Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Low man wins......

There comes a point during the dog days of summer as we inch closer to the beginning of the season where many fans hang on any information that is not hypothetical semantics. By this point If…then statements are integral parts of conversations when trying to size up the upcoming fall. I came across an article written by Charleston Post and Courier reporter and Clemson beat writer Travis Sawchick on Clemson center Dalton Freeman that provided a confirmation and a glimmer of hope.

Given the attention we give to recruiting classes, starting quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers, corners, it is easy for the big uglies along the offensive line to get lost in the shuffle. This article is one I would imagine many people would likely to gloss over due to the mundane nature of offensive line play. Clemson’s line play during the past 13 seasons has often left something to be desired. I can recall early in Tommy Bowden‘s tenure when the line was under the tutelage of Ron West that we saw the offensive line play football the way it is meant to be played. Many Tiger fans will remember the 2006 season and the line that included Nathan Bennett, Dustin Fry and Roman Fry. Lets be frank with each other, the offensive line at Clemson has been soft as a baby’s bottom for quite some time now.

I have been screaming from the rafters about this for sometime. I assure you folks in Section E in Death Valley can vouch for my meltdowns along with people who have had the pleasure of being around me at road games. How many times have we watched Clemson offenses stumble in 3rd and short situations?

The most sickening moment that stands out in my mind was the 2004 game against Georgia Tech. It had been a typical Clemson-Georgia Tech slugfest that found the Tigers up by less than a touchdown with under five minutes to go. Tech had punted and all Clemson had to do was get one first down and game over. North Augusta product Reggie Meriwether gains 9 yards easy on first down. Everyone in the stadium was feeling good. 2nd and 1, this is all but a formality right? In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend”. 2nd and 1 out of a tight formation Clemson hands off up the middle and the running back is stuffed for a short gain. Ok, give the Tech defense credit they bowed up and made a stand but 3rd and less than 1, no problem. We get the first down, I am on my way back to Atlanta to gloat at church with my orange tie on. 3rd and 1, I am squirming in the stands like I usually do but still confident that I will be able to exhale and we will all go home happy. The quarterback hands off to the running back and he is stuffed for a short loss. It is now 4th down, deep in our own territory and we have to punt. In a matter of 2 plays the crowd went from near jubilation to having their rectal area puckered. Remember Clemson had 2nd and 1 with an opportunity to seal the game and could not convert.

My good friend @jeffbaltes knows what ensued on 4th down and Tech’s first play from scrimmage. On a side note he has a wonderful story about that game and the closing moments of that infamous game that you should ask him about.

It is moments like 2004 Georgia Tech that stick in the craw of Clemson fans. While the instances escape me. The frustration of not being able to sustain drives, being able to convert in key situations however does not.

There is a quote in Sawchick’s article where Dalton Freeman makes an important statement regarding new offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell. It is a quote that if you know the game of football or watched Clemson play over the last 15 years, you might set yourself on fire.

Freeman says in reference to Caldwell, “He’s a real old-school type of coach. Coach Scott was very detailed; he was into some of the more modern techniques as far as (angle blocking) and getting the right hand placement”. Freeman continues, “Coach Caldwell is more old-school: straight off the ball, hit them in the mouth and knock them out.”

This confirms the realness of the Twilight Zone that Clemson fans have been living through since the departure of Rich Rodriguez is that we have been SOFT along the offensive front. That softness hit a fever pitch when the offense was under the leadership of Rob Spence. We were the softest, most poorly coached zone blocking team in the nation. I still have nightmares of watching Clemson offensive linemen twisting one direction, while either catching a defender as he drives them back into the backfield or knifing through the gap created and making a play in the backfield.

You cannot play paddy cake on any level of football, especially FBS football. We have been subjected to rhetoric year after year from the head coach. I could give a presser right now, “This team needs to get tougher” a coach continues, “we are working on becoming a more physical football team.” With all due respect, you ain’t worried about being tough or physical when you are worried about taking the right steps and your hand placement. I do know enough about football that you have to play with good feet and excellent handwork but you know what I am talking about.

We are in an era of the spread offense, where so much attention is given to skill players but there is a timeless aspect of the game that has not changed and will never change and that is the team who is able to control the line of scrimmage is going to win the football game. It does not matter what type of offense you run, it all starts upfront, you can have the perfect play called but if your line cannot hold up, you never have a chance.

Go back to the national title game last year. All the attention was given to the Oregon offense but when it came to game time Auburn won the ball game with their play along both lines. Go back and watch Clemson games from the past few years, when they were successful they were winning the battle up front more often than not.

Folks football is the simplest game on the planet. You have to have a bunch of mean SOBs along your offensive line who fire off the football and change the line of scrimmage in the offense’s favor. Find me a team who won a championship with suspect line play. Crickets….Crickets….Crickets. You will not find one.

I am cautiously optimistic that under Coach Caldwell’s tutelage that we will see the more physical line play that we have been longing for. This is a team with a lot of experience returning along the offensive line, they have been through the ups and downs, they seem to have taken to this new offense. Rhetorically they have bought into Coach Caldwell’s way of doing things now it is time to do it against someone in a different jersey.

We can talk all we want about the new scheme being implemented by Coach Morris but much of the success and failure we will have early on will come from the play of the offensive line and their ability to create holes for our running backs and keep Tajh Boyd upright. It is just that simple. I will be focusing on our line play as we tee things up on Saturday. Remember when Andre Ellington breaks a long run or Dwayne Allen hauls in a long pass, it all started with the big uglies up front.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Thank You......

I had just spent a few days in Atlanta attending the PGA Championship when the talk of conference expansion had crept back into the conscience of college football fans. This time it was Texas A&M seeking membership to the Southeastern Conference. If you want to fill time on message boards, radio shows, twitter feeds, facebook statuses, mention conference realignment and you will set off a frenzy.

I remember stepping off the plane at Reagan Airport where I was a greeted with a ESPN breaking news text that Texas A&M was moving to the SEC and that Missouri, Florida State and Clemson were likely to follow. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Lets not BS, I was pumped!!! Trips to the Swamp, playing Georgia every year, the South Carolina game would become a conference game, trips every now and then to Tiger Stadium, a trip to the Grove were all dancing through my head.

Being the irrational fan that we all tend to be, I began contriving just how Clemson could make it to Atlanta and how awesome it would be to watch my Tigers run onto the field to take on a Western Division foe for a chance for a trip to the Sugar Bowl or National Title game. I was quickly awakened from my drunken like stupor when I allowed an ounce of reality creep into my delusions of grandeur.

I have gone back and forth about how a potential move to the SEC would impact Clemson football. The trips to SEC venues would be fun. I have be real, if think life is frustrating during the fall as a member of the ACC, having not won an ACC Title since 1991, finding my team missing the ACC Championship Game countless years by one game, life in the SEC is not going to be much better. Overnight Clemson goes from being in the conversation to Mississippi State and Ole Miss overnight. Mississippi State had a nice run in the 90s but paid dearly for it with probation and Ole Miss with Eli Manning under center was unable to knock down the door to the SEC title game.

Another factor most Clemson fans forget about is the 10 plus year drive by the current president and administration at Clemson towards a goal of reaching Top 20 status as a public institution. Clemson fans who follow recruiting will remember Dwight Jones and Jheraine Boyd being one time Clemson commits but ending up at UNC because they would have not have been granted admission to Clemson. You see where I am going with this.

Speaking of our Tar Heel comrades, I came across an article found on the Charlotte Observer website that brought to light the lengths our friends in Chapel Hill were taking in an effort to win big in football. I will let you read the article to get all the gory details but it turns out that former Tar Heel defensive tackle Marvin Austin, yes the guy who was at the center of the agent scandal, was enrolled in a 400-level African American Studies seminar class during his first summer at UNC. The article notes that Austin’s alleged score on the SAT writing section required him to enroll in a remedial writing class before proceeding with further class work.

As most know, 400-level course work entails upper level study, that often includes extensive reading and writing assignments. At the University of North Carolina a “student” who needed remedial writing was enrolled in a seminar level course? The same University of North Carolina that loves to flaunt its self proclaimed academic supremacy allowed its academic pedigree to be sold to the devil in the name of winning?

I will be the first one to tell you that I want to win as much as any one. I will tell you that under no circumstances should a student-athlete be admitted to the University of North Carolina and not Clemson. Under no circumstances should any freshman let alone one with the apparent academic deficiencies of those comparable to those demonstrated by Austin be enrolled as a first time university student in a 400-level class.

According to the article Austin went on to earn a B+ in the class. For real? While by the time I was an upper classman taking upper level seminar courses in my interest areas were relatively easy in that I was able to do well because I had a genuine interest for the subject matter but more importantly I had developed the high level thinking and writing skills necessary to demonstrate proficiency in the class. Two takeaways, I was an upper classman and had developed the skills and knowledge to complete the class while maintaining academic integrity.

I am not accusing Austin of cheating but I am calling the University of North Carolina administration to task in allowing this to happen. It is this article that sealed my opinion on any move to the SEC. Not no but HECK NO!!

I am not carrying water for President Barker. I will leave my thoughts on him for another day. However, to compete in the SEC. This is the type of stuff that goes on likely on a systemic level with football players and other athletes. I get it, many student athletes are granted admissions to institutions they would not otherwise be granted admissions if it were not for their superior athletic prowess. However, you cross the line when you completely jeopardize the academic integrity of an institution by enrolling a student in a course that if graded as typical student he or she would likely fail miserably is just wrong.

Yes, I am envious of the SEC with their on the field success. But SEC schools are running borderline prostitution rings in their football programs in the name of winning. Apparently, the some of our ACC colleagues were trying to model themselves after the SEC in the name of victories. I know wins in football can prove lucrative for an institution and I want to win as much as anybody but not at the cost of another human being. My perspective after spending time on the inside of a D1 football program is different, I see college athletes as human beings, not mercenaries who are forgotten when their eligibility is up.

Clemson has a lot of be proud of with the advent of Vickery Hall and the academic support it offers athletes. Clemson’s APR and graduation rates have been in the upper third of the ACC and the nation. Somewhere within the halls of the Clemson administration they see athletes as people who will ultimately, “go pro in something else other than sports.” In order to be competitive Clemson would have to take steps that would greatly undermine the integrity of the university with practices similar to those taken by UNC and likely a step further with the creation of jock majors.

Maybe I am getting older but I am just not comfortable with that reality. As long as the ACC maintains a BCS automatic birth and the conference remains moderately viable to the point where Clemson is able to recruit and graduate upper echelon athletes, I am ok with remaining in the ACC. The ACC remains winnable and I believe real steps have been taken to make Clemson a viable competitor within the conference for the next several years.

I just cannot support a move to the SEC. I can’t sign off on having my degree put in jeopardy because of a game. Maybe other institutions are comfortable with such a move but I am not.

Disclaimer: I am not fully aware of the current class enrollment polices at Clemson for student athletes. If I were to become aware of such practices as noted in the Charlotte Observer article, I would be sure to reevaluate my status as a financial supporter of Clemson and IPTAY. I would bring such practices to the public light. I also realize that any invite to the SEC for Clemson would likely be blocked by South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Let's see how this plays out......

I am going to attempt to be better about writing more often this season. This follows the privilege to do some writing leading up to this upcoming season from a buddy on twitter @hokieguru. It has my juices flowing again and I love sharing my thoughts and opinions on my favorite sport in the world.

Now on to the good stuff.....I read a blog written by Scott Rhymer who hosts the Tiger Pregame Show on August 6 ( regarding the new media policies being implemented by Coach Swinney with regard to the football program.

Some of the highlights of the new media policy include:

* No in-depth one-on-one interviews with local media

* Only coordinators will be made available to the media.

* Freshmen will not be available to the media until after the first game

* Graduate Assistants, Strength Coaches, Player Development Staff will not be available at any time.

* National Media is able to call the SID Office and sign up for an in-depth interview.

As one might expect, the changes prompted some terse responses, especially by the folks who cover Clemson football on the local level. To an extent I fully understand the frustration of the local media members. I tune into WCCP and always enjoy hearing from the coaching staff and other members of the Clemson athletic department as much as anybody. I too was concerned about the content that would be available. Would there be content available that would warrant my continued subscription to pay sites? Would the content released from the Clemson AD be so vague that it raised more questions than answers?

I can say three practices into Fall Camp 2011 that there is still plenty of good content out there about what is going on with Clemson Football. I am not looking to end any subscriptions. I am probably in the minority in this in that I am becoming more and more fascinated with Coach Swinney's more centralized approach to media relations.

I have to preface my comments to say I was a communications major and I worked in politics in Washington, D.C. for a little over two years so I have an intimate understanding of the strategy of one message, one voice. The fewer people talking the better. Sadly, the actions taken by Coach Swinney are largely a response to the technology age we live in....I am not sure what people want. We live in the 24 hour news cycle. Nothing happens in secret anymore and there are people out there lurking for someone to say something that can create a story. We have seen lately stories take a life of their own, I can understand when programs take a hard look at media access and messaging.

By writing this blog I do not proclaim to be a member of the media. I do not foresee myself trying to turn this into a press pass. I like so many people, like to engage in conversation about a game I love very much and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to air those thoughts. I made the comment to someone recently, I cannot stand the stupid questions asked by many members of the media. So asking stupid questions for a living is probably not in my future. I do not know how many coaches, athletes and officials do not lose their minds more often given the juvenille and pestering questions presented by journalists.

Back to the task at hand...this is a Clemson football program that has brought about much consternation to many over the last 20 years. At one point it was the facilities, it was recruiting, it was one play away, it was coaching, it was the fans, it always has been something with Clemson football. In a time period that saw Wake Forest jump up and win the ACC, Clemson fans, coaches, administrators have been left scratching their head and left saying at the end of the season, "How in the hell did we lose to those guys?" This comes as we are watching another Atlantic Division foe take the field in the ACC Championship game where Clemson is left sitting at home often due to a loss to an inferior conference opponent during the season.

Here we are in 2011. Still no ACC title, Clemson does have improved facilities, recruiting is as good as it has been since the beginning of the 85 scholarship rule, fan support is still good, Clemson is spending big money on its coaching staff, maybe a change in media access is the missing link to Clemson winning its first ACC Title since 1991?

Probably not.....Lets not forget Clemson went 6-7 last year. The energy surrounding the Clemson football program hit an all time low in late December after a dissappointing loss to USF in the bowl game. Feelings began to change upon the firing of OC Billy Napier, RB Coach Andre Powell and the retirement of OL Coach Brad Scott. The addition of Chad Morris, Tony Elliot, and Robbie Caldwell changed the morale of the Tiger faithful almost overnight. The return of Marion Hobby was also big after Chris Rumph left for Alabama.

In the wake of all these changes a full review on how things are done was not only a good move but a must. Of course the media restrictions are going to make the most headlines of course but do we really need to hear from a freshman? I love Coach Batson but is lacking access to him the end of the world? I personally believe that we have solid members of the media on the Clemson beat who will be able to produce worthwhile content.

I know, I know we are all eager to here from some of the members of what many experts claim could be one of the best signing classes ever to set foot on the Clemson campus. I am of the opinion that recruiting classes should be evaluated 4 years later not five months before they even step on campus.

This is where I can provide authoritative insight into what is going on into what is happening not only in Clemson but in Columbia, Auburn, Athens, Tallahassee, and so on. You have 17-18 year old KIDS many of who just 6 weeks ago left home for the first time, have entered an academic world that is much less forgiving and more rigorous than they previously had, they have been subjected to conditioning unlike anything they have ever dreamed up, now they are processing schemes, steps and competing against other teammates who may have 4 years of experience on them.

They have more than enough to keep their attention and worry about that we can wait to here from them later.

Maybe because I am relatively young, I can still remember my freshmen year like it was yesterday and the learning curve was STEEP to say the least. I know we live in the an age where kids are anointed the second coming before they are out of diapers but at the end of the day football is a results oriented game. Lets give Steward, Anthony, Peake, Bellamy, Watkins and the rest of the gang a chance to go through camp, see if they can earn time and we will hopefully be hearing from the a lot throughout this year. Lets say the light does not come on immediately for these guys, it does not mean that their career is over. I hope for the sake of the team and of the player that the coaching staff does not put a player on the field who is not ready to perform at a high level.

Lets chill. Lets enjoy the good content that is widely available about our team and let the results on the field speak for themselves.