After a disastrous fourth down run fumble kerfuffle that gave the opponent the ball at the one-yard line and a pick-six that looked like a slow-motion train wreck—things were looking bad for a 44-point spread.
But Clemson pulled it together and won 66-17 (you can read here to see that my hardly novel good, bad, and ugly recap style has now become the stuff of Sports Illustrated). Do you learn anything from beating a team that was viewed as one of the weaker teams in the nation coming in? Maybe a few things.
Cade needed this kind of a game before Duke. He needed a couple of these games. He certainly needed all the reps he could get before playing a quality team. He gets one more week to get the boneheaded, gut-punching turnovers out of his system. And the problem isn’t that he is turning the ball over—it is the INEXPLICABLE nature of the turnovers. This isn’t trying to fit the ball in-between tight coverage 40 yards down the field—this is staring down your first read and throwing the ball STRAIGHT to the defender with a perfect spiral and hitting them between the numbers so they can catch and run to the end zone in stride.
This also isn’t new—it is something that Clemson had been dealing with last season and it was a reason he didn’t immediately replace DJ. The interception to Notre Dame was par for the course. The Charleston DBs weren’t good, and we still had way too much indecision and not trusting reads or working through progressions (there was some good and progress, but can that be replicated or sustained—you get one more game to work out the jitters). The sack where Cade throws the ball up is a perfect example of an inexperienced QB who isn’t making smart football IQ plays.
This is problematic because a lot is put on the QB in the offense to make the right read—there are multiple plays run from the same formation but the QB needs to make the offense right. That hasn’t happened enough.
The kicks from Gunn are still really, really low and will be blocked in future games if they don’t change trajectory.
TJ Parker. Is he already the best DE on campus? I think so. If he can continue to set the edge and rush the passer, he needs to play a ton of snaps against FSU. Starter level snaps. He looked like the best player on the defense for much of the game. Dabo was asked about him being a starter and he quickly cut it off. That is fine—but he should be playing starter level snaps if he can set the edge.
Lukus had the best hit of this young season. Good to see his physicality translating. Woodaz was able to be in position and create a defense score. Moar Woodaz! He needs to be on the field whether it is at SAM, WILL, or in Dime packages.
Hello, Mr. Stellato. Yes—you got blown up (and I mean BLOWN up) as you attempted to block on the perimeter, but you showed everyone something with some short distance quickness and toughness after the catch. Does the blocking need to improve? Absolutely, but there isn’t that much difference between Stellato and Spector and Turner and even Collins at times. I was glad to see Stellato get a good number of reps instead of directly going to the 5’5 backup WR corps that tricks our secondary into thinking they are all awesome. Now he needs to show he can stay healthy and do it against FAU.
Again, grain of salt but I liked what I saw from the young guns. Peter Woods played disciplined and showed that power. Dee Crayton showed he can move. Lots of the younger DBs got some decent run. Sherrod Covil was fast to the ball, and Barnes didn’t do anything spectacular, but looks like someone who can contribute this season.
The backup RBs were fine—but I was most impressed with Jay Haynes. Clemson might need to burn his redshirt because he looked like the best pass catching RB on the team with some legit burst. Feature him against FAU, and let us see if he can help against FSU. Thomas and Adams run hard but we need to see it against real competition.
It surprised me how much I enjoyed watching the backup O-line. This team has options at guard. If Walker Parks is injured, then I want to see more Harris Sewell. All the backups need to get in a little better shape, but he stood out, especially in run blocking. Pennington also looked like he could provide legit depth snaps this season. Again, they were doing this against scrubs, but you could see that Sadler, Mayes, Sewell, and Pennington are guys who can give you snaps. Someone like Linthicum has improved but still has a ways to go. Owens and Reed looked decent and looked like potential contributors next season (they didn’t look like busts).
The drive after the half was what we need to see from the offense against FAU and then FSU. Cade finding open receivers for over five yard gains, using his legs, running the ball, and using a bit of controlled tempo.
Good to see Capehart see the field and respond. If he can stay healthy he has so much potential. He was disruptive in his snaps.
Tyler Brown was once again solid at WR and broke a nice punt return. Sapp had the nice TD grab and looked good as a pass-catching TE. I also thought reserve TE Banks Pope played well and deserves more playing time.
Cade is developing a nice connection with Antonio Williams is another key for the season. Those two need to be clicking, especially in the red zone. Good things happen even if you are staring down AW.
Did I mention TJ Parker looked amazing—just want to add that in once again.
I’m still not loving how some of the starters look. Trotter seemed to be moving around better, but I still see too many bad angles from Carter at times. He made some good plays in this game, but many of the big plays were because he was late reading and reacting.
I need Ruke and Tyler Davis to dominate down after down. I definitely didn’t see it in the Duke game and this game was more of the same flashing but not the consistency I want to see from them every down. Ruke still plays too high and loses leverage too often. I know playing triple option football isn’t fun but they need to dominate.
Also thought Mickens showed his lack of speed. He was late getting downhill and attacking the alley too many times. I have consistently said that Safety play was a big question mark for me on this team, and the loss of T-bone Tyler Venables may prove to be a bigger deal. I’d like to see Covil get more run against FAU.
This is being nitpicky because our RBs, apart from the fumbles in the Duke game, have run well. But—I’d just like to see them find the end zone a bit more. Mafah got tackled from behind in the Duke game and came up short on the one yard line. Shipley sometimes can’t avoid that last tackler, and it just seems like once they get in the red zone they can’t avoid a pile of arms and legs and tangles. It would really help calm Cade down if they could keep their feet and find the end zone. I thought they caught the ball a bit better in this game and that is both Cade and the RBs doing better with body positioning and ball placement.
I almost wish Beaux had the ball knocked out just so he could get that nonsense out of his system. That is on the players because Dabo drills that into players to take the ball to the back of the endzone and hand it off to the ref. It certainly reflects on the WR coach.
Still looking for Brinny to be dominant and a focal point for the offense.
FAU will be a better gauge of where the team is heading into the season-defining game against FSU. Was Duke an incredibly humid night where Clemson was just bitten by errors that compounded on everyone, and Clemson couldn’t respond against a solid and well coached team? Or are the turnovers and mental errors we saw against Duke and then again in the first half against Charleston a part of the makeup of the team? This team has talent, and some of the young pups look like they will bite, but is that enough to beat FSU at noon? Clemson handled their business in the second half and got the young guys playing time (did I mention TJ Parker was amazing?). They also let their QB work through more of his issues (and the season really does hinge on Cade improving his football IQ). I will be keen to see what the team looks like with another step up in competition.