Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wait...What just happened?

            It is truly amazing how quickly the college football season comes and goes. We spend so much time yearning for September and then before you know it is October and one-third of the season is already in the books. What is even crueler for people like me is that the end is near. Around midnight on January 4 the 2011 season will be in the books and I will start the countdown all over again.

            It is hard to believe I have been living this Groundhog Day type existence for as long as I can remember. There is something about the fall that brings me and others like me to life. I have long sought to figure out what that is that causes this drastic transformation and I think I have figured it out. It is the elusiveness of experiencing that moment when your team is the last team standing, it is living in the moment where you feel like you are on top of the world and no one and nothing can bring you down. It is walking into your team’s stadium and feeling like you are home. It is gathering with friends often on the same site as some of the best years of your life.

            It is all these things that make college football special. As Clemson Alum and fan, it gets more personal. It is that feeling of knowing, indeed, “There are something in these hills.” It is the concrete structure on the west side of campus that still becomes one of the larger cities in the state of South Carolina on fall Saturdays. It is hearing Frank Howard say, “If ya ain’t gonna give me a 110%, keep your filthy hands off my rock.” It is hearing the first chords of the Orange Bowl March as another edition of the Clemson Football team awaits atop of a hill in the, “Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football.” It is singing the alma mater at the end of each contest, win or lose because my love and devotion for my school goes beyond wins and losses.

            It is that same love and devotion that often takes us on an emotional roller coaster throughout the fall. Game to game, week to year, year to year, we lose ourselves because our happiness and moods are dictated by the actions or inaction of 18-22 year old children. I never said being a college football fan was healthy or made 100% sense but right or wrong this is the reality for many a man and woman.

            Because of the microwave culture we live in, often experiences are lost in the busyness of life and memorable experiences are missed because we fail to reflect on what we have just experienced. There are so many moments of the 2011 season that I will remember.  The magical three game stretch in late September and October is unlike anything I had experienced in recent memory. Lets be frank I was 12 years old and living in Colorado the last time Clemson won an ACC Football Title.

            We fell behind Auburn at home and it had shades of yet another disappointing let down but these guys began to show that they were different from Clemson teams in the past. The following week we held off a pesky Florida State team who had been showered with National Championship chatter all summer. It was October 1 and my Tigers were 4-0 heading into Blacksburg, where they had little success in recent visits.

            The wins against Auburn and Florida State were nice but a cold, wet, dreary Lane Stadium awaited these young Tigers. It was time to put up or shut up against the big kid on the block  the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Winners of four ACC Titles since joining the conference less than 10 years ago, they had a right to have an air to them.

            I was stuck at home with a catheter in and a bag hanging off my lazy boy coming off of surgery earlier in the week. All the pain and discomfort in the world was not going to keep me from watching the game. Most know how animated and emotional I get during Clemson football games and this one would bring out many emotions throughout but not to be lost was a sure fire way to tame me during a Clemson game. Have a five tube running out of you and I assure you become acutely aware that one false move can and will put you into an indescribable agony that you would not share with your worst enemy.

            In the midst of my timidity, my mighty Tigers went to Blacksburg and roared like a Tiger standing over its prey. Even the honey badger stood in applause on that chilly October evening that saw Clemson deliver an emphatic road win that started a national stir around the 2011 team and the Clemson program.

            It would be another two weeks before I got to see my beloved Tigers in person. I made the short drive over to College Park, MD to see Clemson take on the Maryland Terrapins. It is this game that I came away knowing that this team was special. Falling down by 18 points twice to ultimately come back and win by 11 in regulation is mind-boggling. Early on it seemed like the fairytale would come to a not so happy ending.

            The thing that stood out about the Maryland game was what took place before the game. I gathered with friends from college grilling out, enjoying food, reliving days gone by and then going to the game. That night was an indoctrination night for one person in our group, there first time at a Clemson football game and their first Clemson football game with James. God is good because the feeling of jubilation that she witnessed from me was much more attractive than what would have been on display if we had lost.

            While in the midst of this up and down emotional roller coaster real life is still happening on the outskirts of this oblong shaped piece of leather that causes even some of the nicest, well-mannered people to suffer a slip of the tongue. For me it was October 29. Clemson is playing Georgia Tech and I am on my way to Delaware for a family wedding. For a kid who grew up in Atlanta, this was the perfect storm of torment. It was an evening wedding so the game would be going strong during the reception.

            As much as I would have liked to have skipped the reception, it just was not an option. It gets better, the country had been split by ABC and the game being shown was Stanford-USC (the real USC). The only thing I had was my phone. I had spent most of the day trying to talk myself into being classy and not allowing the ebb and flow of the game to impact my enjoyment of the reception. I was able to watch some games between the ceremony and the reception, so I was feeling pretty good about being able to handle myself and by the way, Georgia Tech had just gotten their butts kicked the week before, Clemson would be in a fight but in the end would cruise on to victory and everyone would be happy.

            As we all know this did not happen. In fact it got ugly and it got ugly early for my Tigers. Nothing was going right and my ability to put a happy face on quickly went up in smoke. I did not care about the stupid reception, I was pissed, at this point in the season, we were 8-0 and I will be man enough to admit it, I had National Championship on the mind and those plans were crashing in on me like a ton of bricks.

            By the time we leave the reception, Clemson is down 14 in the 4th. At this point I wanted to be left alone and was glad no one was left to ask me how Clemson was doing. I am fortunate to have satellite radio in our car so I was listening to Wes Durham on the call, when we forced the turnover that we needed to get back into the game. I had gotten my swagger back and then my All-ACC quarterback threw the ball into the end zone and right into the hands of a Yellow Jacket defender. I was crushed. I remember walking into the hotel, with my head down in disbelief. Any delusions of grandeur had gone out the door.

            It took me a good while to go to sleep that night. I was so pissed. I hate losing in general but I loathe Georgia Tech and they had ended my dream season temporarily. The Tigers would lose 3 of their next four but was able to secure the Atlantic Division Championship in a thrilling win over Wake Forest.

            Then came the rematch. At this point you had two team heading into Charlotte heading in two very different directions, the Hokies were riding a 7 game win streak with their only loss coming at the hands of my Tigers back in October. Clemson had lost three of four, including a butt whooping in Columbia from South Carolina College.

            The boys dressed in Orange came up with a performance no one could have dreamed of based on what had happened during the last quarter of the season. Early in the 4th quarter barring a meltdown of nuclear proportions I was on my way to experience that feeling of watching my team celebrate as the last team standing. It may not have been a Nation Title but it did not matter. 20 years of angst and frustration were relieved.

            The win as great as it was, did not surpass the time spent with friends and family before and after the game. We can talk about the hoopla, the pain that is noon kickoffs, stupid play calls and so on, but what always stands out when I am on my way home is the time spent with people.

            The friends who make the fall weekend pilgrimages to see their Tigers play makes for such a meaningful and purposeful day. Regardless of the outcome on the field I am always thankful for the opportunity to gather as friends, to cheer on a team, represent a school and community we all love. I will not forget this season for many reasons but the main reason is because of the time spent with people I care about and share unbreakable bonds with. I am blessed beyond measure to have that as a reality in my life and I appreciate everyone who has shared this 2011 Clemson Football journey with me. It ain’t over just yet, we have one more but what an unforgettable year it has been and thank you for being apart of it.

Happy New Year Everyone!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tweet That!!

             First I would like to remember my uncle Haywood Bostic who fueled my love for Clemson football and helped me understand the game as a young man. While he is always on my heart, the week leading up to the Championship game he was front and center as I headed to Charlotte to see my Tigers play for an ACC Title.  As much fun as the beat down of the Hokies was his absence was felt in a profound way and I know he was smiling down as we finally busted down the door to a conference championship.

            I had commented what a difference three weeks makes as I was perusing Clemson message boards and saw numerous posts of people selling their tickets to the Championship game. The bandwagon had thinned out and looking back, I want thank those folks who did not have the character or the intestinal fortitude to stay by your team. Ultimately the Clemson Faithful who rolled in to Charlotte Saturday night rolled in leaner and meaner than they had all season.

            A lean and mean machine football team showed up in Charlotte on a cool crisp Saturday night. I did not have high expectations for the outcome but we were in the game as the Atlantic Division Champions and that gave us a chance.

            Upon arrival in Charlotte, we were welcomed to a Bowl-like atmosphere. The ratio of Clemson fans to Hokies  was roughly 2 to 1. On a side note, Charlotte has grown into a dynamic city. It is a city with southern genteel, coupled with professional exuberance that has allowed it to make tremendous strides in the last 20 years. Our colleagues from Blacksburg were walking around with a quiet yet smug confidence. Coming into the game the Hokies had won seven in a row and had risen to number five in the BCS rankings.

            Early in the week I think I was like a lot of Clemson fans who found themselves reeling from the loss to South Carolina. I am not sure what was more disturbing the fact that our Tigers had lost or the fashion in which the Gamecocks seemingly dispatched Clemson with relative ease. Then what was a ho-hum week, changed profoundly the Thursday prior to the ACC Championship game as Coach Swinney met with the press after practice.

            Coach Swinney responded to comments tied to South Carolina College coach Steve Spurrier regarding Clemson. While the comments may or may not have been made by Coach Spurrier, Coach Swinney’s response created a buzz throughout Clemson Nation that there was no reason for Clemson fans to be walking around with their heads down and with their tails tucked between their legs. We may never know who the comments were directed to but it served as a wake up call to a fan base that had lost its way just like its football team’s offense.

            Not that Clemson fans could have dreamed up what was about to transpire on the field in Charlotte, it was a shot in the arm that Clemson fans did not need to make any apologies to anyone about going to Charlotte and playing for an ACC Title. Prior to Thursday’s comments, there were offers all over Clemson message boards with people trying to off load their tickets to Charlotte. The feeling was not good surrounding this Clemson team. More time was being spent on Coach Swinney’s comments and the post-South Carolina game aftermath than the game in Charlotte.

            Luckily for Clemson fans, they are fans and not players. It was reported that Coach Swinney had a 2-hour meeting with his team the Monday leading up to the rematch with the Hokies. The meeting was about accountability to themselves and to each other. Football is a game of execution and it does not take Knute Rockne to know that this Clemson team was not executing well in any phase of the game.  Despite the cloud and uncertainty surrounding the Clemson team, they took the field with an opportunity to emerge Champions.

            It was clear from the get go, that this was a different Clemson team than what fans and coaches had seen in the closing weeks of the season. We saw a team that was focused on the task at hand and prepared to do what the coaches had prepared them to do. Despite the 10-10 score at half, it was becoming apparent it was one of those Saturdays where Clemson was the only team in the stadium that could stop Clemson.

            What transpired on the field of Bank of America Stadium during the first 16:56 of the second half was art in motion. Our Tigers came out like a team that was 30 minutes away from fulfilling its destiny and the execution, the poise displayed during the 3rd quarter will be appear in coaching clinics for years to come and may go down as one of the finest 3rd quarters in Clemson Football history. This team could not be stopped in any phase of the game.

            You saw coaches on the sidelines giving chest bumps and high fives. There was an energy and swagger on the Clemson sideline that had been missing since prior to the Georgia Tech game. Our good friend Mo Mentum picked a great night to reacquaint himself with the Clemson football team and fan base.

            There is so much in the third quarter that I see with each time I watch the replay on DVR. First and foremost is the fact that Clemson ran more running plays than pass plays. The offensive line held up after losing Phillip Price. Andre Ellington is the engine that makes this team go and he is one of the best backs to play at Clemson in recent history. Dwayne Allen is a beast. Sammy is Sammy. Do not forget about DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown making big catches for this team. Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson those defensive linemen have played well all year.  Coty Sensabaugh a late addition when he signed with Clemson has been superb all year in the secondary. It is amazing when linebackers play downhill and with good run fits.

            A week later I am up on a Sunday morning still in disbelief of what happened last Saturday in Charlotte. Leave no doubt the Clemson University Fightin’ Tigers are the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Champions!!!

            I am thankful for my friends and their wives who took the time to travel to Charlotte and gather together with the opportunity reconnect, laugh and bond. There is not another group of people who I would have rather shared last Saturday night with than my boys.

            Our Tigers are Orange Bowl Bound. I cannot wait for the January 4, 2012 match up with the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tire Fire

             After watching South Carolina dispatch Clemson like a rented mule I was pissed. Pissed because losing to South Carolina is just unacceptable. It was apparent early on in the ball game the Clemson coaching staff did not care, they were not interested in the outcome of this game in the least. It is not a big deal to them that people have been defending them during this four game nightmare as this team flounders.

            We were fed the all of our goals are still out there, we will get it fixed, this is the biggest game of the year and come out with the effort they came out with Saturday? This Clemson team did not have a chance in this ball game, in spite of the numerous opportunities the Clemson defense gave the offense, especially in the second half.

            I am not making 180k a year to coach football so anything I write is merely theoretical thinking but I am going to write it any way because football is a simple enough of a game that a team like South Carolina can play basic football and kick its opponent’s ass up and down a field for 6o minutes.

            Everyone and their mother knew Clemson was not going to be able to block the South Carolina front four, especially on deep drop back passes. There are things you can do against an athletic front four. You can max protect, you can roll your quarterback out, use the screen game or utilize the three-step drop to get rid of the ball quickly. We basically saw none of this in the Clemson game plan. 

            If you cannot block a team rushing four on five and seven steps drops then you have to switch it up. Please feel free to do something. Is not the definition of insanity trying the same thing over and over after getting the same result, thinking it will somehow change? For some reason, this team has linebackers who are coached not to read and attack the line of scrimmage. For some reason this team has a secondary who could not slow down a Pop Warner team because of its dependence of man coverage. For some reason this team does not know that fundamental tackling involves wrapping up, playing with low pad level and running through the ball carrier.

            While we the fans and supporters are made to be morons, while we are being lied to why should we care? I am honestly trying to figure out why in the hell am I so freaking pissed off when I am a fan of a team who’s coaching staff failed their team. If Coach Swinney fails his team and thinks it is ok then there is no reason for me to defend this coaching staff or to get upset over something I had no direct involvement.

            There is a difference is losing and getting beat. These guys are getting beat up and down the field. This is a team that has no confidence whatsoever, especially on the offensive side of the ball. There has to be a way to get back to basics. I know the coaching staff did the responsible thing by taking Phillip Price out of the ball game but he has to be able to play next week in Charlotte. Get a hyperbaric chamber for him to sleep in, call in a witch doctor. It is terrible how one injury has decimated this team.

            Yes I am out of my mind pissed off about 9-3 as should every Clemson fan under the sun. It is not an issue of being 9-3 it has everything to do with what has transpired in the process of getting to this point. Momentum and confidence are a huge part of the college game and when you have it, you feel like you can beat anybody, when you lose it, you feel like you cannot beat anybody. That is where this team is at this point.
            In the midst of the pain and frustration there is another game to be played next weekend in Charlotte. While Clemson has willingly relinquished the role of state dominance, there is a chance this team could win the ACC for the first time since 1991.

            The thought of winning a conference title is almost laughable after what has happened during the last four games of the season but the opportunity is still there. The chance to do something that has not been done in a long time is out there for the taking. I am not sure what this team can do to make that a reality because you will see a carbon copy offensive game plan from Virginia Tech next week. In the same way Clemson is not the same team it was back in early October, the Hokies have found their identity offensively with quarterback Logan Thomas as the table setter.

            I am going to say it now, be prepared to see more quarterback runs next Saturday. Thomas is a more physical runner than Connor Shaw but is capable of being just as effective in the running game. The Hokies have running back David Wilson who has put up excellent numbers throughout the season. They have a defense that has held its own despite some key injuries up front and at linebacker.

            Silver lining in all of this? Their front four is not nearly as dominant as South Carolina. Virginia Tech regardless of their ranking going into the game on Saturday is not unbeatable but they are confident. They have payback on their mind and it will take an out of body type experience by Clemson next Saturday in order for Clemson to win.

            Back in October Clemson won the battle up front on both sides and did a nice job making enough plays on offense to get a huge win on the road. The Clemson defense neutralized Thomas and Wilson was not a factor despite going over 100 yards rushing on the ground. Andre Branch went back to his home state and had a field day in the Virginia Tech offensive backfield.

            It is going to take that type of effort if the Tigers have a glimmer of hope in winning in Charlotte Saturday night. Lets face it this defense is not going to stop anyone at this point, not Edwards Middle School, let alone an offense with a mobile quarterback like Logan Thomas. The only hope at this point is to contain Thomas and Wilson and hope they do not make too many plays down the field or this one gets ugly early.

            I will be honest. I am not enamored with the Hokies, I am sorry Turkey fans, you do not have a chance to play for a National Title and if you did, you would get your brains beat in so bad, you would need dental records to identify the remains. They are not complex on offense but the Hokies will be facing a defense that allegedly, knew what South Carolina was going to do and how did that work out? They are going to try to get David Wilson going in the ground game on the perimeter. I have never seen a running back run so fast towards the sideline in my life. In order to stop this, Clemson has to be physical up front and the linebackers have to play downhill and force Wilson back inside. (I just laughed when I wrote that but it is the truth)

            To be honest unless the defensive staff is prepared to swallow their pride and change things up, play less man coverage, get the linebackers playing downhill instead of taking false steps, Clemson has no chance. All night long the Clemson linebackers were seen taking steps backwards and having linemen in perfect position to make blocks three seconds after the Clemson linebackers had diagnosed the play. I don’t care what level of football you are playing if you first steps are backwards as a linebacker you are done.

            Clemson cannot have their back seven running around with their backs to the football while a quarterback is running for 20 yards. You cannot grab at a Division-1 skill player and think you are going to arm tackle them. Tackling is like free throw shooting, it has nothing to do with talent but everything to do with repetition and attention to detail. You cannot run into an opponent and expect them to go down, especially with a low center of gravity like David Wilson and a quarterback with Cam Newton-esque size. Virginia Tech is going to lull you to sleep with the run and then throw the ball down the field to one of their serviceable wide receivers. There is not much else to say other than hope for the best.

            Offensively Clemson is a dumpster fire. The Clemson offensive line is softer than down comforter. The offensive line was effective in pass protection for eight games. Their run blocking has been something to be desired throughout and as teams have adjusted what how they play in the secondary, the wheels have slowly come off the ship. You can have the good Lord himself lined up in the backfield or at receiver but if you put the Clemson offensive line in front of Him, even he would have to work overtime to make anything happen.

            Tajh Boyd is pressing, he is not accurate, and is lacking in his decision-making. A lot of that comes from running for your life but his pocket presence is horrendous. His inability to step up in the pocket and to show just a little bit of mobility he is done. Opponents are right, if you can put pressure on Boyd he will fold like a tent. At this point given how poorly the offensive line is playing I am calling out Chad Morris.

            You have an offensive line that is about as competent as White House Chief of Staff Billy Daley. Instead of being creative with the three step passing game, screen game, rolling your quarterback out, you continue to put him in danger by calling five and seven step drop pass plays that your offensive line is not capable of blocking at this point. I am sorry. It is apparent that if Phillip Price is not effective, this Clemson offensive line is not capable of holding up against a stout pass rush. What is Coach Morris prepared to do to help this offense be successful?

            Saturday, Clemson was starting to have some success on the ground and he ultimately went away from it. It was overall a disappointing effort from the coaching staff from top to bottom. Despite the personnel issues, especially on defense, coaches have to put players in position to be successful and unfortunately the Clemson staff failed miserably last week at preparing this team to win.

            There is not much to say about next week going against Virginia Tech. There is no reason to believe that the light will come back on for this Clemson team.  I fully expect this one to get ugly early. There is no getting around it. This team has lost its mojo and Virginia Tech is not the team that is going to willingly allow you to regain it. I am looking forward to spending time with friends next week but unless this team spends the week with a sports shrink and the coaching staff decides to come to terms with the reality of this team’s current limitations it will be an evening of Hokie Coronation on Saturday night. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No Not Again.......

            There was five minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Tigers had just played the worst 10 minutes of the season and all I could think, “Please, please not again”. With 20 minutes of football left to be played I knew there was enough time but was there enough defense or enough offensive execution to get the Tigers back in the game? I have to be honest, I would have had to been taken to a mental hospital if Clemson had lost Saturday. There was no way anyone could have stopped the tirade that would have ensued. Someone was looking out for the public good and once again, this team showed true mettle down the stretch and came away with a 31-28 victory over Wake Forest to claim its second Atlantic Division title in three years.

            Lets go back to Columbus Day 2008. I remember getting a call from my dad saying, “it’s over”. Referring to the termination of then head coach Tommy Bowden. At that point, Clemson was coming off of a bad loss at Wake Forest. The program seemed in disarray and was now under the leadership under a guy who had been the wide receivers coach, just hours before. Fast forward to the present and Clemson will play for an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship for the second time in three years. I think Clemson fans should take a few moments to revel in the progress that has been made and credit coach Swinney for the job he has done to put his stamp on the program and continued ability to recruit high caliber athletes to Clemson.

            Clemson fans cannot forget about last season. Offensively, Clemson resembled an out of control dumpster fire. It was a team with out an identity and seemingly could not get out of its own way. I remember being in the West End Zone for the South Carolina game and having a mini meltdown because I was sick of watching my team be toyed with like a punk. I had long voiced my frustration towards the coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball due to their inability to put teams with good to great talent in position to win games.

            Last season happened and there is no excuse that can legitimize what occurred on the field. Though it did not seem like it at the time, Coach Swinney is not as stupid as I was beginning to think he was after watching Clemson stumble at the end of the 2010 season. Do I agree with every call? Of course not but I do know that he is far from the village idiot that many people outside of Clemson attempt to make him out to be. First Coach Swinney is an intelligent man who was groomed in one of the most successful programs in the country, secondly as reports support after the dismissal and additions of staff members, Coach Swinney on his own had begun to look at staff changes before the conclusion of the 2010 season.

            Staff changes are made in January, in February, Clemson signs a Top 10 recruiting class, and there is positive buzz around the program. There is an excitement about the new offensive scheme that promised to be more explosive. Move forward to the middle of September Auburn came to Clemson, jumps on the Tigers early but the 2011 Clemson Tigers showed they were a different bunch by coming back after being down 14 points. Here we are with two games remaining 9-1 with an opportunity to close out an 11-1 regular season. Let that marinate on your mind for a few minutes.

            Back to Saturday’s game and being a mental case. I would be equally distraught if I were a Wake Forest football player or coach. Your team forces three turnovers that lead to 14 points, commit one penalty, and return a punt for a touchdown and lost? How in the world does that happen? There are not many circumstances where that happens and a team loses a ball game.

            You have to give Wake credit. I thought they came out focused and ready to play for 60 minutes. I honestly thought Clemson could prey upon a solid team that was coming off of an emotional game at home the previous week and coast to victory. I was wrong to say the least.

            The Demon Deacons came to Clemson with a good game plan. Defensively, they dropped eight in coverage and made Tajh Boyd try and nickel and dime them, something that worked effectively for over two quarters of football. In turn Boyd could have thrown eight interceptions on Saturday compared to the three that went in the box score. It was ugly to say the least. Clemson continues to struggle in the run game despite rushing for a final total of 179 yards. The Clemson guards are soft. Antoine McClain and Brandon Thomas have generated no push and are largely responsible for the inefficiency of the Clemson running game.

            Offensively, Wake leaned on their big and experienced offensive line and just worked Clemson like a dog. In the passing game they gave Price all the day in the world to complete passes and he did with good efficiency. It was frustrating to watch the defense not get pressure or not secure sacks. Wake came into the game with one of the worst rushing offenses in the nation, shows up in Death Valley and running back Brandon Pendergrass rushes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

            After going up 28-14 Wake Forest would have the ball four more times and those drives ended with Punt, Punt, Missed Field Goal and Punt. Clemson was able to go on three scoring drives that included two touchdowns and the game winning field goal from Chandler Catanzaro.

            As frustrating as Saturday was Clemson rolled up 522 yards of total offense and held Wake Forest to 317 yards of total offense. The lack of numbers for Wake come from getting the ball on turnovers on a short field but when the dust cleared those are not bad numbers. Clemson made its move without the services of Super Frosh Sammy Watkins who had gone out of the game with a shoulder injury. The area of concern continues to be turnovers. Clemson has turned the ball over seven times in the last two games and lets be honest should have been two Clemson losses.  Clemson cannot continue to turn the ball over and expect to win. 

            Fixing the turnover issue started Monday with film review and practice. Clemson heads to Raleigh Saturday with the Atlantic Division in hand a date with South Carolina looming the following week, you catch my drift?

I am not sure what to make of NC State. This is a team that has been up and down like the stock market. Wolf Pack head coach Tom O’Brien came under tremendous scrutiny after he parted ways with three-year starter Russell Wilson who played professional baseball during the off-season. Wilson is now at Wisconsin where he is having a fine season in Madison. Wilson’s replacement Mike Glennon has put up good numbers this year having thrown for over 2000 yards with a 20-10 touchdown to interception ratio. The Pack has several receivers who can make plays. We cannot forget about preseason All-ACC tight end George Bryan who has not put up the numbers many expected but is a big play threat.

            The Clemson defense will have their hands full with junior running back James Washington who has shown the ability to get things going on the ground. Clemson must find a way to play with better run fits with their linemen and linebackers. Last Saturday, the linebackers seemingly were non-existent on Wake’s two long rushing touchdowns that came on basic plays. I would expect NC State to make a concerted effort to establish the ground game and keep Clemson off balance with a steady passing game.

            As Jekyll and Hyde as NC State has been this season, they are good enough to beat the Tigers if they cannot get off the field on defense, turn the ball over and cannot sustain drives. This is a NC State that has struggled to score points in its last four games. They were shutout against Florida State, scored 13 against North Carolina and 10 points last week in a loss to Boston College. Sadly with Clemson’s defensive woes the last several weeks, I expect NC State to move the ball effectively against the Tigers. The key is going to be keeping them out of the end zone.

            Offensively, Clemson is going to face the leading interceptions leader in the nation David Amerson with 10 picks on the year. If Tajh rolls into Carter-Finley thinking he is Brett Farve on Saturday, it could get interesting. NC State likes to bring pressure and mix coverage, it is going to be imperative that Tajh goes through his progressions and not be afraid of his check downs. Anything Clemson gets from the running game should be counted as money in the bank. The Tigers will continue to struggle running the football as long as the guards are unable to get a push. I am interested to see how the absence of tackle Phillip Price will impact the Clemson run game. Guard Brandon Thomas will move to tackle while 5th year senior David Smith takes over at guard. This was the combination that was in the game late last Saturday that helped Andre Ellington break a couple long runs.

            The game Saturday in Raleigh will boil down to Tajh Boyd’s decision making. If Boyd goes out Saturday over zealous, it will cost Clemson. If he is smart with the football, Clemson is hard to stop. Clemson cannot just show up and win. NC State needs one win in its last two games to be bowl eligible. NC State looks solid one game, then looks terrible the next. I hate to say it but the Pack was awful on Saturday in Chestnut Hill, so I would expect them to play with enthusiasm as they host a Top 10 team in their stadium.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Win and you're in......

              I have to admit it has been hard to focus on Clemson football this week given the news that broke last Saturday in State College, PA. At this point, I am suffering from saturation from the rhetoric but I will say, I have a lot of mixed emotions about the situation. My heart goes out to the victims and my thoughts are with Penn State alums, most of whom have an unabashed loved and commitment to their alma mater and must be struggling to grapple with a terrible situation.

            While we would not know it from what we are seeing on ESPN and what is being talked about on WCCP there is a huge football that will take place in a few hours at Death Valley. I am sitting here listening to the Tiger Pregame Show and I feel like I can actually write with a clear mind knowing that the focus is on Clemson and not other events that have been at the forefront this week.

            Today’s game will not be a cakewalk. Wake has some good pieces who if they can get going can give Clemson fits. Remember this is a team that beat FSU, took Virginia Tech to the wire, played very well last week against Notre Dame and most importantly control their own destiny to get to Charlotte. If there is any complacency amongst Tiger fans, if Clemson loses to Wake this weekend, the Demon Deacons have Maryland next week to close out their ACC slate and with a win against the Terps would head to Charlotte.

            As sobering of thought that may be I expect this Clemson team to really come out and perform well this week. Coming off the bye week this team had been grinding for 14-15 weeks going back to the start of fall camp and nine hard fought football games. There is no doubt that they needed some time away, many guys needed a chance to get healthy, and recharge their mental batteries. I feel like they were able to accomplish that and have been able to flush the Georgia Tech loss and really focus on the task at hand.

            Wake Forest is led offensively by Sophomore quarterback Tanner Price and receiver Chris Givens. It should be noted that Chris Givens is the leading receiver in the ACC ahead of Clemson freshmen Sammy Watkins. Again, if you are sleeping on the Demon Deacons, they have a kid who has had a better statistical season up to this point than a guy who most believe will be National Freshman of the Year. Tanner Price is very efficient with the football, does not turn the ball over and does a good job of getting the ball to people like Givens and letting them make plays. Also expect Wake to take their shots deep as most other teams have against the Clemson man defense.

            You cannot forget about running backs Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass both are capable of taking a game over on the ground. I would also would not be surprised to see some read option from the Deacons to see if they can take advantage of the Clemson defense and their inability to slow down quarterbacks in the run game. Wake may have the biggest offensive line Clemson has faced all year. That is something to keep an eye on during the game.

            Clemson is going to have to tackle well in space today. They are going to have to play well with their eyes and remain on their keys. Price gets the ball out quickly so the Tigers will have to be creative in disguising coverage and how they affect the quarterback. These guys have stepped up when the team has needed it. As much criticism as the defense got coming off the Georgia Tech loss, the reality is they gave the offense enough opportunities to go out and win the game in Atlanta. I believe they will do the same today.
            Defensively Wake will bring in one of the smallest defensive lines you will see in  Football Bowl Subdivision but do not let that fool you into thinking that Clemson will be able to just steam roll these guys. They play with great effort and pad level. They will slant, twist and utilize their quickness and agility to create havoc for the Clemson offensive line. 

            The Deacons have athletic linebackers who do a nice job against the run and are solid in coverage. The guy you need to look for is safety Josh Bush who is very comfortable in pass coverage and leads Wake in interceptions. Corner Merrill Noel leads the ACC in Passes Defended. Wake Forest has some guys who are not afraid to mix it up in the box. I am excited to see how they choose to approach the potent Clemson receiver corps. I would expect them to give Tajh Boyd a lot of different looks in an attempt to confuse him and force some poor decisions.

             There is a chance Clemson could get kickoff specialist Spencer Benton back today after he broke a collarbone against Virginia Tech. That has been a glaring issue in regards to field position in his absence. It has been reported that Coach Swinney would like to sit him for one more week but it would not surprise me if we see him today. I would also like to see the Catman hit some field goals when we have to have them. Dawson Zimmerman continues to have a good season punting the ball and that needs to continue today.

            The game today boils down to how Clemson responds coming off the bye week. There is a trip to Charlotte at stake, this will be the last time our seniors play in the Death Valley and I can’t tell you how important it is for them to go out with a win. We have a chance to go undefeated at home in over 20 years. There is a lot to be excited about going into the game today. Despite the noon kick, I hope there is a great crowd and look forward to being in the Valley and hopefully celebrating an Atlantic Division Championship later this afternoon. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Breathe in...Breathe Out

            The sting of defeat often lingers longer than the joy of victory. There is still a bitter taste in the mouths of Clemson fans on November 1. I know many are disappointed but lets take some time this week to try to have some perspective and take a look at where this football team is now that it has arrived at its Open Date. I will take some time to evaluate position groups and also look to the future from a personnel perspective.

            I think it is important to reiterate that this Clemson team is ranked 11th in the most recent BCS standings, which means that this they can work their way back up the rankings and possibly earn a final Top 5 ranking when all the dust settles. This team is a good outing against Wake Forest away from clinching the Atlantic Division title. This program is two good outings away from a 7-1 conference record, three good efforts from a 11-1 regular season. There is still a lot to be excited about and time to look back on the wild and crazy that has been the 2011 football season.

            I have said several times in my writing, how many people would have said, blah, blah, blah on September 2. I will ask on more of these antagonizing questions. How many people on September 2 would have said this team would not lose its first game until the end of October? Uh huh, not many if any out there could have seen the nine game stretch Clemson fans have seen to open the season. Lets be real, if someone said to you on First Friday, “Hey I have magic powers and I can guarantee that Clemson will be 8-1 going into November will you take it?” There is not a soul out there that would have not taken it and run.

            Losing stinks and losing to Georgia Tech stinks even worse. Note, this blog written by a person who grew up in Atlanta and dealt with their, “I would not know a football if it hit me square in the head,” mentality. They won the game, they did what they had to do on the field and there is a chance Clemson could see them again in Charlotte on December 3.

            Back to the task at hand, where is this football team nine games into the season? Throughout the week I am going to take a look at the offensive side of the ball and evaluate the position groups including punter and kicker.

            Here on November 1, the Clemson Tigers rank 5th in the nation in total offense. Let that simmer on your mind for a minute. The only teams who have been more productive offensively are Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Houston. The Tigers have rolled up 4259 yards of total offense a mere 94 yards from eclipsing last year’s offensive numbers of 4353. This offense could have the opportunity to take the field five more times this season. Anyone doubting the impact first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris is having on Clemson just falls into the Georgia Tech category of there knowledge of football.

Quarterback grade -A

            Tajh Boyd has been somewhere around spectacular at times this season. Again, lets be honest. Going into the season there was no indication that Boyd would play as well as he has through nine games. He looked less than spectacular in mop up duty against South Carolina and in the bowl game against South Florida. Even in the Spring Game, not many Clemson fans came away feeling overly confident about the quarterback position.

            Now, nine games into the season, it is apparent that Coach Morris had a plan for Tajh. He had specific aspects of his game that he knew he had to improve up during the off-season. It is apparent that Boyd took those things to heart and asserted himself as the leader of this team.

            It was not pretty early on against Troy but moving forward it has been a lot of fun to watch Tajh Boyd lead this offense to eight wins in nine opportunities. He has been efficient with the ball throwing twenty-five touchdowns and only five interceptions. He has come up with some big time throws on key plays throughout the season. He has led this offense on scoring drives when they have had to have points. He has gotten the ball to receivers so that they can make plays in space. That is an often-overlooked aspect of a quarterback’s game.

            Boyd has been efficient running the ball. He is no Cam Newton but has shown the ability to move around the pocket and scramble when called upon. He has done well on called quarterback runs. It has been fun to watch Boyd develop into the quarterback many talked about him being when he signed out of high school.

            As efficient as Tajh has been this season there have been times when you go back when watching film and think, “what did he see”? For the most part he got away with those, “oh my goodness” throws. It did cost him a pick-six against Maryland and a potential touchdown in the red zone against Georgia Tech. You just cannot have those types of mistakes and not have them bite you at some point.

            It is apparent that Tajh predetermines where he is going with the football before the snap of the ball. Two things, I know about pre-snap reads and their importance of speeding up decision-making, also I know when a quarterback is locking into a receiver. At times Tajh has fallen in love with Sammy Watkins athletic ability to make plays than making the proper reads and getting the ball to wide open receivers.

            You saw it Saturday night against Georgia Tech but if you want to make life miserable for Tajh Boyd, blitz. Blitz corners, linebackers, safeties, kitchen sinks, etc. He looked very uncomfortable picking up the Georgia Tech blitz. This is something very important to see how he responds during the last four to five games of the season. I would expect teams to start salivating when they watch the Georgia Tech film and feel confident about how they can affect the Boyd in the pocket. Clemson will face another 3-4 defensive team November 12 when Wake Forest comes to Death Valley. I will be interested to see if they use similar aggressive tactics to try to disrupt Boyd.

            Clemson fans have been treated to much improved quarterback play this season and that credit goes to Coach Morris who has worked to mold Boyd into one of the Top quarterbacks in the ACC. There is still room for improvement for this season and on into the future. Fans have to like what they have seen thus far and be excited about what he can accomplish during the stretch run.

            I want to touch quickly on the two other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal. We have seen only a little bit of Cole Stoudt in game action. He looks the part of a quarterback and was seen as a possible threat to Tajh when he joined the Clemson program in January. He saw a bulk of time against Boston College when he came into the game with the outcome still in doubt a led Clemson on two scoring drives to put the game away. We have not seen much from Stoudt in the down field passing game but all indications are is that he could be a good one for Clemson down the road.

            Tony McNeal is the other quarterback on scholarship who enrolled back in January. The young man is seen as more athletic than Boyd or Stoudt but is pretty raw when it comes to developing as a passer. I think he is a young man who will flourish over time under Coach Morris’ tutelage. I know it will be the hope of Coach Morris to have McNeal compete with Stoudt for the backup position moving into next spring.

            Both Stoudt and McNeal will get more reps and opportunities this week when the Tigers take to the practice field. These young men will get a chance to get coached up and showcase their progress during the off week. As we have seen, Stoudt is only one play away from being the number one guy.

            There is reason to be excited about this group. To see how far they have come in nine months has to make Clemson fans excited about the future at this position. Their continued development and maturation will be key to future success for this program on the offensive side of the ball.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Buzz Kill.....

            Clemson’s eight game win streak is now over but all is not lost. As disappointed as I am with yesterday’s performance and outcome, this team is 8-1 and is one win against Wake Forest from securing a trip to Charlotte. I did not see any of the game until the game was well in hand for the Yellow Jackets due to a family wedding in Delaware. I could have it worse, my in-laws got ten inches of snow and were looking at the real possibility of going back to a house with no power this morning so maybe losing a football game is not so bad.

            Bump that, I would rather be in the dark unable to type this than have lost to Georgia Tech but you have to give the Jackets a tip of the cap. They weathered the early onslaught, made adjustments, got momentum and never looked back. The Clemson defense forced two consecutive three and outs to start the game. The offense came out and could only muster a field goal in the first half. Georgia Tech did not take long to make the adjustment up front they needed to make and never looked back.

            Georgia Tech took advantage of Clemson’s glaring deficiencies at linebacker. You remember what I said about Tech making defenses, read, get off blocks and tackle? Well Clemson showed that it was not up to the task of playing fundamental defense and got lit up. I also said it would not take much for the once struggling Georgia Tech offense to find some confidence to get on a roll. Simply put, Georgia Tech took it to Clemson and Clemson failed to respond.

            From an offensive perspective, Clemson missed Andre Ellington. I was excited to see what DJ Howard could do when it was announced he would start last Thursday. Not to say Howard cannot and will not be a productive back for the Tigers, he just does not have the intangibles and ball security of Andre Ellington. As talented as Mike Bellamy is, the youngster does not have the trust of the coaching staff to be left out there in key moments.

            The Georgia Tech defense known for being vanilla as a wafer came to life last night. Yellow Jacket defensive coordinator Al Groh dialed a blitz package that would have made Nick Saban smile last night. Once again, Clemson did not have an answer from an execution stand point. Once you are down 24-3, any defensive coordinator can cut it loose from a play calling perspective when they know you have to throw the ball and that is what Georgia Tech did.

            You can lose the turnover battle against a team like Maryland and still have a chance. You simply cannot turn the ball over four times, once in the red zone and expect to win against a team of Georgia Tech’s caliber. Running backs cannot fumble and sadly you throw enough passes when the defense knows you have to throw and you are likely to get one or two picked off, it is not a recipe for success.

            All was not lost last night. Sammy Watkins had another big night. The true freshman continues to shine. The young man from Naples, FL had ten catches for 159 yards and a touchdown catch. He was the lone bright spot on a night that Clemson would suffer its first loss of the year.

            Do not let the national pundits tell you anything about Clemson pulling a Clemson. It just was not the case, Georgia Tech dictated tempo and won the battle along the line of scrimmage throughout the ball game and that was the difference. As much as the idea of going undefeated was dancing in my head, I think you have to appreciate just how difficult it is to do.

            The season is not over for the 2011 Clemson Football team, with Wake Forest’s lost to North Carolina on Saturday, the matchup on November 12 will be for the Atlantic Division Championship. Simply, Clemson defeats Wake Forest and you can book your hotel rooms for Charlotte. The key thing to remember is that all of this team’s goals are still in front of it. Win the Division, Win the State Championship and Win the Conference.

            On a negative note, it was reported that the house where quarterback Tajh Boyd lives was egged last night following the game. It has been reported that his family has filed a complaint with the Clemson Police Department. Whoever was involved with this regardless of it were merely Halloween shenanigans or the incident was targeted as a response to the outcome of the game, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That type of behavior is juvenile and I dare say when the party or parties involved are caught they are likely going to wish they had not been involved with such a sophomoric act.

            Clemson heads into the off week and it could not come at a better time. This team is physically and mentally worn out, I strongly believe that time away from the field and each other will do this team a lot of good. I would imagine the team will practice two to three times this week. They will be off for the weekend, which will allow most of them to go home and get away from Clemson. I know that was a hurt locker room last night but I strongly believe that you will see a healthier and rejuvenated team take the field on November 12 Senior Day and the final home game for the 2011 season.

            Continue to keep your heads held high. Enjoy a weekend away from football. Though, I am excited to watch the LSU-Alabama game next Saturday night. The dream is still alive and we still have a lot to be excited about!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Day at the Office…..

           Joe Sherman could not have known the prophetic and transcendent power his words would have on future generations of Tigers when he wrote his essay “Something in these Hills”. I felt that intimate closeness as I entered the upstate of South Carolina last Saturday. I knew I was “home” when the reddest of rednecks started chatting football with me, speaking in barely intelligible southern English about how the NFL was going to come looking at Coach Morris. Maybe it was the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when you turn onto Fants Grove Road off of Highway 187 heading into Clemson.

            Maybe it has to do with the fact that I live 521 miles from the place I have lived longer than another place in my life? Could it have been the anticipation of seeing old friends and reconnecting with people I had not seen in awhile? Or was it the cool crisp fall weather that had cloaked the area prompting the early signs of fall color? It must have been the chance to see the 7-0 Clemson Tigers take on the North Carolina Tar Heels.

 I know most people who did not grow up in the south or have not known me for years have a hard time grasping my love and devotion for my alma mater. It came to a fever pitch the Friday before the Auburn game, when I was brought to tears that I would not be able to travel to Clemson for the Auburn game. At the time I was in need of surgery and was feeling as miserable as I had ever felt but I wanted to be in the one place that could make me forget about everything else….Clemson.

            There is always a rush of emotion as I enter the gates at Memorial Stadium, as I walk underneath the stands towards section E. I enter the portal, my heart starts to almost palpitate, I can here the angels beginning to sing, I can see the light leading me towards the Promised Land better known as “Death Valley.” Again, I know there are some who think I am crazy and I probably am but there is no place like home and that is what I felt Saturday as I finally got to see my Tigers play in person at in the friendly confines of Clemson, SC.

            It was one of those days where I tried to soak it all in. From the pregame festivities, to watching the Tigers run down the hill, the opening kickoff, half time and the post game singing of the alma mater. What a tremendous day to be alive in Clemson, SC.

            In the midst of all these emotions was a football game. A game that I was unsure of the outcome heading into the contest. Much had been written and talked about regarding the talent along the North Carolina defensive front seven. I had watched the undermanned 2010 edition of the Tar Heels dominate Clemson in Chapel Hill. I knew and I think the Tar Heel football staff knew they were facing a different animal last Saturday.

            It was not all that pretty early on but in typical 2011 Clemson fashion, these guys hung in there. You have to give North Carolina credit, they did a lot of different things especially on defense in an attempt to disrupt the Clemson offense. They played zone and dropped their corners off our receivers, they blitzed, UNC played zero coverage (no safety help, everyone is man to man because you are blitzing the everyone and the kitchen sink), they played quarters (zone defense with defensive backs responsible for ¼ of the field) but nothing worked. The fun part of Saturday is that Coach Morris and the offense had an answer for everything the Tar Heels tried to do and executed.

            This was not an issue of the stars aligning, it was an issue of being well coached and well prepared for a multitude of situations. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Tajh Boyd threw five touchdown passes to five different receivers in three quarters of play. Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins had 151 yards of receiving and a touchdown catch.

            The defense was not to be outdone on Saturday. The starters gave up 17 points before third and fourth team guys came at the start of the fourth quarter and gave up two touchdowns. It was good to see guys who we may need down the stretch or in the future get their feet wet for an entire quarter of football.  I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to fifth year senior Kourtnei Brown who scored two touchdowns Saturday, one via interception and the other by fumble recovery. The first time since 1958 a Clemson defensive player had scored multiple touchdowns in a game.

            All was not rosy from the game on Saturday. Clemson’s man based defense continues to be susceptible to the deep ball. Tar Heel quarterback Bryn Renner was able to complete two long touchdown passes against single coverage on Saturday. Clemson continues to miss kickoff specialist Spencer Benton who was lost to a broken collarbone in the Virginia Tech. The short kickoffs coupled with shoddy coverage leads to good field position for the opposition. It goes to say there is never a perfect game and there are always things to improve on.

            The Tigers are now 8-0 heading into a Saturday night primetime game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I do not care that Georgia Tech has lost two in a row, I do not care if their offensive production has taken a hit the last three games, it is Georgia Tech and the games between these two schools have a way of being too close for comfort.  2003 was the last time Clemson defeated the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium so any delusions of grandeur that the Tigers roll into the ATL and steamroll Georgia Tech is ludicrous.

            Offensively this Georgia Tech team set the world on fire to start the season rolling up staggering numbers. The Jackets rolled up 700-plus yards of offense on Kansas. While they have not come close to that type of production in conference games, the explosiveness is in place to where a defensive guy fails to do his job, they are playing the fight song.  Georgia Tech has good pieces, Tevin Washington their signal caller is capable of getting the ball to his playmakers on the perimeter. Tech has Stephen Hill a tall receiver who is capable of making plays in the pass game. Orwin Smith who plays a slot back position is a big time playmaker on the ground and through the air.

            Georgia Tech makes defenses play football the old fashion way. They do a lot of things to get you out of position or to lull you to sleep and it only takes one guy sleep walking for them to put six on the board quickly. Georgia Tech forces a defense to read, get off blocks, tackle, play with good pursuit and leverage. In today’s age of the spread you see teams utilize more hybrid type athletes to play certain positions to try to maximize speed on the field. What happens against the Yellow Jackets is the guy who has great speed, athleticism, can get sideline to sideline has to play down in the box with linemen and running backs leaning on them and you are asking them to process a lot of information each play, it can get dicey to say the least.

            Clemson is going to have to do an exceptional job of playing assignment football. You will hear the term “playing with your eyes” a lot this week. Whatever a defensive player’s key is they have to lock in on that assignment and nothing else or the Yellow Jacket band is going to be playing the fight song a lot of Saturday night.  In order for Clemson to be successful they are going to have to win the battle up front. It is simple as that. If Clemson gets pushed around, is not disciplined or fails to tackle, they will be in for a long evening.

            Clemson is going to find a motivated, desperate football team similar to the team they found in College Park, MD two weeks ago. Georgia Tech is an offensive football team that has lost its swagger in recent weeks. I assure you, it only takes a few plays for the Yellow Jackets to find their groove and get it going.
            On the defensive side of the ball, the Yellow Jackets are improving. The transition to the 3-4 defense is not something that takes hold over night. As they get the right personnel and more comfortable with the scheme they have improved their on field performance.  This is a Georgia Tech secondary that will go to great lengths to prevent big plays in the pass game. This has left them susceptible to give up yards on the ground at times but this is a blue-collar group who will force you to matriculate the ball down the field.

            The kicking game is going to be huge this week. I have talked about some of Clemson’s issues in the kickoff game. Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman seems prime for getting a punt block given how slow he is on his drop. The Jackets also struggle in various facets of the kicking game and there may be some opportunities for Clemson to take advantage. If I am Clemson and Georgia Tech is lined up to punt. I am playing my base defense I am sure I am identifying where guys are on the field. Tech Coach Paul Johnson is not afraid to call a fake from any point on the field.

            This is a game where Clemson has a personnel advantage at a lot of positions but unfortunately the game will not be played on paper. The Yellow Jackets present problems offensively, defensively and special teams. Can Clemson be physical on defense, play assignment football and tackle? Expect Georgia Tech to go deep early and often given our struggles against the deep pass. Can Georgia Tech take Clemson’s vertical passing game away? If they do can Tajh get the ball where it needs to be without turning the ball over? Will we see the run game get going after struggling against North Carolina? I am hearing that Andre Ellington will be limited this week, it may be an opportunity for Mike Bellamy or DJ Howard to step up if Ellington is limited.

            Interesting fact in recent history in Georgia Tech-Clemson match ups, close games have been won by the Yellow Jackets, the blowouts have been won by Clemson, we will see if that trend holds on Saturday. Tajh Boyd has to continue to play well, the offensive line that has improved during the course of the season have to play well against the odd front of Georgia Tech. Everyone should expect a four quarter battle in Atlanta, where if Clemson is not on their game, they will suffer their first defeat of the season.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

These boys are special....

            It was the of worst of times, it was the best of times. That pretty much sums up the game at Maryland Saturday night. I had grown more confident as the week went on but my worse fears that I had going back to when the game time was originally announced were fulfilled.  You saw a desperate Maryland team come out raring to go offensively and a Clemson team that looked like the clock had finally struck twelve.

            Despite the questionable opening kickoff return, the Clemson offense went down the field with relatively ease only to settle for a field goal after having the ball inside the three-yard line. Then the wheels promptly seemed to come off the bus. After getting a stop Clemson botched a punt return and gave Maryland the ball inside their ten-yard line and would score a touchdown a few plays later. On the following Clemson offensive possession, Clemson threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

            It was 14-3 Maryland and many Clemson fans were thinking this ain’t good. Clemson would find itself down 28-10 at one point in the first half before cutting the lead to 28-17 with two minutes before halftime. At this point it was apparent the offense was starting to find itself. Tajh Boyd who had looked like a dumpster fire early on, had settled down and there was a sense that the only team that could stop the Clemson offense was the Clemson offense.

            The turning point for me was when Maryland got the ball after Clemson had cut the lead to 28-17. If you remember the Terps quarterback, CJ Brown had gone up and down the field with ease throughout the first half. Despite getting the ball deep in Clemson territory, if I was the Maryland Head Coach, I have to try to get points before half. I understood his thinking, Maryland got the ball to start the second half no need to risk it. Maybe under ordinary circumstances I would agree.

            It was clear, however that Maryland was going to need all the points it could get if they were going to pull off the upset. At that point momentum had shifted towards the guys in orange, I thought Coach Edsall and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton would be more aggressive before the half. One run up the middle and a quarterback kneel and it was halftime. It was apparent to me and a lot of Clemson fans that Randy Edsall knew he was the luckiest man on the planet.

            You have to give Maryland credit they came out and started the second half by going down the field and scoring a touchdown like the Clemson scout team defense was on the field. It was 35-17 yet most Clemson fans in the stands felt like there was too much football remaining and were confident this team would respond.

            And boy did this team respond. The Tigers outscored Maryland 39-17 in the second half. The defense finally came up with a few stops when we had to have them. I have to admit, I was the only Clemson fan on the planet who was pissed off when Sammy Watkins went 89 yards on a kickoff return. Maryland had just scored and we were about to put a tired defense right back on the field against a Terrapin offense that had shown it could sustain drives. At that point I wanted to see Clemson sustain a drive, run some clock and take the lead. Good thing for Clemson the defense came up with a huge stop and several plays later Andre Ellington sealed the win for the Tigers with a 44-yard touchdown run.

            Speaking of Andre Ellington, can the boy get some love? The junior from Moncks Corner, SC ran for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns Saturday night.  Let that marinate for a minute. Andre Ellington rushed for over 200 yards in a game and no one is talking about it. CJ Spiller was the last Clemson back to rush for over 200 yards when he ran for 233 yards against Georgia Tech in 2009.

            I love Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Dwayne Allen and Tajh Boyd but Clemson had a running back rush for over 200 yards in a football game and that needs to be recognized. Credit needs to be given to the offensive line that asserted its will on the Maryland defense throughout the game. It was fun watching Ellington look like his old self, gracefully gutting the Terrapin defense.

            Ladies and Gentlemen, this Clemson team is special. I have been to Byrd Stadium more times than I would like to admit and seen Clemson teams embarrass themselves. It looked like they were on their way to another disappointing crash landing in College Park last Saturday. This team was not going to be denied. Overcoming two 18-point deficits to ultimately win by 11 points is no small feat. I saw a team show no panic and poise in a tough situation. We know how previous teams would have responded.

            To go on the road and weather the storm like they did is something special. There is no other way today say it. You look back and you see teams who have special seasons and there is always a game or two where they are forced to respond during a less than stellar performance. This team persevered and was able to improve its record to 7-0.
            In come the Tar Heels from Chapel Hill for a noon kickoff at Death Valley. The trials and tribulations of the North Carolina football program have been well documented over the past two years. The biggest surprise came a week before fall camp started when then Head Coach Butch Davis was relieved of his duties.

            The Heels come into the game on Saturday with a 5-2 record with losses to Georgia Tech and Miami. Last week the Tar Heels fell behind early and saw their comeback bid fall short in the closing seconds. This is a team with good players, many who were recruited by Clemson, including Tar Heel receiver Dwight Jones who was once committed to Clemson but was told he would not earn admissions to Clemson and signed with North Carolina. Yes, try to figure that one out.

            North Carolina is led by Springfield, VA native Bryn Renner who has had a nice year through seven games, completing 75% of passes. Freshman running back Giovani Bernard comes into the contest on Saturday having rushed for at least 100 yards in the last five games. You couple that with Dwight Jones who is slightly ahead of Sammy Watkins in receiving statistics, the Clemson defense will have their hands full on Saturday. They are not flashy, but they are content executing their offense and taking their shots down the field when appropriate. The Tar Heel offensive line is huge averaging 320 pounds across the front, they also are experienced. Clemson is going to have to play well to have chance to slow down the efficient North Carolina offense.

            The UNC defense comes into Death Valley yielding only 109 yards of rushing offense per game. The Tar Heel defense is led by linebacker Zach Brown and defensive end Quinton Coples who is a sure first early round NFL draft pick.  Things are not so rosy in the North Carolina secondary where the Tar Heels are giving up 250 yards through the air per contest.

            There will be opportunities to make plays through the air and the Tigers will have to run it enough to win against a solid UNC team. I expect the game to be a close contest. North Carolina is certain to take their shots deep throughout the game on Saturday. Slowing down the running back Bernard is going to be important in slowing down the Carolina play action pass game.

            The Tigers can’t sleep walk this week. Another slow start coupled with a fast start by Carolina could prove costly. I do not think the Clemson faithful will allow that this week. There is an article circulating quoting UNC quarterback Bryn Renner talking about Death Valley as being no worse than ECU. Bless is Northern Virginia heart. I think Mr. Renner has provided the juice Clemson fans needed as noon approaches on Saturday.