximately four common ways to end a drive (FG, PAT, punt and turnover). Three of them involve a kick. Two of them result in points. And one of them is universally frowned upon because it’s seen as boring.
Can you guess which one saw the most action on Saturday?
I’ll give you a hint: it sure as
hell wasn’t the first or second listed.
Aside from a late Tigers field goal, Clemson punted the entire game, and punted only. So much so that Will Spiers — the man of the day — kicked the ball away to his opponent the most since the 2019 National Championship Game against LSU. He booted it towards the Dawgs side of the field a whopping eight times, averaging 41.4 yards per pop.
Not the most impressive distance average, but the only acceptable answer for this award nonetheless.
Honorable mention: None
Georgia Bulldogs Player of the Week: Nakobe Dean
I had to have a good chuckle when the media failed to mention the absolute mediocrity of Georgia’s offense in their game recaps. The absolute mediocrity, that, if were found on the losing side of the football, would have been ridiculed over and over again.
Don’t get it wrong: Clemson’s offense line qualified as the worst position group put forth on the field. The sacks, the small gaps and the flat out lack of skill served as absolutely unacceptable on all accounts. BUT, and I say BUT, Georgia possesses no right to be excused from harsh criticism either.
People laughed at DJ Uiagalelei for his performance. Fair enough. What about J.T. Daniels? What’s keeping his do-nothing zero touchdown, one interception game from reaching Paul Finebaum’s utmost disapproval on ESPN?
The reason for the Dawgs victory came strictly on the defense. Lewis Cine, Nakobe Dean and Christopher Smith were towards the top of the leaderboard, leading their peers in different respective categories. Cine carried the team in tackles. Dean with sacks. And Smith with the only touchdown of the game off of a pick-six.
The overall nod for best player goes to Dean because of his ability to do a little bit of everything. He totaled five tackles and two sacks on the evening.
“Oh, we put everything into this game,” Dean said. “Not just this game; every game for the whole season. All the work we put in, the offseason, all the skull sessions, working on our main pillars. This just speaks to type of team we have, the type of work we put in. And it’s going to continue.”
Dean returns to Athens this year after a 2020 season filled with 71 tackles. He was named a Georgia team captain for Saturday’s skirmish vs the Tigers and is quite possibly the most important piece to his position group.
Honorable mention: Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith
Well, that’s all for now folks. The first week of the 2021 college football season is in the books somewhat (Louisville and Ole Miss do play tonight) and man has it been a treat. Clemson and the ACC really didn’t have things go there way, but the majority of storylines were absolutely incredible.
The fans returning. Washington losing to an FCS team. The funny/unsettling video of a random spectator eating an entire can of mayo. McKenzie Milton’s almost completed comeback and upset against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
(Speaking of which, at least Dabo Swinney doesn’t want his players “executed” quite yet.)
Hopefully next week figures to be the same, minus the Tigers losing that is.