Undefeated with the toughest games on the schedule behind us at the midway point of the season?? I will take it. There is zero chance, with all the losses in college football, that an undefeated ACC champion is left out of the playoff. Zero. The AP and Coaches polls are not the committee, and add in the fact that the ACC schedule Clemson plays is much better than in previous years—Clemson is in. And remember—plenty of these undefeated teams still play each other (UGA vs UT, Mich vs Ohio St, etc).
Syracuse made one of the best coordinator hires in the country when they scooped up OC Robert Anae (full disclosure: I have only met Anae multiple times, but I know members of his family, so I am a bit biased). Anae had UVA’s offense humming last year and had Armstrong looking like an NFL QB before he got hurt. He had built a great offensive line and got the most out of his personnel. It looks like a trainwreck under Tony Elliott. The Elliott OC genius saving plays for the end-of-the-year narrative is not doing so well right now.
My point is that Clemson should not take Anae and Syracuse lightly. They always give Clemson fits on defense (mainly because Clemson can’t punish them for light run defense boxes with a sustained ground attack, and they should because Cuse doesn’t have a Dlineman over 270 pounds). On Defense you need to stop the run (one of the best RBs Clemson will see all season) and the running QB while limiting explosive plays Anae generates with creative wrinkles in his scheme.
A win in Doak Campbell, marking the 7th straight win over FSU, was not even a possibility in the Bowden bowls or against Jimbo, who seemed to figure out ways to win late consistently. I remember being so irate when EJ Manuel figured out this pitch play that shredded Clemson and the 55 yard FG win. This was the best version of FSU in a long time, and they were just able to stave off a 20 point blowout. The six point win was a bit disappointing, but I’m having fun in the winning. That said, there is PLENTY to clean up, and this was a closer game on paper—let's get to it.
I have long had a soft spot for DJ. The Samoan heritage, my early endorsement of him as a 5*, and the arm talent all kept me on the train despite a horrific year last year. I was firmly on the DJ struggled but needed more help around him train of thought. I also was on the pump the brakes on the Cade Klubnik train and let it play out during the games in the season. I thought it was a legit possibility Cade would take over by midseason, but it had to happen with performance on the field.
DJ had put in the time and effort to earn the chance to play better with a better supporting cast. It’s not perfect, but it is his team, and the offense last year would’ve lost this game. So credit to Dabo for sticking with him while giving Cade some time, and credit to DJ for slimming down, limiting turnovers, and playing with poise and leadership. DJ is really close to being a Heisman finalist if Clemson keeps winning, he keeps posting the same level of numbers, and he keeps the turnovers down. His numbers are better than 2016 Watson and 2019 Lawrence through 7 games.
- I said it last week, I’m going to say it again this week—the clearest difference from last year, the thing that helps DJ the most is feeling comfortable in the pocket. TD pass to A. Williams is a great example. He sees the blitz (that Shipley whiffs on), avoids the sack by stepping up, keeping his eyes down the field and throws a strike. And I mean a flick of the wrist, easy distance and velocity for a 50 yard TD. DJ was a bit inaccurate early on a couple of throws, and he still needs to be a bit more decisive/explosive with scrambling, but this version of DJ should get you to the playoff.
- Clemson was down 7-0 and then 14-7 on the road and the offense didn’t blink. No deer in the headlights or letting the moment be too big for you. That FSU crowd was gone in the 3rd Q (which helps Clemson recruiting!!).
- SHIP HAPPENED. I’m not going to give Shipley garbage for letting FSU LB DeLoach run him down from behind because he had an awesome kickoff return, bouncing through defenders to the open field. His run after the turnover in the two minute drill was also key to pushing for points and swinging the momentum of the game. After being frustrated against BC, I really liked the gameplan of attacking the edges with passes to the flats and letting Shipley and Mafah operate with some more open space.
- Antonio Williams is a revelation. My offensive rookie of the year candidate gets his TD, but he is becoming such an important part of the offense. The offense needs someone who can get separation, get open, and pick up yards after contact. It stresses the defense so much that teams are starting to double him because he is a problem. His catch on the sideline that he turned into a first down and then got inside the 10 by breaking a tackle is a perfect example.
- Loved DJ’s survey of the field and hitting Briningstool for the TD. He thought of hitting Beaux, who was kind of open but had a tight window, and then made the right read to a WIDE open Brinny. That is progress, and DJ trusting his protection.
- BT Potter. Nailed two kicks that helped Clemson separate from FSU and gave them a cushion. In fact, they turned into the difference in the game. What is crazy is that Clemson had two 4th down stops that could’ve easily been FSU FGs that would’ve made the game much much tighter. Potter is a weapon.
- A classic Dabo special on the 2nd half trick play. Well executed and a great throw and catch. Norvell’s fake punt was from a place of desperation, Dabo’s flea flicker was from a position of strength. It makes a huge difference.
- Better job of perimeter blocking. Probably the first game where it graded a winner. EJ Williams was showing a good bit of effort—really good to see.
- Beautiful 4th Q drive to burn a lot of clock (over 5 minutes). This was a diversified run attack on this drive—QB run, some option pitch—good stuff. It was key to slowing down FSU’s offense by keeping them off the field. Shipley getting the last first down closed out the game. The offense finished.
- Myles Murphy probably played his best game—he finished a lot of plays and showed he can be a one man wrecking crew. Tyler Davis was the other anchor to the line—he needs to stay healthy.
- Nate Wiggins had two really good pass defenses. He has put together three good showings in a row.
- That KJ Henry spin move and then ball batted down...chef’s kiss.
- The fake punt called by Norvell should have worked. Clemson had it scouted and players were pointing it out before the snap. Kudos to whoever spotted that on the coaching staff. Still—the merry band of walk-ons punt team was barely able to hold on. Major kudos to Spector for leading the charge and initially tackling the ball carrier.
See—there was a whole lot of good going on in the game. Also, the Ella Strong sign by the tunnel to the Clemson locker room was very nice, especially after the COVID debacle two years ago left a sour taste in both sides’ mouths. Basically, the main bad things were just not stopping the run...
- Clemson is predictable with QB power. I think it must be a formation tell because defenses read it too easily and crash on it hard. Might be a good idea to run a QB power dump to the TE or RB to keep them honest.
- Clemson was weak on defense in the flats. Way too many free yards given up.
- Too much over pursuit and undisciplined play in the front 7 on defense. On zone plays and stretch plays, there were way too many backside rush lanes. Teams don’t use these schemes as much these days, but Clemson is going to see a lot more of it now. Also, some screen game was effective because certain personnel just don’t feel it and get caught overpursuing (this is why Davis is so important). Give FSU credit for going to the portal and rebuilding their entire Offensive line (and their entire WR group).
- Barrett Carter has played well, but this wasn’t his best performance. Missed tackles and getting lost in run fits. But this goes for all the LBs—there was a lot of rotating, and Bentley and Maguire kept missing fits or overrunning gaps. Simpson also got caught in the wash far too often, showing his inexperience at the WILL. Only Trotter would’ve graded out a winner. Giving up over 6 yards a carry is just unacceptable.
- No one tackled well at all levels. FSU was just being more physical than Clemson. That is correctable but also worrisome. Way too many missed tackles and players not giving as much effort as their offensive counterparts. Haven’t said that in a while. It was a problem against Wake that got corrected at NC State, but FSU was an even bigger problem.
- I didn’t hate the pass defense because the FSU receivers are pretty talented, and Clemson didn’t get beat over the top, but I expect more at this point in the season. Good to see Jones back on the field as another veteran presence.
- This is one of the worst ACC crews—especially the line judges. I usually don’t hate on refs because you have to play through it blah blah. This was not good. If you take a TD off the board for that level of holding by Blake Miller but don’t call holding on FSU (and comically, both of Tyler Davis’ pads are standing straight up from a double hold...come on now...). The spots, the uneven penalties—it was just bad. Ball placed at the half yard line when it should have been the 1 or 2. Way too many two yard running plays.
- The Offensive line has got to get better push in the run game. The FSU rush defense had struggled and yards were there to be had and the Oline struggled to get much push. They were good to great at pass pro and were decent on short yardage conversions but too many two yard rushes.
- Punt return coverage. I said it would bite us, and it started to with Pittman returning despite a good Swanson kick or two. Also almost got one blocked—clean it up.
- Back to the RUN FITS. Yikes. Jordan Travis is an elite scrambler. I can handle that, but losing contain and leaving cutback lanes so many times was ugly. I think Clemson was actually lucky that Norvell and company got a bit too cute and went away from gashing with the run game. Anae with his elite running back and mobile QB will try to replicate that formula.
PS. I can haz all ur moral vik-tory tearz FSU fans...I still remember the days of FSU fans patronizing Clemson as a program with comments like—you guys were really in this one for a long time, you really looked so much better than you have in the past, etc etc. I love that FSU is talking about building from a loss. 7 straight feels good...