Friday, October 12, 2012

Paging Mr. Watkins


Lets go back to August 30, 2012, the evening before the Auburn game. At that point the banter and conjecturing was still in full swing. If we had played a name that stat line using the Clemson receivers whose name would you put by the above stats? If it had been me, I would have put Sammy Watkins with the 49 receptions and Martavis Bryant with the 16.

With the two game suspension that would have meant that Watkins would be averaging 12 catches a game and 194 yards per contests.  The Sammy for Heisman campaign would be in full effect!!!
The above stat line represents the accomplishments of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins through six games for the Clemson Tigers. How many people had Sammy Watkins having only 16 catches and no receiving touchdowns through 4 games after sitting out the first two games?

Many Clemson people will call it a sophomore jinx. That stems from the plethora of Tiger freshmen that have come out like gangbusters only to fall off the face of the earth during their second year. Having spent time around the program during the previous administration, a lot of that had to do with the time and effort put in by the student-athlete than a jinx of some sort.

Call me ignorant or Pollyanna if you must but I honestly believe there is something different about Sammy Watkins. I sincerely believe he did above and beyond what he expected of himself in preparation for the 2012 season. Sammy’s lack of production can be attributed to several factors that need to be discussed.

Many overestimated the impact of missing the first two games, myself included. You can practice all you want, but game speed is a different beast. I know Coach Swinney said he only spent one week with the scout team but still it is not the same. When Watkins did return he only played one half against Furman. The following week against Florida State, it is hard to expect someone who has played one half of football to do Sammy-like things against one of the best defenses in the country. The following week, he comes down with a virus and is unable to make the trip to Boston College. Last week against Georgia Tech it is hard to expect someone who was as sick as he was be a large factor.

You also have to acknowledge that defensive coordinators are scheming for Sammy. Did you see the Georgia Tech defense last week? Wherever Sammy was the whole Yellow Jacket defense was sure to follow. I think you will continue to see this throughout the season.

The key is getting Sammy back into a rhythm, he has not played two consecutive games where he has played four quarters of football all season. He has to integrate himself into this offense that in 2012 is being led by DeAndre Hopkins and Tajh Boyd. There is certainly a place for Hopkins in this offense and his big play potential will be needed in the second half.

I expect to see Watkins come on during the second half as he plays more football on consecutive weeks. I am eager to see if the staff is able to implement some of the things they learned from visiting Oklahoma State during the offseason in how to isolate Watkins or Hopkins in one-on-one situations. He is too good of an athlete to not get it going at some point.

Don’t give up on Sammy yet. He will come up big for this team before the season concludes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Midseason Musings

Through six games Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney has led the 2012 edition of the Clemson Tigers to a 5-1 record. It has not been without some harrowing moments but this team‘s only loss came on the road in Tallahassee (a place Clemson has only won once since 1989). Given the glaring weaknesses, you have to give Swinney and his staff credit for what they have done through six games.

First things first, when is the last time we saw a Clemson defense as generous as the one we have seen during the first half of the season? Even in the 90s when this program struggled to win seven games, we could hang our hat on playing hardnosed defense while hoping to score 20 points to give us a chance.

Fast forward to today and we have seen team after team have there way with this defense, especially on the ground. While Auburn ultimately gained 180 yards rushing, you felt watching the game in person or at home that it was more like 380. First year Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables inherited an inexperienced and talent deficient bunch that is a clear work in progress. The Dandy Dozen class in 2009 and some misses on some top flight defensive talent is rearing its ugly head this fall.

Despite ranking 96th in total defense and yielding a paltry 445 yards per contest this team is 5-1. What this team has accomplished in the first six games cannot be overlooked. I know Auburn is a dumpster fire of epic proportions but for this team to come out the way it did in Atlanta against a SEC opponent was big for the confidence of this team. Running back Andre Ellington continues to be a steady force in the run game. The young offensive line has held up better than most would have expected.

How is this team 5-1 with such a poor defense? Outside of the Florida State the defense has come up with timely plays that have made differences in late stages of games. This team exercised some demons in Atlanta, Boston and was able to get by Georgia Tech who always seems to have the Tigers’ number.

The two biggest stories of the first half of the season have been Tajh Boyd’s legs and the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins. Going into the season we knew that Freshman All-American receiver Sammy Watkins would miss the first two games of the season as part of his punishment from an offseason arrest. DeAndre opened 2012 with a record setting 13 catch performance in Atlanta and has continued to rewrite the Clemson record book breaking the receiving yards game record at Boston College.

Raise your hand if you thought Sammy Watkins would have 16 catches for fewer than 120 yards and no receiving touchdowns through six contests? How many would think that the Clemson would rank 10th in the nation in total offense churning up 546 yards a game? Yeah me neither.

DeAndre Hopkins is having an All-American type season but Tajh Boyd is the story behind Clemson’s 5-1 start to the season. 2012 has showcased a leaner and more mobile Boyd. His decision making and ability to escape pressure coupled with his willingness to run the football has been a potent weapon through six games. Boyd has come up with huge runs, some called others adlibbing against Auburn, Boston College and most recently against Georgia Tech.

It is difficult for defenses to account for a quarterback who is able to wiggle his way out of trouble and willing to get a tough yard. It is the missing component this offense was missing last year. There have been countless drives that have been sustained this fall because of Boyd’s ability and willingness to run. He is the second leading rusher on the team and his running will be key as we head into the second half.

I would be remiss if I did not mention kicker Chandler Catanzaro and his 16 consecutive made field goals dating back to last season. He has emerged into the kicker Coach Swinney said he would after he struggled two years ago. His play has been a pleasant surprise. Overall special teams have been good this year outside of the 90-yard kickoff return against Florida State.
During the second half it is important that Clemson continues to find a way to get Sammy Watkins back into the fold on offense. He has played just 2.5 games and there is no way he could have been 100% last Saturday coming off a virus that kept him out of the Boston College game. I would like to see Tajh Boyd continue to be a willing runner. Andre Ellington needs to be more involved in the run game and passing game. Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant need begin to emerge as they head towards their junior seasons.

The defense is making baby steps but the key as we head into the 2nd half is seeing this defense make timely plays that allow the offense to capitalize on momentum shifts. Individuals like Mike linebacker Spencer Shuey who made a huge play against Georgia Tech on the safety need to continue to make plays. DeShawn Williams seems to be asserting himself along the defensive line. Somebody needs to step up in the secondary, can Garry Peters repeat his effort against Boston College?

The kicking game needs to improve or maintain. Clemson has to continue to extend its home winning streak. Fans need to show up ready to go regardless of what time we play. Clemson will only play two games away from Death Valley in the final six. There is reason to be excited about Clemson football but at the same time this team will continue to provide many “Maalox Moments” before we write the final story on the 2012 season.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Looking skyward…..

When you are a high school senior there is a unique level of arrogance and innocence when combined accurately depicts this special yet awkward stage of development. Swag, is the modern term used by young people and succinctly depicts the senior year experience for most.

You are the kings and queens of the school, nobody can tell you anything because you are a senior. You are grown, life is at your fingertips and nothing seems impossible. It is time for you and your classmates time to shine as individuals while preparing for the next steps in life. What happens when that gets all thrown out the window? What happens when innocence and swagger is seemingly ripped from underneath your feet and you are faced with reconciling Charles Swindoll’s famous quote, “that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

This became a harsh reality for a group of seniors and for an entire school community on September 6, 1997. 15 years later there are only a handful of memories that are more vivid than the moment I was told by mother that we had lost “Coach”. For me it was one of those moments where you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with like it was yesterday.

I was out in the front yard throwing the football with my friend Buseman who had graduated from the same high school three months prior. He had joined my family for a day trip to Clemson as college football was getting underway. The Tigers had gotten off to an inauspicious start with a less than spectacular victory over Furman, when I got the news.

Anyone who knows me, knows I wear my emotions on my sleeves good, bad or ugly. Especially at that point in my life, react first, ask questions later was my M.O. I had just caught a pass from Buseman when my mom came out of the garage door with a distraught look, “we lost coach.”

The flood of emotions caused me to turn around and punt the football I was throwing with my friend into the street. I was paralyzed. What did she mean? I had just been with Coach the night before. Now talk about an inauspicious beginning, the mighty Riverwood Raiders had kicked off the 1997 season with a 42-6 defeat at the hands of Creekside. Not how you would draw it up from a storybook perspective but one of those things where you move on, learn from your mistakes and do better next time.

Well, do better next time was out the door. Bill Hoskyn, a retired Secret Service Agent, turned beloved Social Studies teacher and football coach had suffered a heart attack on the tennis court and died. That reality will snatch the swag out of your sails in a hurry.

After several frantic phone calls, teammates parents, former teammates all started gathering together to try to reconcile a new reality that none of us were prepared to deal with. It was not fair. Why did this have to happen? Did our play from the previous night have anything to do with it? What are we going to do now?

Why was a man who stood for all the right things, did things the right way, who loved his family and everyone he came in contact with get snatched up in such an abrupt fashion? That question still sticks in my craw today. That is something that I will be sure to ask God when I am reunited with Him and I see Coach on the other side.

Coach Hoskyn was cut from a different cloth, he was one of those coaches who would never swear at you. If you ever elicited a “frickin’” or “friggin’” from him, you knew it was time to step up your game. The thing that set coach apart from pack was his expectations. They were very simple. All he ever expected was your best. Regardless of if it was in the classroom, football field, how you conducted yourself at school, or in life all he expected was a person’s best. A simple yet overwhelming standard when you thought about it but it explains his gentleman, warm-hearted nature that everyone gravitated to, regardless of your status as a student or athlete.

His expectation of best was personal and he had an innate way of celebrating an individual’s best in a way that leaves me in awe today. He had the ability to be excited for a student who busted their hump for a C as the person who studied hard for an A. Yes vastly different marks but he understood what best really meant in an authentic way.

Someone’s best does not always mean rushing for 230 yards in a game or being named valedictorian of his or her class. For Coach it meant giving maximum effort, with maximum integrity and class in everything you do. Coach set out a simple yet high standard to live up to.

In the days following Coach Hoskyn’s passing, there were candle light vigils, church services, time spent hanging out, memorial services, a return to the practice field, tears shed, and attempts to reconcile why. A lot of firsts took place that week. The journey to create a new normal in the midst of a tragedy, while still embracing and exuding the swagger of being a high school senior.

It would take till the final game of the 1997 season for us to find a moniker of closure. It came down to that final day, when 20-plus seniors would put on the all blue RHS uniform one last time, a day filled with emotion as the stadium was dedicated in Coach’s honor, and one last opportunity for us to deliver him our best. I had sat and watch the previous three classes of seniors go out and him saying no matter what you do in life, you will remember your last game. I hope that is what he remembers not the 42-6 drubbing we took with our last game with him.

It is true. I remember that night as vividly as any other. It is a memory that provides peace 15 years later during one of the most unsettling experiences a person and a community can face.

I want to thank Coach for loving me, for having confidence in me, for expecting more of me than I expected of myself and demonstrating what it means to be a man. So today, when I look to heavens I will give two beats on my chest and point skyward, just as I did less than a week later as we took the field minus one but forever changed. May you continue to Rest In Peace Coach. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Running out the clock....

Over the last three weeks I am confident I figured out what it would feel like to be a yo-yo. Rapidly oscillating while going back and forth, do we stay or should we go? While going had always been the original plan, circumstances late in the game arose where an audible would and could have been the right thing. When the dust cleared, we came to our senses and it was clear that the clock was racing towards the infamous triple zeros with no option for overtime.

Now I sit here in a quiet house, a house that has served as a second home for me for the last 386 months but there is a city and a metropolitan area within miles of this home that I have called home for the last 60 months that has been an integral part of my development into the person I am today. We are all faced with those fork in the road experiences. It came for me five years ago with an opportunity to leave the place I called home for 18 years for a place I thought I knew but had no idea about.

It really was not that hard of a decision to pack up my Honda Accord with my “life” and head north for new adventures. I fondly remember driving up to Greenville in an effort to “break up the trip” where I spent the night with my former college roommate, talking about my new beginning and yet reminiscing about days gone by and how crazy it was that something I had talked about was finally coming true.
In late May of 2007 I remember seeing the Capitol and saying that is where I work. It gave me chill bumps and made me smirk like a kid with his hand caught in the candy jar. I really didn’t work in the Capitol but it became the backdrop for many important events.

For those who have never had the opportunity to walk through the halls of the Senate office buildings you are missing a treat. The majestic marble building that is the Richard B. Russell Senate Office building is one of those places that should be on a Top 10 must see list when you come to DC. Your every step echoes loudly down its long, open, corridors. Each office has an American flag and their respective state flag guarding the main entrance.

SR-120 became my new home. Across the hall from us were two fellow Republican offices occupied by New Hampshire and Nevada. It would be known as “Freedom Hall”. Without verification, our hall had to be one of the few places in the Senate let alone Congress where an entire hall was occupied by Republican offices. When I arrived the Democrats had taken over the Senate so Republicans who had been around, were still getting used to life in the minority.

Across the hall I would meet one of my best friends a guy could ever find, especially in a city and place that is known for being so superficial. In 2007 the only things I knew about New Hampshire was where it was on the map, Concord was the capital and Dartmouth was somewhere there since my grandfather had gone to school there. Over the next year and a half I would grow a fondness and disappointment for the Granite State of which I could have never imagined.

There are so many experiences to recall. I guess you have to begin with the people watching. There is something cool about seeing Ted Kennedy, a down trodden John Kerry (post presidential run), Hillary Clinton, Trent Lott, Robert Byrd, Ted Stevens. Yes there was the rare Barack Obama sighting but he was more focused on seeking out other career opportunities.

Some of the legislative highlights or lowlights depending on your point of view included a Farm Bill reauthorization. Let me pause, there are things that obviously will be studied and torn apart by historians during the 110th and 111th Congresses but let me tell you my legislative highlight was seeing a Farm Bill go from the fact finding change this, don’t change that stage to committee mark-up to floor action, to conference committee and finally to final vote was a ride that gave me my seminal Hill Experience. A close second is budget vote-a-rama. Again, if you do not know about it, look it up, it is an integral part in laying the budget framework for our nation on an annual basis.

The experts will talk about the troop surge, you will have to ask me about the immigration firefight I walked into Day 1. The know it alls will concentrate of Stimulus I, 9/11 Commisson, Minimum Wage, Children’s Healthcare, the financial collapse, Auto Bailout, the Bailout, Stimulus II, and Healthcare to name a few.

The Farm Bill served as my Schoolhouse Rock “Just a Bill on Capitol Hill” experience.  I came away from the experience having a deep appreciation for farmers. Do not let the blue collar nature of their work fool you. The required knowledge of the science of agriculture, combined with their required business acumen is unmatched in other fields.

I went through a Presidential campaign in the Nation’s Capital. I watched with heartbreak as good people lost jobs in the 2008 election wave, I was downtown election night when the first Black President was elected, I sat in intense briefings on what was happening to our financial markets and the consternation facing elected officials as “too big to fail” became apart of everyday speech. I saw a lot to say the least.

There is so much more that I experienced outside the halls of Congress that I will take with me, my D.C. experience was capped off by meeting a young woman from Pennsylvania by way of different stops during her life. This captivating young woman who was smart, passionate, understanding, loving, and my rock would later become my wife on July 11, 2009. She too has written a story of adventure during her time here that has shaped her and led her to who she is today.

The energy in this city leading up to the 2009 inauguration, seeing the first baseball game in Nationals Park, the continued disappointment that is known as the Redskins, two college football games in two days, getting engaged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the loss of my grandmother, living across the street from my brother, playing softball on the mall with the Washington Monument as my backdrop, times with friends, 4th of July Fireworks, attending a church that gave new life to what it meant to be a Christ follower, I could go on and on but I won’t.

While it is time to start a new adventure. I am thankful for my parents who gave me this once in a lifetime opportunity to come here and do life. I thankful for the friends and experiences I have had.
I know there are people out there who would love to see things change here in the District, they would love to see this place “function”. I will part with this…the very dysfunction that characterizes this great city and region is at the heart of what makes it function. Don’t ever change D.C.!!

The clock now stands at 0:00. I head back south now with a wife, dog, a full moving truck and a book full of memories. It is time to ride down 85 to write a new story of adventure.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Oliver Who?

Yeah I am going to say it since no one else will. The Clemson basketball team closed out the regular season with a 8-8 conference record with the loss at Florida State earlier today. While the game was something like a scene from the nineties movie “Groundhog Day” where actor Bill Murray keeps waking up in the same day, the Hardwood Tigers dug themselves an early hole only to embark on a furious comeback only to come up short. Making a game that seemingly was out of hang look respectable in the final box score.

This team with five freshmen somehow, someway, managed to finish .500 in conference when early on I was resigned with the reality that this team could battle Boston College for the cellar of the conference. With a few less lulls and a true go to scorer, this team wins ten or eleven games in ACC play. I know almost doesn’t count but this team for the better part of conference play was competitive on a game to game basis.

I give Coach Brownell a lot of credit for not losing this team and having them prepared on most nights. The absence of a go to guy in crunch time was a glaring weakness on this team, you couple that with the youth playing meaningful minutes you are going to suffer those head scratching nights where you wonder if the guys on the floor had previous basketball experience. They also had moments that gave Tiger fans hope of things to come.

We are not in a position to where Clemson can go out and sign a Sammy Watkins type impact player so player development is key to long term success at Clemson and I truly believe that Coach Brownell is truly the man for the job.

Fan fan favorite Catalin Baciu had been left for dead under the previous staff.  Two years under Brownell, the young man from Romania began to develop post skills and a defensive prowess. Going back to last year Jerai Grant made significant strides to the point that he was a significant force during the stretch run last season. In both cases you were left feeling if they only had one more year they could be special. I feel strongly about “Bobo” as many felt about Grant last year.

I give former coach Oliver Purnell credit for his talent evaluation but his ability to mesh talent with the up and down pressing scheme he employed could certainly be called into question. His overall player development left something to be desired. I know many will point to Trevor Booker who has had his moment in the NBA for the Wizards but I always felt like the previous staff was more interested in athletes who play basketball than basketball players who are athletes.

The freshman on this current team have a higher basketball IQ thank previous teams and I sincerely believe we will witness that play our over the course of the next three years. We will see these young men develop into good to exceptional players who will get back Clemson back to competing for a bye on an annual basis.

There were many tense moments, face-palming plays but there is reason to be encouraged about this basketball program as we move into post-season play. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oh the ACC….

While we are on the schedule issue, I heard an interview with Clemson Associate Athletic Director Kyle Young where he discussed the 2012 schedule and the future of current out of conference matchups.

As was mentioned yesterday the delay in the 2012 football schedule announcement was due to West Virginia dropping Florida State and Georgia Tech rearranging their schedule to accommodate the Labor Day matchup with Virginia Tech.

There are several important takeaways from the interview, first is that the ACC allows member institutions to schedule their own non-conference schedule prior to making the conference schedule. This is important from the perspective that Clemson has the ability and has had the ability to schedule a Football Championship Subdivision opponent the week before the South Carolina game.  Young stated in the interview that efforts were made to adjust the 2012 schedule to reflect what has become a perceived advantage for South Carolina but Clemson was unable to make any changes to the 2012 docket.

That said, Young announced that Clemson will take on The Citadel at Clemson the week before traveling to Columbia in 2013. I have to give the folks at Jervey credit for trying but why did it take the Southeastern Conference taking action before the Atlantic Coast Conference? That question is probably best left unanswered. In the ACC's defense the SEC takes a more rigid approach to scheduling which does not allow for much flexibility.

Another big issue going moving forward is the status of future non-conference games, primarily with Georgia, who is scheduled to come to Clemson in 2013 and the Tigers traveling to Athens in 2014. The challenge with keeping the Georgia game on the schedule was the announcement that the ACC once Pittsburgh and Syracuse are added will move to a nine game conference football schedule.

The Big East has a 27-month waiting period to exit but after the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12 and the addition of new member schools to the Big East, it is assumed by many that Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC in 2013. The nine game conference ledger does not make for good fiscal policy given the five and four rotation on home games. The new model does not incentivize high profile home and home matchups given the fact that a school could end up with only six home games. I do not know the exact number but only having six home games would be a significant hit to the Clemson Athletic Department balance sheet. Young alluded to the reality that football pays the bills for a lot of other sports and decisions will have to be made accordingly.

All of this leads me to Young’s reaction to the question of whether or not the Georgia game will be played next year which was less than encouraging. He said, “I hope the Georgia game will be played.” That is disappointing to say the least. Here is the reality, Clemson will have five home conference games in seasons where Clemson travels to Columbia. Next season Clemson would have five home conference games, including a visit by Georgia. In 2014 Clemson would have only four home conference games, a visit from South Carolina, and six road games including the trip to Athens. It just does not add up from a competitive standpoint and from a fiscal stand point. Unfortunately, the Georgia matchup seems like it is in serious jeopardy thanks to the move by the ACC.

I did read an article where the SEC is looking at a nine game conference schedule but there seems to be a lack of support for such a move. As we know the SEC will add Texas A&M and Missouri this year and will do so while playing an eight game conference schedule. Given the current sentiment among member schools in the SEC, the Clemson game would still be a viable option for Georgia. If the SEC goes to a nine game conference schedule, then you can forget about the Clemson-Georgia series.

There is never a dull moment within the Clemson Athletic Department. A lot of tough decisions are going to have to be made by the folks at Jervey as we look to the future from a fiscal perspective and as the landscape of the ACC changes. I will leave you with this….Does public sentiment outweigh meeting the financial obligations of the organization?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Way too early thoughts on the 2012 Schedule……

After muddling through some schedule changes with West Virginia dropping Florida State at the eleventh hour and Georgia Tech finding an acceptable opponent following their contest against Virginia Tech on Labor Day night the ACC released the 2012 ACC Football schedule. Coach Paul Johnson desired to play a Football Championship Division opponent instead of previously scheduled Middle Tennessee State. I would like to remind Coach Johnson that Virginia Tech played Boise State on Labor Day night and then after an emotional game, came out flat and lost their home opener against James Madison.

Ultimately that is neither here nor there, now that the issues have been worked out and we are ready for the 187 Days of pontificating to begin.

How the schedule shakes out, when you face certain opponents can mean more than returning personnel. Enough talk take a gander……

September 1, 2012
Atlanta/Georgia Dome
September 8, 2012
Ball State
September 15, 2012
September 22, 2012
Florida State
September 29, 2012
Boston College
Chestnut Hill
October 6, 2012
Georgia Tech
October 13, 2012
October 20, 2012
Virginia Tech
October 25, 2012 (Thurs)
Wake Forest
November 3, 2012
November 10, 2012
November 17, 2012
NC State
November 24, 2012
South Carolina

Full disclosure my thoughts about the schedule will likely change more often than Mitt Romney’s views on social issues so bear with me if I lack consistency as we move through the offseason.

I am less than thrilled with the schedule. Back to back road trips to Florida State and Boston College, followed up with a home game against Georgia Tech, scares me to death. I guess you could compare it to the gauntlet the 2011 team faced last year but two of the three game are on the road instead of at home. I do like the bye week before Virginia Tech but, then four days later the team is off to Winston-Salem for a Thursday night game against Wake Forest. It should be noted that the Demon Deacons will be coming off a road game at Virginia. Clemson’s track record against Wake Forest at Groves Stadium, combined with a Thursday night is reason to cause concern.

I do like how the tail end of the schedule pans out with three home games. Depending on how things have played out following Duke, you have to feel good about playing at home against Maryland and NC State. The first six games will set the tone for the season in the same way the first five did for the 2011 campaign. Let the paralysis by analysis begin!!!