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QT’s Take: Clemson Falls to Seminoles

NCAA Football: Florida State at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson is now 2-2, 0-2 in the ACC. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games to P5 opponents. They lost to Florida State for the first time since 2014. This was the chance to salvage the season and Clemson led almost the entire game—one of the more frustrating losses in recent memory. I’m still dealing with the depression of missing the playoff yet again (although Florida did win the national championship with two losses—a guy can still grab onto any semblance of hope...), so fair warning all of this may not be entirely fair but I wrote it.

Clemson lost because Klubnik didn’t see the rush (and Mafah didn’t stay in to account for it but didn’t seem to be his responsibility on the play), got sacked and gave up a scoop and score. Clemson lost because they needed to rely on a kicker who hadn’t kicked for months in the closing moments of the game. And they lost because they couldn’t get a first down on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 2. Mayes barely gets a hand on the DT to help Cade on the slant and the ball is batted down.

But they also lost because the Oline and running game kept getting stuffed for no gain or little gain repeatedly. On the first drive Clemson tried a 3rd and 3 and got mauled on the interior—this would continue throughout the game as FSU transfer #55 kept beating the Oline. Clemson lost because they tried to draw FSU offsides on 4th down—got a player to jump into the neutral zone—but didn’t know to move and force the refs to call a penalty. Clemson lost because on the last drive before the half they played some rubbish prevent defense where the Dline got no pressure with a three man front and DB’s were completely lost (Wiggins passes Coleman off to the middle of the field and Philips is nowhere to be found). Clemson lost because they couldn’t block on a third and one, and the WR couldn’t catch the ball and fall forward for a yard. Clemson lost because they didn’t give Safety help over the top with Coleman to bracket him in Overtime. Clemson lost because they called a QB draw when a 3rd and 3 draw in the first Q got gobbled up in the same way as the 4th Q draw play. Clemson lost for a lot of small reasons that added up to the big reasons.

The Good

What is sad is that I agree with Dabo—that was the best Clemson performance as a team in years. Cade Klubnik was shaky early. He completed passes but had a couple balls in jeopardy and his ball placement wasn’t great (see amazing Beaux Collins one hand grab on a ball that could’ve been a pick six). But he settled in for the most part and the WR’s played better than they have in many years! I was really impressed with Brown and Stellato—who had some really nice YAC receptions to get first downs. Randall didn’t get separation but made a circus catch with one hand and his thigh that was nice to see.

Clemson owned the time of possession the entire first half. I liked the offensive playcalling for the most part. The offense gained a bunch of yards, had explosive plays, and got in the redzone. They should’ve scored to go up by 3 points against a top 5 team in the country.

I liked Shipley coming out of the backfield for some nice catches (again Cade needs to be better with ball placement). I like Brinny being more involved. We tried to protect our Tackles from being put on islands against two really good DE’s for FSU. We kept running to the interior because we didn’t want to challenge Verse and that was the right move—Oline just wasn’t good enough on the inside with Parks out (if only we had grabbed the UTEP Oline transfer that FSU got). Punting was good.

Clemson played tougher and more physical on defense than we have seen in quite some time. They were able to set the edge for the most part during this game. They had tackles for loss where everyone did their job and stacked up the offense. TJ Parker is a starter and a future first rounder (and Mascoll didn’t play horrible but Parker should’ve been in on all the consequential pass downs).

The crowd was absolutely unreal. Engaged the entire day, almost every play.

The Bad

This really felt like a winnable game driving with two minutes left inside the redzone. And I couldn’t believe that you have a kicker who can kick from 60 and you run the ball—getting close to that range and then don’t have the football IQ to run up and spike the ball. It also doesn’t help that your head coach burned TWO timeouts and should’ve saved one for trying to get a deep shot and then FG try on the other end. It is stuff like that, poor coaching decisions, that Dabo used to get away with in close games.

The spots were shaky all game long by the refs (generally they were too generous for both sides). Shipley got very close to the first down in overtime—it should’ve been six inches away from the first, not a full yard. Should’ve done a Hurts push like they did earlier in the game (I would advise using two TE’s or the RB and TE to push in the future when using this play). But Beaux not knowing who to block, combined with knowing that Shipley would’ve gotten that first is just gut wrenching.

Hamp Greene shouldn’t be returning kicks for Clemson against a top 5 team (yes, I know Brown almost dropped one). He shouldn’t be playing meaningful snaps at WR.

Safety Busts

I think one of the worst position groups on the defense, and one of the reasons for the loss was the Safety play. Philips had a few nice pass breakups and the FSU WRs are a handful, but there were some key busts that really hurt the team. Clemson lost because RJ Mickens didn’t have a clue what coverage he was in and tried to block Coleman and left him wide open for an easy score. I talked about the Coleman bust above that went for like 30-40 yards on the final drive before the half. Then to start the second half Mickens gets caught peeking into the backfield and Jones is burned by Wilson for a huge gain. FSU would make the 48 yard FG...sigh...

Transfer Portal

I’ve been fighting all weekend on Twitter with a Clemson fanbase that can’t come to grips with the reality that Dabo’s transfer portal policy is hubris. My position has always been that Clemson needs to stop giving out walk-on and snapper and holder scholarships if you have holes on the roster you can fill with 2-3 starter level transfers you evaluate and pursue each year. That shouldn’t hurt your culture or your recruiting. There isn’t any evidence that it hurts the other 119 teams. This talk about betraying ‘values’ when using the portal is made up nonsense that no recruit really cares about at the end of the day. And if your position group or team can’t handle the competition of 2-3 players—which is justified because of portal defections from your team—then your culture is really non-existent.

Clemson could’ve brought in an interior Olineman who would’ve replaced Walker Parks. It would’ve helped the rushing attack. Clemson could’ve brought in a WR that would’ve provided real depth and maybe could’ve blocked on the perimeter. One block could’ve changed the outcome of the game. If the coaches knew they had a problem at Kicker they could’ve brought someone in who had proven to be a great kicker for years at another school. They could’ve brought in a high profile DE to keep our DE rotation of three players a little more rested. Could’ve brought in a Safety to upgrade the talent level. You don’t rely on the portal—you build from recruiting but you go and grab starters when it is needed and plan for attrition.

I’m as tired arguing about a very simple and clear point as you are hearing me beat this drum, but ultimately there isn’t a good argument for not selectively using the portal. Dabo needs to slightly adapt and evolve.

This one hurts and will continue to hurt as FSU fans tell me that we have a really good team and we came really close to beating them (like it is 2013 all over again).