Wednesday, 30 December 2009

S.C. State and playing the freshmen

I'm working on the midseason basketball update, but in the meantime I thought I would comment on last night's game.

Ugly game from Clemson against, statistically speaking, arguably the worst opponent the team has faced this season. I think the tendency will be to chalk this up as the result of a rusty team looking ahead to an ACC opener against the hated Duke Blue Devils. (From the sportswriter's perspective, the storyline practically writes itself.) Clearly, it was a near-disastrous game where the Tigers played lax defense until the final minutes and failed to hit any free throws down the stretch while SC State seemed to get just about every bounce, deflection, and borderline call to go there way. Clemson is really, really lucky this didn't end up in the "bad loss" column for the selection committee to see come March. (It also raises the question as to when "near-bad losses" will start to enter the selection criteria...)

The most interesting part of the game for me, however, was Purnell's willingness to stick with a lot of freshmen on the floor for the first 10-12 minutes of the second half, even after it became clear that SC State was chipping away at the lead and primed to make a run. As we've stated before on the blog, for Clemson to really contend in the ACC this season they need at least one or two of the freshmen to get comfortable in the system and really start contributing, particularly on the offensive end. I'm wondering if the coaching staff isn't a little bit exasperated at this point. Here is the most highly-touted recruiting class in years and years at Clemson and with the possible exception of Devin Booker, we've yet to see anyone flash even the promise of becoming a star at Clemson. My sense was today Purnell was willing to risk a close(r) game in order to give Johnson and Jennings every opportunity to succeed in a sort of sink-or-swim fashion (not giving them any veteran support). Unfortunately, the strategy didn't seem to help matters and it nearly ended up costing Clemson in the win column.

So what gives? Is this a case of 1) over-hyped talent, 2) a failure on the coaching staff's part to successfully integrate new talent into the system, or 3) is everything going to be fine and we just need to accept that the learning curve is really steep for these players? If you've been following the blog, I've been more or less advocating #3 while cautioning against the possibility that #2 becomes something of a reality. Now that the ACC preseason is over, I'm not so sure anymore. I'm still leaning towards #3, but #2 is becoming more and more of a possibility. Purnell may have made a critical error by awarding scholarships to the best available talent; talent which may or may not ever really "fit" into his brand of basketball. Let's be brutally honest: Jennings and Johnson have looked more or less lost offensively--flat-footed and standing around most of the time. They've been even worse on defense, barely contributing to the press and even struggling to play solid defense in the half-court. Hill has, at least, shown flashes of being a potential contributor on defense, but again hasn't shown anything on offense. I really hope this is setting off alarm after alarm in every meeting Purnell holds with the other coaches and that this is a constant topic of discussion, because the team's prospects for the season (to say nothing of the ceiling of success for the program in the future) depend on integration of superior offensive talent.

To be clear, everything is not lost. One observation that favors #3 over #2 is that Jennings and Johnson are really being asked to do a lot all at once. This isn't a case similar to when, for example, Oglesby was brought in. When he first joined the team his primary responsibility was to get open on the offensive end and drain threes. He worked on other aspects of his game as time went on, without the pressure of being a force on defense by the time game #15 of his collegiate career came around. Another example is Trevor Booker, who was expected to provide a post presence underneath on offense while blocking a few shots on defense in his first year, while gradually building the other parts of his game. This could be an easy way for the coaches to assist Jennings, Johnson, and Hill. Give them some roles to focus on in individual games--I get the feeling these guys are just being asked to do too much at once. With a little focus they might be able to ground themselves a little better.

Unfortunately, the counter-argument to the preceding paragraph is that these freshmen are supposed to be tremendous athletes. The coaching staff could be perfectly justified in setting high expectations for their adjustment into the Clemson system. This also raises the discomforting but ultimately unavoidable notion that once you start considering #2, you have to also consider #1.

I don't have the answers, but I felt like throwing this out. The result of all this is that we may need to temper our expectations for the season. From my vantage point, 10 ACC wins is looking more and more like a goal to be achieved rather than a given. I said in the season preview that Clemson needed at least one of the four freshmen to emerge in the ACC preseason. As it turns out, I was wrong. We really need one of the three non-Booker freshmen to emerge, because Devin Booker's role is filled by Trevor. Of course it's great that Devin looks is able to come in and spell Trevor for a few minutes at a time without a significant drop-off on the offensive end, but the Tigers need someone else to provide us with an upgrade in a slot that doesn't already feature our best position player. The great news for Clemson fans, though, is Devin Booker looks like the real deal, which should relieve concerns about lack of an inside presence next season.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sweet Music At The Gaylord Bowl

Got a defensive stop and were able to run the ball out. Thought Harper and Ellington looked good. Parker has matured and with more focus could be a great QB. We really need McDaniel to stick around, he was a beast. Goodman and Hawkins making some progress. We had too many penalties and arm tackles towards the end but looked good overall on D. I was on the Kentucky boards and they were not happy with Joker's play calling...sounded oddly familiar.

We finish 9-5 and won the division. How many of you predicted that? I said we would be in the Orange bowl but thats cause I am a hopeless optimist but I also thought that CJ could have that kind of impact. I think you have to call this season a success, we were one drive away from a BCS bowl game but we actually accomplished some things--won the Atlantic, won a bowl finally, and had a Heisman candidate who finished 6th in the balloting. If McDaniel comes back and we improve the linebacker play, get some WR's to step up and the O-Line stays relatively injury free we can easily compete for a BCS bowl birth again. Remember this was the first year with a brand spanking new OC and defensive system. We can expect some level of automatic progression heading into the second year of the system.

Dabo has done alright. We know he is not happy with being mediocre and will keep pushing to be the best, hopefully we can start winning championships before he plateau's. 9-5--I'll take it this year but we need to beat USC and be in the Orange next year--year three is the natl championship...haha (deep down inside I'm kinda serious though!)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Re-emerging for a post or two

I've been working the 12-14 hour day again the past three weeks or so. I'm still lacking much of any free time, but things have calmed down a bit and I thought I'd chime in with a few thoughts here and there. It sucks to condense the last few seismic weeks in Clemson sporting into bullet points, but it also sucks I was stuck in working hell at the same time.

  • I'll just go ahead and say what everyone else is thinking: we have no chance on Sunday against Kentucky. It doesn't even matter we match up fairly well against Kentucky, after this season's colossal collapse, I can't see the team showing up motivated for a semi-away game in the Gaylord's Bowl. It would take a miracle motivator; and even though that's one of the reasons why we hired Swinney, I don't see it.
  • I think this season has once again exposed the fallacy of hiring based on intangibles. We can all agree that the coaching got better as the season progressed, and by and large this was a more satisfying style of play for Clemson fans to watch, but Swinney did little to alleviate the problem with the team not inexplicably showing up to play certain weeks (see Maryland, Sakerlina). 2 times this season (plus a likely third in the bowl game), including a game against a team that failed to beat another ACC team, that's not much better than a Tommy Bowden season.
  • Dabo Swinney has his work cut out for him. Ultimately, an 8-6 season is acceptable given this was basically the expectation going in (with a Division title added in as a bonus). But he really could have used something more to help him ride out next year. With the talent coming off the roster in various skill positions combined with a cratering in recruitment efforts (documented by ClemBen in the previous posts), he's gonna be relying solely on his and his staff's coaching ability to somehow improve the team next season. Heaven help us. Something north of .500 next year will be an accomplishment.
  • I fully believe Swinney will have three seasons to establish himself, but his final record in season 3 will be a big part of how long he lasts at Clemson. Unfortunately, as far as having the players needed to address the teams' shortcomings, things aren't looking much better for season 3 than season 2.
  • On to basketball: ClemBen's been covering things just fine in my absence. I would just echo that this team can get better and should get better as the season progresses. To be honest, I think Purnell has struggled a bit to get the freshmen to fit in the system. While these are talented freshmen, they are not the kind of talent that Purnell has picked up in the past.
  • There's still time for the freshmen to improve this season. Obviously we didn't see as much as we would have liked in the pre-ACC season. But Jennings and Devin Booker have looked slightly better as the season has progressed (albeit against vastly inferior opposition). Johnson needs to find his shot, its taken him way too long to get calibrated to the college game.
  • Purnell is spreading the minutes around even deep into the pre-ACC season. I really hope this pays dividends at the end of the season and we don't see a drop-off in energy level as the season progresses, particularly with so many freshmen unaccustomed to the longer seasons.
  • Kenpom's player ratings are out, and have been updated now through the College of Charleston game. A summary really deserves a post of its own, but just to hit some highlights:
  • Tanner Smith has the second best offensive rating on the team. This highlights 2 problems, first, as ClemBen has hit on, Tanner Smith is not the team's answer on offense. He plays okay against inferior competition, but if you recall he completely disappeared in league play last year. To my eyes, he's really not much better this year. He's playing a little sharper in defense and maybe passing the ball a bit better, but he's not shooting the ball particularly well, handling the ball well, and he's completely out of control when he goes to the hoop. Second, Tanner Smith's rating highlights the problems Booker has had getting out of the blocks this season. He's been trying to expand his role by driving to the hoop and its hurting the team. He needs to get back into the blocks and concentrate on finishing plays. As ClemBen said, more solid 4/5 play, please.
  • Andre Young is crushing Demontez Stitt in just about every measurable category except one: percentage of minutes played. This is disappointing, because it reinforces the image of Purnell as a coach who tends to favor veterans even when they are not the best performers. In fairness its not completely one-sided. Stitt is sitting at 68.3% minutes played while Yound is at 57.5%. As we've documented before, Stitt has his uses; he's the best option for Clemson when they need to create off the dribble, and his assist total this year is starting to reflect the fact that he's looking to pass at the rim instead of looking for the shot. But his turnover rate is right where it was last year, before ACC play even begins. I'd like to see the minute percentages between the two at least flipped by the end of the season.
  • Despite the wailing about the lack of three-point shooting, we've actually been doing pretty well. Despite his recent struggles, Potter is at .478 for the season and Andre Young is the best player at .404. Great numbers all around, really, with Stitt unexpectedly logging a .353 and Noel Johnson sitting at 11-31. The only difference is the drop in the total number of shots, but I think we expected that coming in and I don't think its necessarily a bad thing. We need to work more off Booker inside. I expect Potter to regress much more as the season goes along, but hopefully Johnson or Smith pick up the slack.
  • On the team level, Kenpom has Clemson ranked 6. Pay no attention, its still too early.
  • FT% is back to 2007-2008 levels. Very disappointing--this team has the skill to be a better FT shooting team. The excuses I gave last year don't hold water anymore. Hopefully this is just related to the recent swoon we've seen from Trevor Booker at the line, and hopefully he rights himself soon.
  • The win over Western Carolina is nice, I think they will be serious contenders for the Southern Conference title, which could add a footnote to our tourney resume come March.
  • To again echo ClemBen, when someone asks me the biggest problem facing the basketball team, I don't hesitate to say "turnovers, turnovers, turnovers". Got to hang on to the ball in the halfcourt set. We are giving up way too many possessions. Switching out Young for Stitt helps, but Smith and Young need to improve as well.
  • I'm not as optimistic as ClemBen on our prospects for the ACC season. I felt in order to really contend we needed a freshmen or two to quickly become significant contributors, which hasn't happened yet. Right now, I think a 10-6 ACC finish is a realistic expectation.

Merry Christmas/Happy New Year everyone. And GO TIGERS!!!!

Merry Christmas!!

Just wanted to wish the entire Tiger Nation family a Merry Christmas! Best of luck in the new year!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Western Carolina Catamount Reaction: Booker Brother Bookends??

Another good performance overall, but being the critic I am and looking towards ACC play lets breakdown a few things. We are still really sloppy with the ball. Stitt had eight assists tonight but he turns it over so much. They ran a 1-4 offense set which allowed them to get some open looks. We did an alright rotating, which we are doing a lot better in--basically because the freshman have learned what to do. But I absolutely hate the Stitt, Potter, Young, Smith, Grant line-up because they cant rebound. Potter and Tanner cant rebound like forwards and Grant has always had trouble rebounding strong, he is adequate but needs Booker. Whats worse is the 16-32 FT shooting, which is very troubling. OP has always said that they need to just recruit better FT shooters and we give him a pass. Now he has all his kids and we are regressing, something needs to be done--its becoming an area of concern. Booker has regressed in a major way, 8-17 just dont cut it.

Booker looked more comfortable in the paint tonight, looking like the more dominant force he was at the end of last year. I think it was the intl play and talk of the draft that had him trying to look more like an NBA 3 than a college basketball monster at the 4 or 5. We forget that Booker played center his freshman and sophomore season almost exclusively. Ok Booker had a monster game but Devin Booker continues to impress me. He makes it so easy for guards to pass it in to him, he has been schooled on how to set himself for the entry pass and the guards are learning how to throw it in--well Potter, Stitt and sometimes Smith still need to improve but Booker Jr. is going to be big off the bench and keeps improving his defense. Right now I am calling it--the Booker Brother Bookends! Or something like that, its trademarked...any reporter must now reference this blog or your a bad journalist...haha. Bookend Bookers may be better(a play on the Bamberg bookends??). Anyway, its clear the brothers feed off of each other and I think Devin pushes TBook to play more aggressive and flashy. Lots of sweet flushes when the two were in together tonight--think they made Sportscenter...

Jennings also provided a nice spark off the bench and was really active--getting some rebounds, put backs and energy. Hopefully now he can step back and let his offense come to him some more.

So rebounding and turnovers were the big problems. Our press looked a little crisper too, Booker is really quite good at the point--that is where the press is most poignant. Noel Johnson took a small step backwards though, I'm not a fan of Potter who went 1-5. Johnson only took one shot. Lastly for all you Narcisse fans--tonight was a perfect example why he shouldnt play more than the other freshman. He comes in and gives you energy, but its risky. He turns it over way too much to be a regular offensive substitution. You cant have your prime bench players coming in and screwing up the flow of the offense. Put him in for a defensive or offensive spark that is limited to ten minutes a game as he learns how to better manage himself within the flow of the offense. Like I've said before, it can come but his ceiling is so much lower than a Jennings, Devin Booker, or even Donte Hill I think going forward. I thought Hill showed us something last game and was disappointed not to see him tonight. Bobo gain some weight! If he had any kind of big man presence he would be so dangerous...maybe next year...

Nice win Tigers, we get a week break and then a tune up for Duke with SC State which is nice. I really want us to take it to a highly ranked but suspect Duke team. Would be a nice upset that vaults us in the top 15 at least...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Recruiting Update: Jeff Scott is Flailing

Well take all of my earlier optimism about recruiting and dump it in the trash. I thought we would have Gibson and Garcia, and then you add to that a LB and possible RB--you got a good class. Is Dan Brooks the only guy who can recruit?

Garcia is going to Maryland?? For a stupid journalism school? I have a Masters from USC's (the real one) Annenberg school for Communication and Journalism--they are the same thing...line the whole Commun faculty up around the block and undergrad degree in journalism compared to comm is pure semantics. Clemson actually has a good new media/interactive media program--this is a failure, the coaches misread this and didnt sell those top 20 academics (the ones that keep out all the good recruits) enough. How is UNC able to recruit lower scoring athletes than us is beyond me...staggering.

Shaking has a better take on this than me, so go read their post here. I too am upset that we didnt even offer the JUCO but that better mean we have a LB nailed down, like silent commit style. How can Steele be ok with this when LB is obviously the gaping hole in the D? One LB recruit wont cut it...I think Jeff Scott is a much weaker recruiting coordinator than Napier was. Its true that this year was going to be tough with Byrnes and other recruits but I'm not happy with what needed to be a bigger year. If JK Jay cant come back from injury to give some depth next year, and if Cloy doesnt return to form, bringing in only 2 lineman last year and in 2005?? looks really stupid. At least DeAndre Hopkins looks awesome--I am hoping he and Bryant can come in and contribute with Bryce McNeal--flush out or at least challenge the Marquan Jones and Brandon Clears who cant catch balls, run routes, or create seperation.

Yeah and BBall recruiting isnt looking much better...thankfully this years class is good enough to let Purnell sit on his hands for a couple years at least. Come on Dabo!!! Where is the closing spirit--get Jeff Scott to call up that list of all top one hundred recruits. Jeff Scott dont become your father...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

College of Charleston Reaction

That was the game I have been waiting for from these tigers. Jerai Grant had easily his best game of the season--when he is a force inside, this team is a premiere team. If we have Grant as a solid contributor in ACC play we can beat NC and Duke but without him we are too soft on the inside for my liking. I really liked adding Johnson to the starting line-up over Potter. Potter is a better value as a sixth man, giving more opportunity for future players with higher ceilings to emerge.

I am impressed with Devin Booker's poise on the block and in the paint. He is a big man, not trying to do too much, just smooth down low. I said in the offseason that Hill is going to be good and we saw a glimpse of that tonight. He plays good defense and just knows how to score points. Jennings had another solid game, which is key--we need him to build his confidence. We looked sharp on defense and ran some good set plays. We still need to work on the rebounding bc we will suffer against bigger stronger opponents going forward. Western Carolina beat Louisville so this will be another good test for us gearing up to play Duke. Last I think its really important that Stitt plays with confidence. When he is driving and hitting shots, when Grant is dunking, and Booker is taking it to the hoop this is easily a Sweet 16 team. Add in some supporting/outstanding freshman play and you have an ACC contender, final four possibility.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

On Loving/Hating Tanner Smith

First off this post is not going to be popular--I know that, but I think its a good debate to have so here it is. I have a love/hate relationship with Tanner. On the message boards and in the blogs there is a general love that follows Mr. Smith. Now I dont think he is a bad player, I'm just not sold yet, and its a debate that is pivotal to the complexion, the demeanor that the team develops going forward.

So Smith is loved because:
  • he hustles and gets to those loose balls
  • he is the great white hype
  • he is a team leader and team player
  • Hitting above 80% from FT line, getting a lot of steals
  • he is a go-to guy on offense
Wait what? He is a go to guy on offense? A compliment to Booker right? Here is where I have a problem--I love Tanner as a glue guy, the hustle guy that makes everything work--not as a go to guy. I also dont mind if he is a guy who helps fill in for Oglesby by hitting three point shots but that hasnt been working out lately. Potter and Smith are both struggling to be a complimentary piece but are perhaps playing out of their roles. Potter rode his early hot streak but now is taking a ton of bad shots. What Smith has become is this slasher, scorer for the team?

Let me first list my reasons for not loving (obviously this is too critical, every player has flaws, but with Smith becoming a go-to guy, I think it deserves deeper inspection)
  • he makes bad passes--I counted about ten possessions in the ECU game where Smith made a bad pass that was a turnover or resulted in the other player committing a turnover. He makes some good passes--great assists but he has this tendency to revert to his Freshman mistakes and throw these stupid little passes out of the flow of the offense. One was a bullet to Young who was like two feet away, no one around, for no reason??
  • Related to the first point, on the break he is not a great finisher. Too many times this year I have seen Tanner hustle to the ball, charge down the court and make a poor decision. He throws it away, doesnt make the best pass, and takes much more difficult shots than needed. He has trouble finishing around the basket and I think its because he lacks top end athleticism.
  • Rebounding: Yes, he gets to loose balls and makes hustle plays but he gets caught (along with the rest of the Clemson team) flat footed trying to rebound. This is true for all the freshman, especially Jennings. We are getting beaten to rebounds and left staring at the ball because we arent elevating on to rebound. Tanner doesnt block out particularly well either, which we need from our three position.
  • His defense is good but again he doesnt play above the rim much.
  • 3-point shooting has been disappointing, only 32%--needs to be closer to 38-40 to be a legit threat deep.
I realize that this is a lot of ranting but I am worried that against superior athletic ability, Tanner will struggle and force some drives and turnovers like he did in the A&M and Illinois game, that the discrepancy between his talent and what he makes up for in hustle will be magnified. I like Tanner right now, but I love him as a glue guy. Cut down on the turnovers, improve the strength on rebounding, and finish at the basket. Thats what I am looking for heading into ACC play from Tanner. (Is the real reason why everyone likes him is cause he is white, unfulfilled basketball wish fantasies? Well I guess there is that whole thing about him being a good, selfless person too...)

Last bit of ranting, Narcisse has surprised me. When Purnell gave him that scholie I thought it was a total waste and he is not. He has some great leaping ability, long arms for the press and some tools to work on. What keeps him out of the line-up and should continue to do so is his lack of body control. Its one of those intrinsic qualities needed for basketball, a kind of body balance. Narcisse completely lacks a level of fluidity which makes his ball handling in particular but also his passing and sometimes shooting ugly. So while he can fly out of the gym, he will do things like jump way too early, give the ball away right after he has stolen it and generally spaz out from time to time.

These are kinks and growing pains that can be worked out of his game but at 6'6 he is not going to play the 4 unless he gains some serious muscle mass, and cant play the 2 bc of the poor ballhandling, shooting--so he is a 3 but lacks a great jumper or the ability to consistently create off the dribble. He is another athletic hustle guy who could try to develop into something more (to his credit you can see him trying to develop a three point shot). Its a question of whether you spend that developing time on him or someone like Milton Jennings (5* with height, a supposedly beautiful stroke that we havent seen yet and all the tools to land in the NBA) who finally had a good game in his limited minutes against ECU. Thats why I support Purnell in his choice to give Narcisse less playing time. Grant has taken a step backward in his progression, and we will need him much more than Narcisse in ACC play. Worry about why his minutes are decreasing...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Dan Brooks, Best Hire of the Year

I like Harbison and Steele but I got to say the best hire of the year so far for me has been Dan Brooks. He is a monster on the recruiting trail and I think he is someone you can trust to evaluate and develop talent along the defensive line. At the beginning to the year we were talking about how thin we were on the inside but by the end of the year we were getting help from Chavis, Moore, Cumbie, to complement the play of Jenkins and Thompson.

So we just landed Tra Thomas who is a three star DLineman but another solid pick-up. With the addition of Watson and hopefully Gibson, this class is shaping up nicely and I think that we are going to land Ethan Farmer, just cause Brooks is that good. The class of 2011 already seems solid, so recruiting is going well. The only missing piece, especially with Jake Nicolopulous tragic circumstances (we are all hoping for the best), is help at Linebacker. Landing Parker makes us that much better next year. Maye is average, Conner gone, Willard may help next year along with Hawkins, but Scotty Cooper has to be the biggest disappointment for me at linebacker. Those knee problems have hurt his career. I am sick of waiting till next year for a good Linebacker.

So we have to lock down Vic Beasley but it seems the rest of the class is pretty set. I see us pulling off a few more fireworks here at the end. I think our staff is hungry for some talent and putting in some extra effort to get it. Pearman is earning his stripes getting Watson and hopefully Gibson. Also I think that the loss of Wolford hurts SC more than anyone is saying. He was their best recruiter and was breathing some new enthusiasm and life into that program along with Ellis Johnson. Glad he left.

Geographically we are doing better this year in Georgia but arent pulling anything out of Florida like in years past--I think that is because Swinney is unable to work his magic, but I am looking forward to him closing strong. I think our in home visits are going to get us four more solid recruits. Look for Farmer, Max Garcia, White, Parker and possibly Woestmann down the homestretch. Not a spectacular year but a solid one if these coaches can be trusted with their talent evals over some of the star ratings.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Got to love Recruiting

So here is where Dabo and company prove their metal. I always thought one of the major bonuses about hiring Dabo was that he was going to be a solid recruiter. If you can recruit then at least you have the talent to compete every year. I thought we did an adequate job salvaging the recruits last season but nothing spectacular. But after a year in place, I want to see some home runs this year.

Dabo has a staff that has a proven track record of recruiting talent. Napier was an excellent recruiting coordinator. Fat Brad for all his flaws does have good connections in-state but I'm not sure how important that really is in modern college football. Its important but not paramount. His son is the recruiting coordinator and so far I have not been particularly impressed.

We have failed on a lot of in-state backyard talent this year and that never sits well with me. Byrnes has been a disaster and we are paying for screwing up Lattimore's recruitment. Somebody made somebody angry, blah blah blah. We lost Miller, Willis, and Lattimore. So Davis needs to prove himself to me somewhat and land some big fish. Steele, Brooks, and Harbison are all solid if not special recruiters who take the job seriously so I am expecting big things. I am interested to see how Pearman does, he is in charge of recruiting some O-Line talent we desperately need.

Right now it seems like we are going to hold on to our 18 commits so far which is very good news. We have battled back against Georgia to secure Crawford and Beasley which is big. Darius Robinson is still flirting with Auburn but we should be able to hold out. This is good news because in recent years we have been subject to a great deal of poaching from other teams.

South Carolina is putting together another solid class unfortunately. We really want Mack to go somewhere else and Quarles almost jumped ship. If Lattimore goes somewhere else then I'm not too worried. Still cant believe we lost Gilmore and Holloman last year.

Our big battles now are with stealing Max Garcia away from Maryland despite a better journalism school?? Max--journalism is dead...come to Clemson. Also the battle for Justin Parker continues to rage, we led but not so much anymore...We need a big time LB and I dont want to wait another year. We have a shot with RB White and maybe Ethan Farmer (cross your fingers). Im hoping Dabo can be an insane closer for us and we can turn in a stellar class to get some momentum back in the program.

If not I think we need some hostesses. This is scary but really pure genius. Employing girls to shadow players on facebook, texting, go to some games and then leave them high and dry after they commit. Thats a UT Wild boy for yah...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Boycott The Gaylords Bowl

So we go from Orange Bowl to the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. The ACC needs some restructuring. Usually the bogus system goes our way so we dont complain but as the Atlantic winner, this is absolute garbage and the ACC should step in and change it. No wonder we are getting such pathetic bowls in the future and have a TV deal with Raycom.

Swofford, you suck. Kentucky?? We are going to be unmotivated and probably lose the game. All you juniors, you cant go out like this--no one goes to the hear me!! Dec. 27th, I wont be there....

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Well Done Valiant Tigers

That was another heartbreaking chapter to my Clemson fandom. After we marched down the field and scored to go up 34-33 I thought we had them. When they overturned the call (well done Dabo), I thought we would have the magic. I thought all those blown fourth quarter drives would help us pull this one out. Spiller was amazing, Parker choked on some throws and the D just couldnt get that elusive turnover.

But I'm not going to rant, I said we would make it to the ACC Champs this year and lose. I was wearing orange colored glasses when I said that, shooting for the moon. You have to be happy with this season. I hope they invite CJ to the heisman ceremony, he deserves it over Tebow, McCoy looked awful and Ingram is a product of Alabama.

Well done valiant Tigers. Thank you seniors, its been an amazing four years....I'm going to go sulk in a closet for awhile...

Friday, 4 December 2009

ACC Championship Game

Clemson vs. Georgia Tech, 12/5, 8:00pm, Raymond James Stadium

Tigermax: If you would of told me at the beginning of the year that we would make it to the Championship game, I would have been overjoyed to the point of not caring much about the result of the game. There were just to many questions surrounding the team before the start of the season to realistically be that optimistic about our chances. But now that we've made it...I really want to win. 19 years has been too long for a team with the annual talent and dedicated fanbase of Clemson's. Also, in the event of a loss, for several reasons this isn't a situation where we can step back and say "well, there's always next year."

1) We've got a lot of talent graduating at key skill positions (RB, WR, TE, etc.). We could even lose Kyle Parker to the baseball draft (although personally I think its unlikely).
2) Despite marginal improvement this season, we still have the seemingly perpetual problems at LB and O-line, as well as an emerging problem in the WR corps.
3) Unfortunately, the coaches overseeing these positions lack experience or have spotty track records in coaxing improvement.
4) This is shaping up to be the second consecutive "down" recruiting year. Not bad years, necessarily, but its not like we have loads of game-ready talent knocking down the door right now.
5) The rotation of our schedule works against us next year. As long as we continue to have Wake, BC, and FSU as road games every other year, our odds of winning the division take a substantial hit in even years (while being significantly improved in odd years).

So its a definitely a stretch to think we can contend next season. Swinney and company may well be envisioning a two-year plan for contending in 2011, but we'll need to see emergence of some players in the interim to obtain the "serious contender" label. So I guess I'm saying that the talent on this year's squad is almost certain to be superior to next year--I just never thought we'd put it together enough to make a run at the championship.

So what about Georgia Tech? I definitely think we are the underdog; I have next to no confidence in our ability to stop Paul Johnson's ground attack. Our best shot for winning is to match GT blow for blow with our offense and hope to force a turnover or two. We can do this against Tech's defense. The problem is our margin for error turnover-wise is non-existent. Put the ball on the ground even once on Saturday and we could be in a hole too big to climb out of.

Clemben: So its taken me a week to get over the whole losing to your eternal rival thing. So our main problems--blown Oline and LB assignments. I also think our secondary has seen its performance fade towards the end of the season. I thought for the first time all season coach Steele made some bad calls and couldnt make any key adjustments. So what I am hoping for is an early Christmas present in the form of a slowed Josh Nesbitt. He sustained an ankle injury against Georgia. A guy can dream...

We can beat GT but I think they are better than us right now. I think we were the better talent at the beginning of the season but spotted them too many points. Let me rephrase that--the coaches spotted them too many points that game. Pretty much on offense the game revolves around Parker settling and keeping his mechanics, which means Landon Walker needs to have the game of his life against the #8 rated prospect on Mel Kiper Jr.'s bogus big draft board. Morgan must be double teamed. Its tough though bc Palmer is our best WR.

Speaking of Palmer, I want more of those TE screens and misdirection plays we saw earlier in the turn around--no third and bubbles!!! We arent getting Spiller in space anymore which has been really disappointing. Spiller, Ford, and Palmer should be enough to beat GT offensively. How about another fullback dive this game? Designed Parker run or two?

I also think this game will be about how healthy Daquan Bowers is. He played slow the past couple games and it hurt us--he needs some super healing powers like the other bookend Sapp. He wasnt supposed to be ready till the fourth game?? Thats a month ahead of recovery time, thats really two months bc of camp and august drills he participated in...insane...

Anywho--I wanted to be more excited since this is the biggest game in almost 20 yrs but my heart isnt in it yet. Got to make one last pitcher of orange kool-aid for the year!! Come on Tigers!! I like Dr. Pepper so that is an encouraging sign...makes no sense I know, but I'm just going with it...

Clemson Surge!! Thats it the Clemson Surge takes the Dr. Pepper Champs...We can call it the All In, All Orange Bowl...haha...Oh and remember, after a yellow jacket stings you and loses its stinger its dead, right? So GT is already dead...just keep on keepin on...

Go Tigers!!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Poor End Game Execution

This team needs to get it together. Last three posessions--Stitt an early Booker tough, next Potter cant pass it to a Booker with position (when will this team learn to pass the ball??) so he makes a weak drive that gets blocked--ugly. Granted that the late whistle on the opposite end where Booker had position was a horrible call. And then to top it off, Stitt jogs down the court and we dont have time for a putback.

That Narcisse turnover killed us. That Potter turnover killed us. We need to shoot better at the FT line and not give up 23 point leads. When Booker is on the block all you need to do is fake a lob and throw it around your defender--take a dribble, perhaps, and then pass it in with a clear lane. A bounce pass works well...

That loss hurts what momentum we had from beating Butler and really helps the Big Ten. How the Big Ten is the best conference in America is still beyond me--I do like this tourney bc it shows that they aint that great. We should do it in football to get more wins...


Have you ever seen a game turn on a dime like this?

--Brad Nessler, midway through second half of Illinois game

Yes, Brad, I'm a Clemson Tiger Basketball fan.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Illinois Preview

ACC-Big10 Challenge, Illinois vs. Clemson, Dec. 2, 7:15pm, Littlejohn

As I wrote in the last post, Clemson is in the midst of a crucial five game stretch. After Illinois on Wednesday and South Carolina on Sunday, there are exactly zero non-conference games that will catch the attention of the selection committee come March. We can always hope that a team like Long Beach State or, I don't know, Western Carolina get hot and convincingly win their conference but the odds against that appear pretty long at the moment. That's why the win against Butler was so important, the next two games are no longer essential for resume-padding.

That being said, the next two games are both winnable games for Tigers. I probably won't have time to squeeze in a post about South Carolina between the ACC Championship Game and Sunday, but let me just say something right now: thank you, Oliver Purnelll, for amassing a 5-1 record against the Gamecocks. Lord knows I have trouble sleeping some nights knowing I might die with Clemson trailing the overall series in one of the three main sports (of course we have historically dominated football and baseball) but through your efforts, Mr. Purnell, I can rest a little easier. Still trailing 86-73, though, so please, please keep up the good work.

Back to Illinois and the ACC-Big Ten "challenge". Fun fact: since it's inception in 1999, the ACC has yet to lose this competition, compiling a 62-35 overall record. But it's still fun to hear ESPN hype every year as the year the Big10 will once again become the best league in the country. On a related note Clemson is 8-2 in the challenge while Illinois has managed a 3-7 mark. That pretty much tells the story in a small capsule right there, because while Clemson has never been viewed as an ACC powerhouse, Illinois has often been right around the top of the class in the Big10. This is also a rematch of last year's pretty memorable game at Illinois, which saw Clemson eke out a victory in a seesaw match, ultimately winning after the Illini couldn't get a shot off in the final seconds.

The early returns for Bruce Weber's Illinois team this year have not been kind. After destroying four paperweights, they are coming off back-to-back losses against Utah and Bradley. Its too early to say how good those teams are, but Utah did manage to lose to Seattle University. (Yes, that's right, Seattle apparently has their own University (not Washington University) and their own Division I basketball team with no conference affiliation. They are going around this year and providing filler relief to teams from various conferences across the country whenever its convenient for their schedule. Kind of like Notre Dame in football.) Anyways, once again back to Illinois. Still extrapolating from small sample sizes, but Illinois seems to be struggling quite a bit on defense. They've been holding teams to a reasonable FG%, although teams haven't been shooting the three much against them, but they've really struggled to force turnovers. That would be good news for Clemson, if we weren't so adept at handing the ball over to the other team with out any help. On offense, the bad news for Clemson is Illinois has done a tremendous job of not turning the ball over. On the other hand, they haven't shot the ball particularly well, particularly from beyond the arc.

As for Clemson, after the 76 Classic we are seeing some troubling trends emerge. First, poor guard play, specifically the inability of either Stitt, Smith, or Young to hang onto the ball. While this is par for the course for Stitt and Smith, I'm really disappointed thus far in Young. Additionally, we've really been giving up a lot of trips to the foul line, most since 2006. And we're still hovering around 64.6% from the line, in spite of Stitt's heroics.

The good news is that despite the fact we've looked lost in the halfcourt set for stretches at a time, we're still shooting a decent effective FG% (54.7%). I think this really underscores what we've said since the season preview--this team is a work in progress. Give the youngsters time to adjust to the system, we should get quite a bit better. Hopefully we don't need the improvement to take out Illinois and South Carolina at home and as long as Illinois doesn't come out shooting extremely well from the field (reversing their performance from the last two games), I think we've got a good chance to continue our recent run of success against the Big10.

Monday, 30 November 2009

South Carolina Recap: Piling on ClemBen's Rants

Brace yourself for the chorus of SEC love coming from every corner of ESPN.

  • South Carolina's defense dominated with their pressure. Haven't seen this kind of Clemson O-line performance since the Maryland game. Not sure if it was Freeman or Austin bothered by injuries but we were getting beat bad. Matthews and Norwood are good athletes, but I don't think anyone expected them to completely have their way. It didn't help that we were pass-only mode after getting behind by so much.
  • Whoever lost their assignment on the final SC touchdown play, that's a lose-your-scholarship kind of offense. You don't do that against your bitter rival, I don't care if the game is out of reach.
  • Really the game was lost in the first half. Too many turnovers and stupid mistakes. If we hang onto the ball, we could have stayed with them on the scoreboard in spite of our defensive struggles.
  • That being said, the offense was also hampered by some bad playcalling early on. We abandoned the run game in third and short, and SC was all over the short routes.
  • The problems on defense that were manifest in the Virginia and N.C. State caught up with Clemson. We ran into a team that had the talent to consistently take advantage of our problems stopping the run.
  • I know a lot of people expect us to do well against GT, but after this game I'm stuck wondering how we managed to hold them to 30 points last time.
  • Hate to say it, but Carolina has put together a couple of good recruiting classes. Its not going to be easy in the next years.
  • Just to echo ClemBen, can Brian Griese be any more of a complete tool? I know ESPN and the SEC have formed a pact (ESPN gets the SEC's support for the BCS through ESPN's BCS contract with the NCAA and the SEC gets an automatic birth in the championship game), but wasn't there another team playing Saturday? And didn't they have legitimate reasons to come out playing flat? I don't want excuses made by anyone for Clemson, but I'd expect the announcers to at least touch on their troubles in the last couple of weeks, instead of pretending that South Carolina came out of nowhere to run the ball on Clemson, thus proving the superiority of the SEC.
  • Clemson's comeback against Butler saved this from being one of the worst sports weekends in recent memory. On top of the Gamecock debacle, the loss to A&M exposed some of the weaknesses of the basketball team that could hamper them for a while. Beating Butler gives us potentially a nice line on the tournament resume (although I'm not completely sold on Butler yet). I'll try and post something about the basketball team later in the week after I've settled down. Suffice it to say we only have two more chances to add to the non-conference resume: Illinois and South Carolina, with both games coming in the next seven days.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Shameful: Ranting Part 1

One thing Bowden knew how to do was win against South Carolina. I knew it was going to be a bad week for Clemson athletics when I said to someone that this year, meaning football and basketball, was going to be a banner year for Clemson athletics. Yes I jinxed it. I apologize. Man why cant we actually put together a complete season. This ruins winning the ACC in a way bc if we win then the SEC says we cant beat a middle of the road SEC team. If we lose the ACC Champs we go to the champs sports bowl and we just lost a lot of ground in recruiting.

Greise and Espn--that was nauseating how much SEC love can you cram into a single telecast. Hey maybe Clemson was looking ahead, or the two weeks of prep helped a lot?? We understand that your coverage is now skewed because of your fiduciary relationship but come on...

Why cant we defend the zone read? We always over pursue and make QB's look like Heisman candidates. Spiller's heisman candidacy just took a major blow--I'll be surprised if he makes it to New York now, he needed a big game and Ingram gave him the opening. Colt McCoy takes his turn so now Tebow, Bradford, and Colt are all happy.

What happened?? The Oline looked pathetic...Freeman hurt his ankle and it was all downhill from there. We lost the momentum with a stupid fumble by Harper...shades of Alabama, and then roughed the kicker on a great senior moment from Ricky Sapp. This is a rant so I am going to say it--I expected more from Sapp and Bowers with their time together at Clemson. Bowers knee injury has left him a little overweight and sluggish. Back to the Oline though, Fat Brad--what were you doing? Parker looked like a freshman at times bc when he has no time and feels the pressure on every play he loses his mechanics. He got it back on that last drive but I would have liked to see him tuck and run a few times to keep the d honest. Where was McDaniel--the few times I saw him he had a sack and key the problem our LB's just arent athletic enough--getting blocked out of plays, not smart enough to position themselves correctly. Its the same thing each week....Maye, what is going on...

I dont know if I can just put this behind me, I kept waiting for a senior leader to get in some peoples faces and get fired up--it is against South Carolina...Clemson has lost some of the importance of this game--you dont lose to South Carolina...Dabo dont let this happen again...

There were far too few real hits--I mean Garcia is running right to you--give him a game changing lick, take him out of the game. How big is losing Gilmore and Holloman to SC, both Clemson leans at one point last year from Rock Hill, look right now...

Shameful display, we turned the season around and we still have a chance to go to the Orange bowl but it feels a little hollow losing to SC. At least right now--have fun at the independence, papajohns bowl Gamecocks...

Friday, 27 November 2009

South Carolina Preview

Clemson vs. South Carolina, 11/28, 12:00pm, Williams-Brice Stadium

This will be pretty short, I'm still trying to shake the disappointment of the A&M game. I'll write some more about it later, but I think this is a stark reminder that the team is a work in progress.


Check out this lede to the front page sports story in the State, 9/25:

The 28-year wait is over: South Carolina finally bagged its big-game trophy.
(If your really into schadenfreude, read some of the posted comments at the the story)

Yes, those were heady days for Gamecrock fans--a win over #4 Ole Miss and a near victory over Georgia (on the road) the week before. Combined with the early season struggles of Clemson, the night of 9/25 must have felt like something of a watershed moment: the signal of the ascendancy of Gamekook football in the state of South Carolina.

Flash forward to today. Clemson has won six straight, riding an improbably realistic Heisman campaign into the ACC Championship game. South Carolina is in yet another mid-season swoon, losing what, 4 straight? (I've lost track). Meanwhile, Ole Miss and Georgia have both logged spectacularly average SEC seasons while South Carolina has been stomped by SEC "luminaries" Arkansas and Tennessee. Hey, at least you beat Vanderbilt. Yes, you beat a 2-10 team by the score of 14-10 at home. The old Spurrier teams would have lost that game.

I'm not going to offer any deep insight into the 2009 annual South Carolina midseason collapse (trademarked). That's because its really quite simple: they were never that good to begin with. Lots of close wins and losses in the early season obscured how average a team they really were. In fact, FEI ranks them the #50 team in the country. To give some context, Virginia is ranked #42. Yes, the defense grades out a strong #18, but they are killed by a #75 offense and awful special teams. And before any Gamecocks start grousing, FEI does take into account strength of schedule. You see, it may be hard to own up to, but the SEC is in the middle of a down year.

To be clear, the SEC is probably still a better conference top to bottom than the ACC. FEI has had a slight ACC-slant that we've documented here over the season. But the gap isn't as large as some might think. The ACC has a lot of programs trending in the right direction while the SEC has a quite a few teams trending in the wrong direction.

Also to be clear, I think South Carolina has more talent on defense than Virginia. They lack talented depth, however, which is what keeps them from being a nationally-feared defense on the level of, let me just pick a random team here, I don't know: Clemson. Yeah, that's a good defense.

Clemson has some concerns. The white elephant in the room is the health of CJ Spiller. He's looked progressively worse over the last 3-4 weeks, and we could really use him to take advantage in the special teams game. Also, while the offense's performance against Virginia was encouraging, I anticipate South Carolina will be a bit more physical; they should be up to stopping the run at least in the early going.

If Clemson keeps the game close in the first half, I think they run away in the second half. The South Carolina defense is too thin, and their crappy kicking and coverage game coupled with Spurrier's oversized ego almost ensures Spiller and Ford deliver excellent field position. Hope you're ready for a breakout road performance, Richard Jackson.


I peaked at quite a few South Carolina games this season. I think they are a decent team. They are probably as talented, if not slightly more than last year's team USuCk team (last years team was hopelessly selfish and fractured in the locker room however, Spurrier really 'lost' that team). I think it really begins at QB for the shamecocks and Garcia. I am absolutely shocked that he hasnt been injured this year. I have seen him make a bunch of gutsy/stupid plays, hurling himself into the air. He is durable and has some moxie, other USC QB's had arms but would predictably and almost comically turn the ball over. Garcia's maturation has been notable.

Next Alshon Jeffery is really good. Watching out redshirt freshman WR's struggle and then watching true freshman Jeffery run routes and catch some great balls has been frustrating. If he goes to the real 'USC', where he was committed to up until the end, USuCk isnt close to the team they are on offense. I wont argue with a coot on this one, I hope he takes off to the NFL asap. This season we are fine with our secondary, although in the past couple of games we have been giving up a few too many chunk yardage plays. (haha, how did chunk yards get in the vernacular??) Few interceptions

Lastly I really like some of the defensive talent along the line that Skarelina has amassed. The health of Cliff Matthews is a big issue, Geathers is really developing and Ladi can be a beast. This will be a good barometer for how much our OLine has improved. You'll remember that last year we were able to push around their D-Line before running into trouble with a boy named Suh in the gator bowl.

So what will be the difference in this game. I think it will be a ten point game...and of course I think we will win. The LB's need to have a better game, would really like to land Justin Parker but that keeps getting more difficult. The game comes down to third down conversions. We have gotten much better throughout our winning streak in converting third downs. If we can demoralize WBrice prison early then the place will be empty by the fourth quarter. Remember when Spurrier gave up last year, conceded the game? Cant wait to see that again...6-6 and the independence bowl?? Now that is just one season away!! Clemson 27-17

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A&M at the Half: That wasnt very pretty

If this is the real Clemson team then we are in serious trouble this season and are vastly overrated. I saw a lot of garbage play in this half. This Trevor Booker playing the three position who shoots outside jumpshots and plays passive defense needs to stop. He needs to be on the block, drawing the double team and occasionally stepping out to stretch the d.

Our press has been fine and we havent been able to set it up much but our halfcourt D has been porous and frankly pathetic. We are not rotating to defend the three, we are a bunch of passive wimps on the boards and not rotating for backside help. I think it has to do with freshman playing tentatively and playing like they are in high school.

On offense--I like Tanner Smith as a player, as a glue player but when he is your primary offensive threat then you are in trouble. He doesnt finish around the rim or rebound with enough authority yet. Grant disappeared and Young was not his usual proficient self. We really dont have the three point shooting right now to consistently stretch the defense. The loss of Oglesby is looking like a bigger deal all the time. I was surprised that we didnt look as athletic as I thought we would.

Bottom line is I dont think we are nearly this bad, A&M is nothing special I am afraid and if we cant win this game then we need to re-evaluate this season and lower expectations. Of course, this is a young team and we obviously have a lot of work to do. I have said this would be a work in progress year but I didnt think it would be starting at such an elementary level...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Going to the 76 Classic!!

Just got word that I am going to be at the 76 Classic!! Cant wait, unfortunately right now it looks like I will just see the Friday game so hopefully Clemson will beat A&M and I can watch a good game, so check back for photos and stuff. Also Ron Morris you sly tool. If we werent going to play CJ for Clemson versus Carolina then shouldnt he have sat against Virginia with the game in hand?? When CJ sat for Coastal, the Heisman talk was just starting to bubble up--I think the rationale was get him a touchdown, rest him, no need to pad his stats bc it ultimately wont help much with voters. I think Tebow, Ingram, and Colt (Rocky loves emily!!) proved voters are stupid and will be rewarded for padding their stats against powder puffs.

If CJ can keep scoring touchdowns and have two big all purpose games he goes to NY but its hanging by a string right now. I think they invite 4, Tebow, Colt, Ingram (I have never actually seen his face), and either Spiller, the Stanford rb, or the Houston QB. The Boise State QB is good too but just a sophmore. The Pitt RB is a longshot right now. It really does come down to who can help their team to a BCS bowl game, win out, and put up decent numbers.

Happy Thanksgiving!! When we go around the table I am giving thanks for CJ Spiller and Clemson Tiger athletics. I suggest we all give thanks for the prospect of a banner year for Clemson sports.

Texas A&M, 76 Classic Preview

Texas A&M vs. Clemson, 11/26, 4:30pm EST, Anaheim Convention Center

Clemson's consistency over the past few years has been rewarded with an invite to their toughest tournament field in recent memory. While I don't necessarily see any final four favorites in the field, four of the eight are easily NCAA tourney quality (West Virginia, Clemson, UCLA, Butler) with two more fringey teams that are more than capable of qualifying (Texas A&M, Minnesota). While the Minnesota/Butler game probably features the most evenly-matched teams, Texas A&M is no round one pushover, which should provide more than enough incentive to tear you away from Thanksgiving Dallas football.

A&M is coming off a mildly disappointing 2009 campaign. Last year they returned several key players from 2008 when they took eventual final four team UCLA to the limit in the sweet sixteen before coming up short, 61-59. In the conference tourney that year, they also pushed eventual national champion Kansas in the semifinals before losing 77-71. I haven't watched them enough to give definitive reasons why they struggled last season--Kenpom says their offense improved slightly but their defense, the cornerstone of the successful 2008 team, collapsed last year: dropping from #11 in the country to #81. Unfortunately for the Aggies, on paper it doesn't look like they are capable of bouncing all the way back this year. While they have a couple of experienced players, Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis, as well as sharp-shooter B.J. Holmes returning, they lost probably their best offensive threat in senior Josh Carter while their primary big man, Chinemelu Elonu, skipped his senior season to enter the NBA draft. Elonu, 6'10", was a beast on both glasses and blocked shots at a rate on par with Trevor Booker. Texas A&M will be looking for an inside presence to step up this season--but I can't imagine David Loubeau inspires confidence in A&M fans. They do have 7'0" James Blasczyk as a redshirt freshman, but he looks like the A&M Baciu. With Sloan, Davis, and Holmes A&M has the offense to win games, but right now I don't see where the defense will come from.

While its still early in the season to really judge an opposing team, I think A&M is a good matchup for Clemson. Their lack of defense, specifically the inability to force turnovers last year, is great news for our turnover-prone backcourt. Without Elonu they don't have a lot of height inside, so provided we can get the entry pass into Booker, he could put a lot of points on the board. Finally, our defense should be able to slow down an offense that tended to turn the ball over last year and also doesn't have an outstanding three-point threat outside of Sloan.

As for Clemson, they've looked good so far against inferior teams. (No, Winthrop has not been a good team since 2007.) Two minor(ish) red flags to watch out for, however. First, they've allowed the other team to steal the ball from them--not a good sign against that level of competition. Watch to see if Stitt and Young (who hasn't exactly shined early on despite my praises earlier) can keep possession on Thursday. Finally, and this hurts to say, but FT% is at 64.9%. Still better than the low-to-below 60% figure we ran out pre-2009, but below last year's 68.8% mark. This is a stat that tends to stabilize relatively quickly, so let's hope the FTs start falling.

If we get past A&M, and with some trepidation I'm gonna say we should, we'll likely face a well-rested West Virgina team. Since I'll probably be too busy to update the blog with a proper preview I'll just say that honestly, I'm not excited about playing a bruising Bob Huggins team--the risk for cheap injury is just too high. While WVU features a typically outstanding Huggins defense, it would be interesting to see how Clemson fares. WVU doesn't have a ton of height, so as long as Clemson can absorb some of the physicality (pin this hope on the Booker brothers), they might not be as affected as you might think. Hopefully we get the chance to see...


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Virginia Recap--Division Champs!

It's about time. I think this season proves one ridiculous over-generalization that sounds good when introducing a blogpost: take away Tommy Bowden's extreme tendency to err on the side of caution with something slightly more adventurous and we have ourselves a division champion. But it's important to remember that Tommy Bowden played an enormous role as the architect of this team, and to overlook him wouldn't be all that's right and fair. And since I'm in such great spirits, here it is: congratulations to you too, Tommy. May you find peace with the millions we bought out your contract with and thank you, thank you, for choosing to step aside while CJ Spiller still had a year of eligibility left.

To be clear, not tryin' to shortchange Swinney, Napier, Steele, and everyone else here--they did a fantastic job. The next two years will give us a better idea of the direction the program will take as Swinney starts to shape it according to his ideal...but for now we can rejoice that Swinney was able to do more with essentially the same talent as his predecessor, and that's great news that could lead to many happy days ahead for the team and its fans. And guys, I would really appreciate it if you can remove the 18-year weight I've been carrying around in two weeks by beating GT.

Now, the game...not the prettiest sight in the world, I'm glad we had things locked up or I would have been way too emotionally invested for a game against 3-7 Virginia. This is the second straight game we can attribute the ease of victory to to the offense. It wasn't perfect, the already much-maligned fourth down call and more glaringly the inability to put together a clock-killing drive in the fourth quarter stand out as negatives. I'm thinking the plan was to try and give Spiller as many yards as he could gather in the fourth quarter, but Virginia's defense isn't going to give up too many yards to our O-line when they know the run is coming. I'm not even sure this was even a good idea to begin with, Spiller is progressively getting less and less mobile each week. But I nitpick. When Kyle Parker hits his first 12 (?) passes, things are clicking and we're probably on our way to putting plenty of points on the board.

I have to sympathize with the defense quite a bit, Al Groh and Gregg Brandon threw the entire playbook at them in the first half (after the first drive). I'm not sure why Virginia slowed down in the second half, although they might simply have run out of unorthodox plays to run. What this game shows is that our defense is still most vulnerable to a strong running game between the tackles, the "trick" plays Virginia ran were all set up by strong running (part of that was the wildcat--as an aside, good to get a dose of it now 'cause we could be seeing it in a not-to-distant bowl game). A lot of this was enabled partly by overpursuit by Clemson LBs (again), not to mention some stupid penalties. Maye always seems to find a way to redeem himself, though, that helmet on the football-forcing-fumble was a thing of beauty.

That's enough. Its time to bask--we captured the Atlantic Division! And next week we extend our win streak to 7 games by throttling our "rival" downstate.

Saturday, 21 November 2009


As Homer would say the two sweetest words in the english language. De-Fault! De-Fault!

What is going on at the half against Virginia?? Groh and his coaches are playing and play calling with nothing to lose. We can not defend the wildcat/mobile Qb for the life of us. I'm just sick...this wont get it done against USuCk or GT. Defense isnt getting penetration and is getting out schemed. That wheel route at the end was inexcusable.

Ron Cherry you've outdone yourself...I know you threw that intl grounding flag and then had to be talked out of it. A penalty for saluting the crowd?? What is this Communist Russia?

We are moving the ball well and putting up points other than that awful fourth down call on the early turnover. I like going for it on fourth but not on the roll out--Parker didnt know where he was going. But man, what a pass to Jacoby in the endzone...Can we retire the word trickeration??

Steele, lets make the adjustments and let CJ and all the seniors get in the game and go crazy...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Virginia Preview

Virginia vs. Clemson, 11/21, 3:30pm, Death Valley


Clemson very well may have clinched the division before taking the field, I think UNC stands a pretty good chance of beating BC. I don't suspect this will affect Clemson too much, what with Senior Day and Motivator-in-chief Swinney firing up the team before the game. Virginia features an above average defense, but they also feature quite likely the league's worst offense. In a general sense, this reminds me of the Boston College game: tough defense, offense is a work-in-progress, largely conservative head coaching philosophy, and big players who play physically. Two key differences, though: BC sports a defense that matches anyone in the nation while Virginia's is merely excellent in the context of the league and Virginia's offense has played the same way BC played against us in every game of the season.

The only way I see us losing this Saturday is if the following three unlikelihoods were to inexplicably collide: 1) our offense reverts to pre-Maryland form in the face of a big, physical defense, 2) Richard Jackson still can't kick a thirty-five yard field goal, and 3) our defense puts up an utterly average effort similar to last Saturday. I can see one or two of the above possible happening, but not all three. I'm cautiously optimistic we'll be celebrating the first ACC division title in Clemson history come Saturday evening. (Just to keep things in perspective, though, the last time I was this confident was before the Maryland game.)



I personally want BC just to lose. Yeah, all that stuff about earning it is great, and the players should have that mentality but as a fan still recovering from ghosts of Bowden past--I am more than willing to go to the ACC Champs bc someone other than us (BC no less), lost. But I'm afraid we come out with almost too much intensity again and make some defensive mistakes. We really need to get this kicking thing squared away before USuck and GT. Virginia has some really good linebacker play so they will challenge KP with a new 3-4 look. Hopefully we can not turn the ball over.

Also I will be watching to see how the O line responds with Austin having a bad ankle. This is essentially the line we will have next year so hopefully Cloy can fill that void. Speaking of OLineman--we lost former 4 star recruit Kenneth Page who never really asserted himself after coming to Clemson with a bad shoulder and JK Jay is still dealing with an ailing back. I heard he needs another surgery which is never good. He really is a great person though so if you get a chance drop him a line of encouragement on his facebook or something. We need him to shore up Tackle depth and push the starters. Again, thank you David Smith for panning out.

Oh yeah, so Virginia...Tigers roll...

P.S. I told you North Carolina was overrated in bball. Too many white guys on the team...haha. Shaky guard play, no three point shooting. Relying on Ginyard's offensive production?? Ed Davis looking weak in the post...yep I told you so...Clemson has its best chance to take the ACC, umm...ever??

Thursday, 19 November 2009

On CJ Spiller

Because I suddenly realized there's been a shocking lack of CJ Spiller hero-worship on this blog.

CJ Spiller's Clemson home career closes out this weekend. I've been reflecting on the source of the adoration the fanbase has showered on Spiller this season. While this can be attributed to the records he breaks on a weekly basis and his increased willingness to pick his way through a pile of defenders, I'd draw attention to some less-evident reasons.

While I wouldn't label Spiller the first truly "transmedia" Clemson recruit (that distinction probably belongs to Jamie Harper), Spiller has always had a flair for the dramatic when interacting with the media. I think back to his signing day, when he had an entire room full of reporters thinking he was going to announce Florida State or Florida, only to stun everyone by naming Clemson. That got him on every sports news page in the states of Florida and South Carolina. Then there were the alleged overtures from Florida coach Urban Meyer. In those offseasons of turmoil, Spiller appeared to spurn the Gators (and a national title appearance) out of what could only have been loyalty to coaches and teammates. Of course, all of this was topped by last season's drama, when Spiller announced to a stunned (but this time joyous) room that he was returning to Clemson for his senior season. This season has seen him improbably live up to the expectations of a Heisman candidacy, when no one really gave him much of a chance to begin with and then openly laughed about it after the team started 2-3. Oh, and in true hero fashion, week in and week out he fights through a painful toe injury acquired in week one of the season.

The last paragraph reads like the outline of a Clemson legend. It will be no doubt be filled in with various on-field exploits (slightly embellished, naturally), but its no wonder we hero-worship the guy. And then add this: Spiller is just likable. He's cultivated this great image as a well-spoken kid who gives a confident but not brash or anxious interview. And that's just the thing, whether its intentionally "cultivated" or not, he comes across as completely natural, even authentic. If you were tasked with designing a star football player's personality with the instructions to make him engaging while not distracting, I can't imagine anything coming out better than CJ Spiller. We're lucky to have him; whether or not he gets the invite to New York, enjoy his last four(!) games in a Clemson uniform.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Gamecocks Fans Are Priceless

I think we are going to be making this a repeating segment. These Gamecock fans never cease to amaze and entertain me....

And to whoever did the whole orange tiger paws all over William Brice Penitentiary, Bravo!! It wasnt looking all too bleak with the whole thug black and blood deal they are nurturing. Add some color to your life!! Enjoy!!

Monday, 16 November 2009

3 BBall Questions

So we are underway with the Clemson bball season and after watching the Presb. game I find myself returning to three key themes for this season. I know its a trite formulation but here are 3 Keys (more like questions though) for the early season. Right now I really think UNC and Duke are overrated and that this is our best season to date for winning the ACC. We are picked to finish third and no team below us scares me too much--Wake has Aminu, GT has potential and FSU has an athletic giant, but none of the teams above us strikes any fear. Duke has no guards and problems against the press (Scheyer and Singler playing almost the whole game, every game??) and UNC is the shell of its former self. They play Ohio St., Michigan St., Kentucky, and Texas in the next month or so. After that tell me if they will take the ACC??

So what must Clemson do to improve enough to win the ACC--I think the Liberty game will be a good gauge for how far along we are, how far we need to go. This team will be a work in progress all year, so we need to treat it as such--there will be some growing pains. The key is how we improve in these areas
1. Ball Handling/Turnovers--This is really about whether or not Stitt progressed enough this off season to be the explosive player we need him to be. We need him to be able to drive the lane consistently and dish. I thought he was getting there last year till he hurt his ankle and that slowed him a bit all year. Look for Andre Young to step up if Stitt stalls.
2. 3pt Shooting/Identity--We need to have Smith and Johnson or even Potter be able to consistently knock down threes this year. But I am concerned with the identity of this team. Even without TO we could rely too much on the three because we still cant pass the ball into the post enough. Booker has always been stalled by inept guards unable to pass him the ball. That has got to change, and thats a tough thing for Freshman to do.
3. Rebounding--When Booker is motivated he is the best rebounder in the ACC but he will need some help. Grant needs to elevate his game to be a stronger rebounder insider. Sykes ended up doing a good job for us as well as Rivers but we need some of the freshmen to step in. Booker Jr. and Jennings will be called upon. I am really disappointed that Bobo Baciu has not progressed much, thought he would be that tenth guy to come in and provide some rebounding and defense but it hasnt materialized yet. With the press and all the 3's we just need to stay even with teams but we cant play soft and have a weak mentality that I am afraid is the result of tentative freshman play.

General Basketball and Liberty Notes

Clemson tore through Presbyterian last week Friday, beating a bad team up and down the court with our "second team" in for half the game. Nothing to get excited about, but a few quick bullet points:
  • Good to see Noel Johnson go 4/8 from behind the arc. Not predictive of future performance, of course, except in the sense that if he's not knocking them down now he's probably not going to knock them down later.
  • Tanner Smith wasn't looking for the three, which is a little disappointing. I'm hoping the coaches really try to get him to look for his shot in the early season here so he'll be at least somewhat useful off the bench.
  • I was mildly surprised to see Jerai Grant get the start, but he ended up with less minutes than two of the freshman, Johnson and Jennings. He also did little to impress. An early nod to seniority?
  • Lots of people played lots of minutes. Baciu, however, played only six minutes. Does this spell the end of the Baciu experiment? Its one game, but if he's not getting time now...
  • Stitt and Young basically split time at the point 22 minutes vs. 20 minutes. The battle is on! (both had a single turnover credited to them)
  • The freshmen trio of Jennings, Johnson, and Hill combined for a 6:3 assist:turnover ratio. Notched 7 steals between them. Not too shabby.
  • The one black eye on the night? 40.0% from two-point land. The good news is effective FG% (which gives extra weight to made 3-point shots) was up at 52.1%.

You might remember Liberty as the team that required a Herculean effort from K.C. Rivers to defeat last season at Littlejohn. At the time they were led by the dynamic Seth Curry (of Curry father and sons fame) and I thought they might be poised for a run in the Big South Conference. Not so, as they ended up with a spectacularly mediocre season, finishing 7-7 in conference play. A couple of their big wins early on didn't look so good once January rolled around (Virginia, George Mason). They managed to give George Mason a run again in this season's opener, but came up short 76-72. This means they are more talented than Presbyterian, but luckily for Clemson they no longer have the advantage of the services of Seth Curry. Unfortunately for Clemson, he'll be shooting the ball for Duke beginning next season. Liberty also lost senior Anthony Smith last year, look for senior Kyle Ohman to lead the charge for the flames from behind the arc Tuesday morning. Which brings me to another point: what good is national exposure if no one is at home to watch? Guess I shouldn't complain, just getting included in the ESPN Tipoff whatever thing is another notch on the program's belt. GO TIGERS!!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

NC State Recap

Well, that should teach me to trust my instincts over the actual numbers. In my (admittedly weak) defense, I think the end result betrays the relative competitiveness of the game. If that Spiller non-fumble gets called the other way, the game probably ends up uncomfortably close. On the same note, Russell Wilson is a mighty fine-looking quarterback--if Tom O'Brien can resurrect his defense next year no one's going to look forward to playing these guys. As it was, we simply outscored 'em. Their kicking game didn't help much either. I'm wondering if Clemson doesn't see a net negative punt at some point before the end of the year (6 yards!).

Kyle Parker took another incremental step in the right direction today. Looked pretty tall in the pocket. Earlier in the year I rapped the coaching staff for not letting him be more mobile, not letting him make plays with his feet if a play looked like it had broken down. Now I think we're seeing what the coaching staff envisioned, in order to maximize Parker's main strength (his live arm) he needs to develop into more of a pure pocket passer who limits his runs to designated keeps. Its been a learning process, at times a painful one, but it might be coming together faster than if the coaches had just let Parker tuck the ball and run every time his first option was covered. Let's see how he handles the stiffer defenses coming in the next two weeks.

DrB hit it on the head a few days ago, one of the reasons for the offensive improvement is instead of throwing out a fresh set of faces every drive to see what sticks, we're now playing the same guys week in and week out. I think things like QB-WR "chemistry" are overrated a bit, but I have little reason to doubt the most talented and reliable guys are seeing the overwhelming majority of both snaps and ball touches. Ford and Dye (and to a lesser extent, Ashe) at WR, Palmer and Allen at TE, and of course the RBs.

Not sure if Chancellor and Butler still weren't 100%, but it seemed like the 2nd string CBs were seeing a lot of time. As a possible result, coverage wasn't exactly an abject disaster but definitely a large step down from previous weeks. Two counter-points: 1) after a rough first quarter, Wilson was on the rest of the game and 2) Jarvis Williams had a couple of highlight-reel catches (the rest of the recievers could have really helped his final statline if they had held onto the ball a few more times). Since a lot of defense in the secondary is reflexive, an accurate QB and disciplined, talented receiver are going to connect despite the best defensive efforts. Oh, and third point: ridiculous penalties.

Brandon Maye needs to rein himself in a bit, he's starting to make plays that stand out, but not in the good kind of way.

Not much else to say from my vantage point, except that we might want to consider recruiting a new kicker to replace Jackson after next year. 3/6 (?) on PAT attempts is not good for a kicker, small sample size notwithstanding. Seriously, I don't care if you've been sitting on the bench for 10 games, a random soccer player kicking for the local high school football team can manage 3/6.

Waiting for Thomas Austin news...

All in all, a solid game for the offense and an utterly average game from the defense when we've come to expect more. I think the big difference between this and the FSU game was we weren't constantly trying to give the game away for the first 2 and 1/2 quarters. One game, step, whatever you want to call it, away. Virginia brings a stronger defense than we've been playing recently. This should give us an idea of how well our offense has really come along...but our real defense needs to show up and provide support next week.

Friday, 13 November 2009

NC State Preview

Clemson vs. NC State, 11/14, 12:00pm, Carter-Finley Stadium


I kind of ended up rambled on about this matchup in yesterday's post. It pretty much sums up this way: our excellent defense should blunt their strength in offense and our shaky offense should have no problems scoring against a defense that's well below league-average. On top of that, State has been one of the worst teams in the country at starting field position; if the coaching staff hasn't had nightmares all week about Spiller and Ford in the Clemson return game, well...they just don't care anymore they're already "building for the future". Finally, there's been a lot of worry around the blogosphere about a "let-down" after last week's win. I'm not worried about this at all: we hired the Motivator-in-Chief himself, coach Dabo Swinney (not thinking about Maryland, not thinking about Maryland...).

So why do I feel the same as Admiral Ackbar? Why do I stubbornly rate this game as only a "lean Clemson"? It's a road game, sure, and while Raleigh isn't the friendliest place to play in the ACC it's certainly not Blacksburg or Atlanta or Tallahassee. I can't deny my analysis of any NC State game is, and always will be, colored by those three consecutive inexplicable losses to NC State from 1986-1988. But still, it doesn't add up. NC State is in the throes of a season lost to injury and unreasonable expectation. Will they score on us? Sure. They've still got a talented offense. Is that any excuse for not outscoring them? No way.

Am I basing my fears on a gut feeling? I guess that's the only explanation I can scrape together now--I think Clemson's in for a tight slog on Saturday.


I thought, along with everybody else, that NC State would be legit this year. Russell Wilson is our main concern. If he is having an off day we win going away, but if he gives us his best--mixing in his mobility and hurting us with his legs it will be another close game.

What we forget is that Ponder was limited running the ball last week. When he did he made the Tigers pay but Jimbo wasnt going to do that to his QB, although DeAndre ended it for him anyway. NC State loves to go to the TE down the seam of the defense, especially against Cover 2 sets. I think this could be problematic, coupled with struggling to stop the run and a bigger back.

On offense we need to "keep on, keepin on..."(more pure gold Daboisms--we need to start a collection of these things, to be preserved for future generations). I'd like to take the opportunity to say that the season has turned on the ability of Billy Napier to do his job better. After Maryland, he and Dabo got on the same page and my feeling is Billy took some more ownership with the bye week. We saw more I-formation, more TE involvement, more of a screen game. It helped that KP started executing and WR's started catching the ball...

State's defensive stats have been helped by playing two Div II powderpuffs but I think the game on offense turns on our ability to run the ball. If we have to rely on the passing game and come up with key third down conversions in the air like in the FSU game, its always less of a sure thing. I want to see Spiller rack up some rushing yards to help buoy the all-purpose and the Heisman resume. Look for special teams to help slightly break open a game that feels to close for comfort all the way to the end. Also lets hope we can kick some FG's, let alone extra points...

Clemson 31 State 21

Lets go beat up on some Wolfies!! Go Tigers!!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

FEI Week 10; ACC Outlook Update

Clemson rises to #9 from #13 in the latest FEI rankings. A lot of this is inflated by the ACC spotting the 6-9 teams in the rankings. In fairness, though, a lot of the ACC movement results from the teams that were ahead last week dropping like rocks this week--Oregon, Iowa, Oklahoma, Boise State, and Pitt.

Clemson's schedule eases up the last three weeks, playing three sub-forty teams including next week at #55 NC State. A lot of parallels will be drawn in general terms to the on-field results of NC State and FSU this season, both feature bad defenses and good offenses. Looking at it a little closer, though, NC State features the 11th ranked offense in the country, but its still a relatively large step down from the FSU offense. Meanwhile, they've struggled with the #68 defense, but this is instead a relatively large step up from the FSU defense. These two observations might indicate that NC State will give Clemson the same amount of trouble as FSU, but this overlooks field position advantage. Clemson ranks #12 on the legs of Spiller and Ford, while NC State is an abysmal #115 (out of 120). If Clemson pulls away early, it could very well be on the strength of special teams.

Here's how I see the last two ACC games:
Clemson is still projected to finish 5-3 or 6-2; but we increase our odds slightly over BC because we have two games remaining instead of three (easier to go 2-0 than 3-0). If we win this week though, it just about sinks BC who still has what looks like an increasingly tough UNC game left on their schedule.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Clemson 2009 Basketball Preview: Demontez Stitt

To supplement the team overview published earlier, I'm going to sporadically post player previews through the early stages of the season. This will probably supplant detailed game previews for the time being because, well, its hard to get worked up over playing Presbyterian...

I have to believe that right now the point position is Stitt's to lose. But hints from the coaching staff over the offseason and lack of development in key areas last season have seemingly made his grasp on the position rather tenuous. It didn't help that he was outshined by backup Andre Young over limited stretches last season. Let's just say that Stitt not only has to come out firing on all cylinders, but he has to show consistency every night he takes the floor.

The biggest concern surrounding Stitt is turnovers. While last season's 25.5 turnover rate (the number of turnovers on personal possessions) is a step down from 2008's 28.4 rate, it still ranks among the highest at the point across the ACC. To put it in perspective, other players in the ACC with less-than-stellar reputations for holding onto the ball like Greivis Vasquez and Greg Paulus posted rates of 16.7 and 18.0, respectively. For every 40 personal possessions, Stitt is turning the ball over 10 times while Vasquez and Paulus are looking at 6-7. May not seem like much, but that's likely going to have an impact on a particular game and certainly over the course of a season. Stitt has to bring that number down, or the 16.9 rate Young posted last season is going to get a long look.

Other offensive areas of Stitt's game have rated around average in both of his seasons. Nothing outstanding, but nothing else that really drags him down, with the glaring exception of his below-average 27% shooting from 3-point land. Also, his FT% has inexplicably trended down last season--too much of a drop to simply pass off as statistical noise. I'll be watching to see where his FT rate stabilizes early on. If we see an improvement (or at least a return to his freshman campaign), it could bode well for his 3-point FG%; Ken Pomeroy previously found an association between improved FT shooting and 3-point FG% (insider subscription required).

While having a point guard that is around or close to league average is generally nothing to get particularly upset at, Oliver Purnell has the responsibility to weigh upgrade options at every position. Andre Young lacks Stitt's height and ability to gash to the hoop, but he could represent a moderate to substantial upgrade in every other facet of the game. I would list this as the backstory to watch as the pre-ACC season unfolds.

Monday, 9 November 2009

I Got Some Things To Say

  1. I'm glad I grew up a Clemson fan and not a Cock fan. Its the one thing that keeps me going.
  2. When Death Valley is rocking there is no other place like it on this earth--we should do that more often, the whole big night game on ESPN thing is fun.
  3. We still got some work to do...
  • Parker is showing that improvement, partly due to experience and partly due to better play calling. He makes some throws that are unbelievable--quick bullets on the run, some good long balls, etc. Couple of things Kyle--not all throws are fastballs, sometimes you can dump it off to your fullback or safety valve at medium speed. Also we got to get you seeing the wide open underneath routes more often. 10-15 yrds can be as good as trying to thread the needle for 25-30.
  • I dont know if I call that timeout early in the third quarter on a third and inches for the Noles'. Something was wrong with the defensive personnel but we could have really needed those things if the game got tighter.
  • Kicking...Jackson does some serious regression to the mean tonight. Help Richard find his happy place and quick. I was seriously seeing Jad Dean out there again when he lost it his senior year. I kept thinking, this is just like Clemson to really win the game but then blow it like this on extra points (BC in triple overtime, lost on the Dean missed extra point--05??06?? I'm still trying to forget...)
  • Kick coverage is becoming a little suspect, lets tighten that up...
  • Triple J, Jarvis Jenkins--I remember Brenston Buckner getting kicked out of the Citrus Bowl?? For punching a guy when he thought he was covered up by the pile. No more slapping or punching--especially in plain view...
4. I asked a question around here who would be the biggest surprise of the season and I dont think anyone said it would be Rashard Hall. Redshirt Freshman Hall has given us some depth and its amazing to me that this is his first year. He is smart, athletic, and is one of the better tacklers we have. He will get better against the run as he adds ten more pounds of muscle but talk about overachieving.
5. Another freshman that is living up to his billing is Dwayne Allen. He has dropped a couple balls here and there but seeing him take it to the house on Sat was a thing of beauty. I can live with three more years of that. Lincecum should have never left. We need some TE depth for next year so recruits please take notice.
6. DeAndre McDaniel should come back next year. If the season continues to progress without a Bowden hiccup then we should end up in the top 20 easy and with some buzz we could be in the top 15. Thats something to stick around for...Clemson stuck with DeAndre when he needed us, so I think he should stick with us and graduate. Its absolutely criminal that he is not on the Thorpe semifinal list. Mays and Berry would go ahead of him--the smart thing to do is to position himself for next year.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

FSU Recap

Weeell that was fun. Going to make this quick, I'm fightin' off the flu here and my thoughts are kinda muddled. Might update later if something makes no sense when I re-read it in a couple of days.

First off, the entire game I was alternating between two discrete states of mind--one, I thought we were clearly the superior team through all four quarters and kept expecting us to pull away at the start of every drive. Two, I was thinking this was Bowden-redux and we were going to lose a game we should have sealed up at the beginning of the second half as we tried and tried to give the game away. But then, in the fourth quarter, after we got the Hall pick/ridiculous break on the Hall fumble followed by the TD that put us up 27-21, I was suddenly locked into mind state #1. We started our next drive on our own 27 after an FSU punt. In the Spence/Bowden days (mindset #2, remember), a drive with about 7:00 minutes to go in the game while holding a 6 point lead in a big game meant we would call the most conservative plays possible. Three runs up the middle to take time off the clock before punting it back to other team. This had two side-effects: 1) ticking off the entire educated fanbase and 2) inoculating a generation of fans against the possibility of the run-away victory. Today we finally got that run-away victory in a big game, in large part because we took the same approach as we had the entire game on offense, driving 73 yards on 6 plays in 3:39 seconds for the touchdown to seal it.

Playcalling was generally fine. Against a team that gives up big plays, we looked for the big plays. I'm mildly surprised it took us 2 quarters to find Spiller on a wheel route for a touchdown, but hey, can't complain--nothing wrong with keeping something like that in your back pocket for when you might need it. Made some stupid mistakes (penalties inside the 5-inch line, the Parker fumble) early after we got it in close which kept us from piling up the first half points. I actually think this was a better game for Parker than the Miami game. Yes, he inexplicably threw behind a couple of guys, and there was the terrible, terrible interception when the route was just jumped and the insane fumble on the five-yard line. But for the most part, probably becuase he had loads of time from FSU's non-existent pass-rush, he looked comfortable, had good pocket presence, and even appeared to at least try and make reads of the defense and cycle through his receivers. He still made some bad decisions early on by forcing it into coverege deep when he had guys open underneath, but the lesson from today is that maybe Parker can develop into something--at least when he has time in the pocket.

O-line played very well, but it was against one of the worst defenses in the country, much less the league. Viewed in that light, the run-blocking was hit or miss early on, which is a little discouraging. But it was nice to see the line get some push in the red zone a couple of times and spring Spiller and Ellington with some nice holes.

Receivers are finally starting to catch the ball, the only drop I remember was Ford, and he's been the least of Clemson's problems to this point. I still don't see great route-running, and a team that plays tighter coverage is still going to knock the ball out but hey, small steps I guess. Some great individual efforts on throws underneath that got key first downs. Part of that can be attributed to FSU's horrible tackling, but at least we have the athleticism at WR to make plays occasionally.

Hats off to the secondary. If you would have told me that we would be without Butler and Chancellor for a significant part of the second half, I'd have thrown up my hands and waited for you to tell me how bad the final score was. The coaches made some fine adjustments: it looked like our CBs were instructed to back off a little, with instructions to keep the play in front of you but allow no yards after catch. McDaniel & co. delivered--I don't remember any receivers for FSU picking up yards after the catch after the first half. This extended drives and allowed the FSU to beat themselves, either through Ponder's baffling interceptions or through poor playcalling--the reverse that went for -14 yards. (Granted, if they don't muff the pitch there it might score a touchdown but it was still a risky call...)

Tackling watch: thought it was a pretty good effort, couple of times we looked bad going for the strip but still managed to limit the damage in those cases. Definitely a concerted upgrade over the Miami game despite facing the same caliber of talent.

Special Teams
Coverage has slackened a bit since the first few weeks, FSU's first punt return was ugly. Not sure what's going on here--they have sent more pressure recently but I don't think that was the case this time...have to check the tape on that one. Other than that, the announcers were talking ad nauseum about what we've been saying for the whole season--with a tandem like Ford and Spiller back to receive kicks, they don't have to kick it to you for good results. There just aren't that many punters at this level capable of hitting the coffin corners. Couple that with the rise in the rugby-style punt and you have a terrifying combination for Clemson opponents.

We finally managed to down a punt inside the five despite multiple opportunities to this point, but with nobody watching the ball come down, we still barely managed to run it down from behind. Really, it should have been fair-caught by the FSU return man, no way that ball was first bouncing inside the ten.

Finally, the kicking game. Richard Jackson is going to miss kicks. I think the early season streak might have raised unreasonable expectations for him, I'm certainly guilty of hyping him up. I'd still say the combination of his leg strength and accuracy makes hime one of the best kickers Clemson has seen in a while, but he's going to have games like this. I didn't like the call to replace him with Benton for the one PAT attempt. This isn't the pros, where one missed PAT is grounds for dismissal--he's got to be allowed to work through his misses. Luckily, it didn't come back to bite us and hopefully we look back on this as a weird aberration that mirrors that bizarre FSU game from 2006. At least this time it was the kicker and not a Bowden-era problem with the kicks being blocked, which is the only thing more infuriating.

Major Coaching Decisions
Outside of the Benton PAT kick, fantastic job. Execution cures a lot of play-calling problems, and this is what has improved the most in my mind. We still get individuals making stupid mistakes, which reflects indirectly on the coaching staff, but with the exception of run-blocking and WR route-taking, most of the systematic problems have been lessened. Great news, obviously. Perhaps even better is this suggests that we have a coaching staff capable of objectively reviewing the team and implementing in-season coaching adjustments.

I'll wrap this up by saying NC State is a classic trap game, particularly if we don't have Butler and/or Chancellor back. Motivator-in-chief Swinney need to be at the top of his game this week...
A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.