How can I work in some kind of Paladin/Cleric joke here?
Welp—the new video board was big and awesome, and we get to talk about college football, so it isn’t all bad. Plenty of teams have lost to inferior opponents, so Clemson fans are spoiled by our home win streak and having the longest current win streak in college football—but that doesn’t mean this team doesn’t have problems. Problems that have plagued the team for seasons. We have two games under our belts, so we are beginning to have some data to work through.
DJ vs Cade.
Remember how after one single drive everyone was ready to anoint Cade? A drive against Furman against the first team later, coupled with a ball in jeopardy (and another later in the 4th Q), and the shine on that hot take has diminished. Look—I was one of the first, if not the first, Cade 5* immediate offer homers in his recruitment. I think the world of his talent, but he has a learning curve. His arm talent isn’t super elite for some of the tight windows he is trying to throw, and he will need to learn. In practice, he threw too many interceptions, too many balls in jeopardy. Like I said on Twitter after GT and will repeat—folks need to slow their roll and let this play out on the field. If DJ struggled against Furman and La Tech and Cade looked like a million bucks—then it would be a legit question, but the team is firmly behind DJ and this won’t be a controversy unless Cade forces it to be one with his play on the field.
I’m glad Dabo gave Cade that series with the 1’s and Cade didn’t deliver. It sets him back. And for all the criticism, DJ looked good against Furman for the first half, and when he didn’t look good, it wasn’t completely his fault. Dabo wouldn’t and shouldn’t bench a player who has put in the work and improved from last season. Next week is Cade’s last chance to really shine before the team goes with DJ for ACC play. I can see a scenario where Dabo inserts Cade as a change of pace if DJ commits a bunch of turnovers, but again, it will play out on the field. DJ is the starter, and he has earned it to this point.
But let's talk about all the good things we see to start (because there is a lot of good and I don’t want folks to think this team is destined for doom and gloom).
- The schedule. What a great schedule to have this year. Clemson—and the very young coaching staff—get three games to work out the kinks and get ready for Wake and NC State. Then a potentially easier game against BC (before it gets too cold) before playing FSU. That is very manageable and important for the confidence of this team.
For example, Furman astutely decided that running any conventional A and B gap runs wasn’t a great strategy and decided to make the vaunted defensive line and quick RBs pay for over-pursuit. NC State has done some of this in the past. Attack the flats and use the screen game. Our D-line couldn’t feel any of those O-line releases and got burned plenty. Lost the TE and too many breakdowns/busts that sprung for big gains. Oh wait—this is the positive section. The point is—this schedule allows for some time to grow and develop as a team.
- DJ has looked much better at times. The second half of the GT game and the first half of Furman, coupled with an elite top ten defense, will win you a lot of football games (if not a championship). He is more mobile, and his accuracy has improved. Those are big developments. Against Furman in the first half, he corrected an error he was making against GT. Against Tech he wasn’t climbing up in the pocket—he wasn’t moving his feet and letting the pocket collapse around him while making his throw. He did much better in that area against Furman. With DJ I am convinced it is all about not letting his footwork get sloppy and lazy. If he can continue to learn and improve—he can be the guy we saw against ND as a freshman.
- Another DJ example—in the first game against Tech, he throws a ball to Allen that is just a tad bit too hot and out in front on the goal-line. Against Furman, he waits for just a tick longer and throws a pretty ball that hits Briningstool in stride for the TD. Allen and Briningstool have been more involved and are bright spots for the offense. More of those two!
- The punting against GT. The punting against Furman goes in the UGLY category. We know that it can be done!
- LBs look athletic. Very athletic. Simpson looks very fast at 240 and is adapting to playing LB. Trotter (my breakout defensive player for the year) is starting and had some good moments. Barrett Carter was all over the field making almost every tackle. This is Bama LB level talent and ability—they just need to tighten up some of the missed assignments in coverage.
- Shipley, when we can get him in space, looks explosive and still running hard. Mafah is running hard and Pace played much better against Furman than he did in the opener. IF the O-line can open some holes, these backs have the talent (I’ll spare you my Bama transfer RB Gibbs rant for another day).
- DT but especially Bryan Breese. Prayers up for the Breese family. Bryan is playing with his hair on fire and like a first round pick. He has been powerful and explosive. Missed one easy tackle for loss but has largely been unstoppable. In fact, teams are going to start to game plan around the DT’s on the team. Tyler Davis needs to stay healthy. He is the savvy veteran who would be able to sniff out those screens more than his younger counterparts. Despite the talent, Davis gives you that experience and moxie. KJ Henry has looked the best at DE.
- Antonio Williams. The “Jackrabbit” just provides something different to the wide receiver corps. I loved when he went scramble drill and got a pass from DJ where he climbed the ladder and comes down with a spectacular catch.
- At the 5:12 mark in the 1st Q Furman drops a DE and has a DT run into the flat trying to pick off a tunnel screen from Clemson. DJ wisely tucks it and makes a great run for a first down. RED FLAGS. Like tons of RED FLAGS. Either the Furman DC made a miraculous play call or the Clemson offense tipped the play. Since I don’t believe in Paladins mind reading abilities—this is trouble for Clemson. We have a young offensive staff who learned under a first time OC who came from another first time OC. I trust that Venables helped with the self scout but this is very concerning. At the very least, Furman knew the play was going to be run to the left side (and left a wide open RB in the flat). The way OC’s have started to counteract DC’s who cheat on plays is to run two separate plays (often with a third wrinkle built-in), using indicators like pulling lineman to mess with defensive assignments. Clemson does do some of this but usually saves it for big games rather than making it a part of the offense. Furman reading your screen game is bad news regardless.
- Wide receivers. Let's talk. WRU is long gone. Beaux Collins has made some nice plays down the field and gotten open in the back of the endzone on scramble drill plays, but overall this has been an average group. I don’t see separation, and when you have a struggling QB the best thing to do is to pump the wide receiver position with talent. Dabo still needs to answer for not bringing in a veteran and/or recruiting another WR or two. EJ Williams had a bad game against Tech—came out against Furman and played much better and then let a ball go through his hands to highlight his uneven play. Ngata is similarly up and down, makes a few plays then disappears, and even seemed to injure himself late (something that has followed him his entire career). Spector is a great story coming back to football and is fine but lacks that explosiveness in the slot. The offense needs a RayRay or Rodgers who turns 2-3 yard gains into 5-6 yard gains to help the efficiency of the offense. A. Williams is that guy (although he needs to be stronger with the football). Please don’t let Randall have an injury setback (he is set to play against La Tech).
- Part of this is schematic. The route trees have been diversified (and we will see more of that as we get into ACC play—I understand holding off on some of that until then), but this feels eerily like the Dabo offense more than the revamped Streeter/Richardson show I was hoping to see. Blocking still needs to improve.
- I’m trying not to call players out, but Luke Price has had a ROUGH start to the season. So rough that frankly, I’m not sure why he is out there as a blocking tight end. He did not do the job blocking against Furman. It isn’t every play, but it is enough to be very noticeable, and it needs to get corrected quickly. The run game is struggling enough already. You want an example—third and one on the 31 yard line, 10:56 in the 2nd Q. Putnum and Tate are the embarrassments here as they let a LB split them both and make the tackle, but Price can’t wall off a DE who he lets get right to Shipley. That shouldn’t be good enough for a team like Clemson, especially when you have Allen and Ennis.
- At defensive end I can’t wait for XT to come back. Swint just isn’t to the same level of talent that Clemson needs at DE. Getting pushed around too much, bounced out of position against Furman isn’t a great look. Myles Murphy hasn’t taken that next step either and disappears too often in games. He almost makes a ton of plays but has gotten caught too many times inside, giving up the edge.
- After the Tech game my only complaint on defense was the cornerback tackling and setting the edge. This is something to continue to watch. Sheridan Jones was really the only defender who struggled. Lots to complain about against Furman! Safety play was particularly bad at times. Tyler Venables was picked on by Furman repeatedly when he was in the game. On the TD drive before the half the combo of Maguire, Mickens, and T-Bone did not produce great results. Hit the corner route in zone coverage. Couldn’t cover a screen. Playing way too far off the slot in a horrible coverage look that resulted in the easy score. That was bad defensive football that would’ve had BV losing his mind. Those kinds of breakdowns are correctable but must get cleaned up. Other than Mukuba (who got burned on a 4th down play against Tech where he gave up inside leverage) the Safety play has also been very average. Pride and Lukus didn’t look great either in limited CB duty. Pride got beaten multiple times.
- Punting against Furman. Punt returning against Furman. Will Taylor can’t fumble like that and keep his job. I haven’t seen someone overly explosive either.
- Giant play call sheet Dabo is my least favorite Dabo tbh. I prefer the notecard Dabo making some notes for halftime and stuff. I get that Dabo comes from the Rich Rod tree and has always felt slighted as an offensive mind in the game, but after Napier, Dabo should know that he needs to let Streeter grow into the position fully and take the offense in fresh directions. He did that with The Chad and at times with Elliott. I’m fine with fun goal-line packages and trick Dabo plays, even making everything a collaborative offensive coaching process—but meddling too much isn’t good for anyone. More Richmond, less stagnant offense.
- Offensive line. Miller was really bad against GT. Parks didn’t play that well either. It was better against Furman. Putnum has way too many blown assignments, and Tate struggled against Furman. Only McFadden graded out as a winner to me. Pass protection has generally been fine, but there isn’t any push and plenty of missed assignments. GT ran some delayed stunts, and the Oline doesn’t know how to pass off defenders or maintain blocks. Disappointing at this stage of Dabo’s tenure.
- And yet again there isn’t any depth. Tucker came in to spell Tate late and didn’t look like he could do the job. Sadler is the only reserve who seemed like they might be able to hang. Pennington regressing is totally depressing. Austin will need some time to coach this group in his own style, but the decision not to bring in a transfer to give a bit of depth was stupid hubris at this point. Pure hubris. Bring in 4 lineman a class. The junior class of 6 lineman has produced one starter—that's it. Not pretty.
- Giving up way too many third and long plays against Furman. Part of that is developing more situational awareness, and some of that is a new DC figuring it out.